Weekly e-newsletter for members and friends of the Dublin Community Church
January 2, 2009
A Not So Simple Blessing
I was a bit sad once the elections were over.
Over the past couple years we have witnessed politicians and ministers wrangling with one another. It has been a source of fascination and entertainment. I’ve written about some of the scuffles too. It is to be expected. We argue over things we care about; not about things which we do not hold dear.
So, with the elections being over, I figured it would take a while for everyone to get charged up again and start attacking one another about God and Jesus but I was wrong. We are in full-attack-mode as of December and it shall remain thus through the inauguration…after which we will all take a breather for a few weeks before we begin the culture wars anew.
The drama has to do with President-Elect Obama asking Rick Warren of the mega-church Saddleback Church in California to give the Inauguration Opening Prayer. In the past week there have been people arguing over whether Warren is going to use the name of Jesus Christ in the opening Inaugural Prayer. (And, yes, there is an even larger issue concerning Rick Warren at the inauguration, but I can only focus on one thing at a time.)
This is one of the things I love about America. We can argue over a prayer…and a prayer which has not even been prayed! Some commentators are treating this like the upcoming Ohio State football game. “If Pastor Warren says THIS….will THAT group of people be offended?!” “If Pastor Warren says THAT will THIS group be offended and counter with their OWN prayer?”
It’s religion as contact sport.
Some ministers and commentators are reminding Warren that he is speaking to and for a diverse nation of believers. Pastor Warren is saying the he is, after all, a Christian minister.
Once again it comes down to intent. Is the intent of the prayer to lift the awareness of the Divine to all those who hear? Or is it to convert all those who hear to the religion of the prayer-maker? What is the role of a Christian minister, or Rabbi, or Imam or atheist when it comes to public prayer and blessings?
A few years back I gave a blessing at a Pre-School Holiday Party. I knew that most of the parents were Christian and that a few were Jewish. I remember being careful to not bring Jesus to the front of the prayer but relied more on the “Blessings of a Loving God”. I didn’t think too much about it, I just wanted to give a blessing. But afterwards a Jewish woman came up and thanked me for “being sensitive to the faiths of all who were present.”
Later I thought I must have been generic in the prayer, but in speaking with a friend who was there, he said I came across as acknowledging God but not using the benediction to bludgeon anyone.
I am honored to be a minister who acknowledges that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God, but people are very, very sensitive today about religious leaders forcing their beliefs on anyone. Also, I think Christian ministers are especially suspect in their blessings. Many believe it to be imperative that every opportunity be used to convert the non-believers of Christ into believers; they must be saved. So an opening prayer, benediction, funeral service, wedding service…anything and everything is an opportunity to “witness” for Jesus. In a diverse nation filled with people of other faiths…there are many who do not want this witnessing and resent being seen as fertile ground for conversion.
It should be noted, that I, who am not an Evangelical preacher, would be considered by many Christians as “fertile ground” for conversion to Christ. For them, I do not fit the mold of what a Christian should believe and thus if I could be shown the error of my ways via a prayer or other conversion experience, then I would truly be among the believers. Alas, I do not want to be converted to that Christianity. Save your conversion opportunities for others. I am beyond the pale.
And there is the crux of the problem. To acknowledge who we are, as Christian Ministers, or Rabbis, or Imams is to be seen by some as forcing our beliefs on them. Or we become a target for conversion to a particular form of Christianity.
And I know this is true for I have had other Christian ministers tell me that I am not Godly enough (which didn’t seem like a very Christian thing to say). I had a Christian woman tell me one time that my “father would turn over in his grave if he heard what I had said,” at a particular conference. (I had to check with Mom on that, and she assured me that Dad was still resting in peace.) It can get brutal.
We want our ministers to conform to certain ideals. We want them to say things which we believe in but others may not. Non-believers want Christians and Muslims and Jews to just leave them alone and not force blessings and benedictions upon them. This is a very sensitive time. We don’t trust religious leaders to invoke the name of the Almighty without some ulterior motive. We don’t want them to try to convert us during a blessing.
Pastor Warren has his work cut out for him. His prayer will be recorded and dissected for days. If he offers “the Peace of Christ” to all…he might avoid controversy. In such a case, he has acknowledged Christ but not forced Christ on anyone. If he asks that those present “be washed in the blood of the lamb,” he may score points with his evangelical brothers and sisters but lose the goodwill of more ecumenical Christians and certainly many of the Jews and Muslims and countless other Americans who adhere to different faiths.One time, when living in the Pacific Northwest, I was asked to give the blessing for a newly re-opened sawmill. The mill meant jobs, pay, dignity and lives made whole and the community was quite excited about it. I was pleased that a company had invested in the isolated community. So, I got up on the platform and acknowledged that Jesus and His father were known to be carpenters and it was with joy that we re-opened this sawmill. I was on firm ground in that small community to acknowledge the beliefs of all by mentioning the work of Jesus. No one argued with my blessing and best of all, my father continued to rest easy. As did I.
Peace, Rev. Bob Tussing