I recently wrote a GetReligion post about the Rev. Joel Hunter's closing prayer at the Democratic National Convention, the prayer that ended with that "On the count of three" pray your own prayer interfaith twist.
Well, the more I read about that prayer and one or two others in the DNC convention, the more I thought about some previous public prayers that raised some similar issues. This led to my Scripps Howard News Service column this past week. A comments page regular sent me this note:
There's this religion reporter named Terry Mattingly (Hi Terry) who wrote a piece that appeared in the Contra Costa Times today. It was provocative but left off a critical element that I really expected to see. The element is what was the reaction to the ending of the prayer? Without that, the piece reads a bit like a breathless piece about a modern day (pro-life, conservative) Daniel tempting some (pro-choice, secular) lions with red meat. Sorry Terry, but that's the way it struck me. And I really do want to know how his prayer ending was received. ... So how about reviewing your own piece including commenting on what you wrote versus what was printed?
Actually, the piece he read cut off a piece of the direct quotation that ended my piece, but the missing material would not have affected his criticism.
My column -- I write columns, not straight reporting -- simply didn't go where he wanted the column to go. By the way, I do not think that Hunter waved "red meat" at the Democrats at all. And would that be Republican red meat or Democratic red meat? If he was being brave, wouldn't he have clearly expressed his pro-life views and avoided the interfaith ending to the prayer?
I did look up some reactions to Hunter's prayer, but did not have room for them. It was hard, on the video footage, to see what happened on the convention floor -- but the reaction seemed to be positive.
I simply was more interested in the content of the prayer, and those that came before it that raised similar issues, than I was in the reaction. If there had been major reactions from religious groups, I might have rethought that. Then again, my column is written plus or minus 10 words. There wasn't any other room.
So, if you wish, read the column that I wrote and then comment.
However, the most important reaction to the prayer came from Hunter himself, who clearly heard from many who question his methods and content. I thought it was very important to include some of his comments about this -- his own defense of his actions. That was a crucial addition to the column and that was where I decided to end things. Like this:
... (When) it comes to church-state strategy, the most groundbreaking prayer was offered by the Rev. Joel Hunter of the giant Northland Church near Orlando -- especially since his benediction ended the mile-high rally that included Obama's acceptance speech.
A self-identified "pro-life Republican," the preacher offered a conventional prayer that included appeals on behalf of infants, children, the poor, the persecuted and those who are enslaved, as well as for peace and for the environment. Then, at the end, Hunted paused to interject a unique "closing instruction."
"I want to personalize this," he said. "I want this to be a participatory prayer. And so therefore, because we are in a country that is still welcoming all faiths, I would like all of us to close this prayer in the way your faith tradition would close your prayer. So on the count of three, I want all of you to end this prayer, your prayer, the way you usually end prayer. You ready? One, two, three."
Hunter, on his own behalf, spoke into the microphone: "In Jesus' name, Amen." Meanwhile, 80,000 or so other people were free to name their own God or gods.
After fielding questions about his actions, the pastor stressed that it would be "taking the Lord's name in vain" if he created confusion in such a setting. The goal was ensure that participants did not believe they were being asked to accept a prayer that forced them to "compromise their core beliefs."
Thus, "I did not ask people to pray to another god; I asked them to finish a prayer according to their faith tradition," argued Hunter, on his church's website. "This may be a small point linguistically, but it is a huge point theologically. ... As you may imagine, I prayed long and hard before feeling like God had given me the precise words for this prayer. I believe that He in His sovereign way will use it to bring people to Himself."
That made sense to many people. Others disagreed. But I thought I would let the reader react to the content, in my small column space.