Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Christians, the ACLU, and Public Prayer

(top) Christian Broadcaster Pat Robertson has apparently forgotten the Sixth Commandment as he calls for the murder of (bottom) Venezeulan President Hugo Chavez

an ACLU member responds to Rev. Creede Hinshaw's 8-27-05 ALBANY HERALD column about praying in public meetings

Dear Rev. Hinshaw,

I occasionally read your newspaper columns in the Albany Herald, and you generally appear to have common sense and a compassionate point of view. But in a week when Pat Robertson publicly called for the assassination of Venezuela's democratically elected President- then denied on national TV that he had used the word "assassinate" (which was true- he actually used the noun, "assassination," as a Daily Show video clip proved), I find it hard to believe you decided to pick on the ACLU for opposing publicly led prayers in Jesus' name at government meetings.

I'm a member of the ACLU, but I also have a sense of proportion, so I understand it when you say that the organization should "lighten up." The problem is that it is easy for a Christian in America to say this, because you think that no one could possibly object to a short prayer to Jesus. You opine that it's only when government meetings become "full blown revivals, replete with big King James Bibles, altar calls for repentance and pointed jabs at competing faiths" that the ACLU should intervene.

Here is what you have not considered. As a Jew, every time I sit in a courtroom where I am compelled by law to be, as a juror, witness, or lawyer and listen to a prayer to Jesus, every time I go to a public meeting of a governmental body, and a minister or other person of the Christian persuasion leads a prayer to Jesus, a not very subtle message is being sent to me and to every other non-Christian: you are welcome here in America as our guest, our "Jewish friend." But "real" Americans are Christian, and the rest of you are here at our sufferance. "Real" Americans will make the laws, make the rules, and decide how much religion in government is too much and how much is just right, and if you object to it, well lighten up- how could a little bit of praying in Jesus' name possibly harm you? So what if you're a second class citizen. We'll let you put a small Menorah on the lawn next to the Christmas creche in our public square- what more could you possibly ask for?

Well, I ask for a government that does not favor one religion over another, or favor religion over non-religion. I ask for a government which realizes that leaving religion completely out of official functions is the best way to avoid the kind of lethal warfare we see in Ireland, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Afghanistan, and India, even into the 21st century. I ask for a government in which I am welcomed as an equal, not suffered as an interloper of a lesser faith. I ask for a government which does not publicly demean my religion, the second commandment of which (you put it in the first) states that "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Because Christians worship Jesus as God, and Jews, although we may greatly respect many of the biblical teachings of Jesus, do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah or that the Messiah is a God or Son of God in his own right.

Now if that doesn't convince you, then try this the next time you are asked to pray at a governmental function like a City or County Commission meeting:

"In Buddha's name we pray, Amen."

"In Zoroaster's name we pray, Amen."

"In Allah's name we pray, insh'allah, Amen."

Or, if that doesn't get anybody's attention, try this:

"In Satan's name we pray, Amen."

I'll bet that if you say those few words- no more than what you say the ACLU should ignore if the operative term is "Jesus"- that will get you more publicity, more controversy, and probably more guest spots on national television, than you've ever dreamed possible. And those little words would also get you booted out of your church and cost you your job writing newspaper columns. Because those few words would be oppressive, unforgiveable anathema to your true believers.

Jim Finkelstein
Albany, Georgia

P.S. If you still don't believe that there are politically powerful Christians out there who want to use the little things like your brief prayers to get the camel's nose into the tent, then read the letter to George Bush by Robert Jones, III, shortly after the November 2004 election:

"... . You have been given a mandate. ...Christ has allowed you to be His servant in this nation for another presidential term. Undoubtedly, you will have opportunity to appoint many conservative judges and exercise forceful leadership with the Congress in passing legislation that is defined by biblical norm regarding the family, sexuality, sanctity of life, religious freedom, freedom of speech, and limited government....”
Bob Jones, III, President, Bob Jones University

I sent the above letter to Rev. Hinshaw, and he was gracious enough to write back. After I asked for permission, he consented. His response follows

Dear Mr. Finkelstein,

Feel free to use my reply on your blog. It's always a pleasure to hear from readers.

Creede Hinshaw

Dear Mr. Finkelstein,

Actually, you and I agree on probably close to 99% of what you have written me in your email. The ACLU does not get enough credit for going to bat even for unpopular crazy conservatives.

My main argument with the ACLU on this one is probably one of "strategy." In a world where there are so many important battles to fight, it seems like it might make sense to let some of the more minor sideshows ride in the greater interest of picking up more traction in others. Of course, I am sure the ACLU both knows this and determined that this particular "fight" was one worth pursuing.

I prayed before the Bibb County P&Z last week, and was careful, as I always am, to pray either in God's name, or in the name of the One Who is Holy, etc. I realize that even this -in and of itself - can tend to be offensive to some in our society. I simply repeat, that from what I understand, prayers in Cobb County have been prayed by religious leaders from many different faith stances.

Though it may not help your feelings very much at this point, I did struggle with this column. I only have a limited amount of space each week to make my point. One of the lines I omitted was something like this:

I realize it may be easy for me to write these words. I am a privileged white man, a Protestant Christian preacher in the south.

I believe those italicized words express the challenge and difficulty of being a columnist. We all write from our own perspective, and yet, hopefully, try as much as possible, to enter into the experience of others. Perspective makes all the difference...mine...yours...everybody's.

I hope this helps. If the ACLU was in the fight for textbook stickers in Cobb County, good for you. But I remain somewhat unconvinced about strategy...not overall goals...when it comes to the Cobb lawsuit.

Thanks for caring enough to write. I am glad that you and I most often find ourselves on the same side of the issue.

Creede Hinshaw


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