Government-sanctioned prayers at the beginning of public meetings don't typically draw a lot of attention. Generally, journalists sleep right through them.
As you might imagine, it takes a humdinger of a prayer to grab the attention of a major newspaper like the San Antonio Express-News.
So, give Theo Wolmarans credit for that.
Wolmarans' secret for making headlines with his prayer? Hold onto your britches: He mentioned Jesus and the devil:
A local pastor who prayed Thursday at the start of the City Council meeting declared only two types of people exist on Earth — those who work for God and those who work for the devil.
The invocation, the standard kickoff to all Thursday council meetings, typically is an inclusive prayer.
Religious leaders from various denominations and religions are invited by individual council members and the mayor. The pastors, rabbis, imams and others mostly invoke God for his wisdom. Some mention Jesus in passing.
Rarely do they offer prayer that excludes entire groups of people. But Pastor Theo Wolmarans from Christian Family Church of San Antonio seemed to do just that in his brief invocation.
“Father, we thank you for the privilege we have for being your children. We know that there are many different races and colors and creeds and languages in our world, of which you are the creator of all of these,” he said during the brief invocation. “But even so, out of all of your creation are your children because only those who accept Jesus as their lord and savior are born into your family.
“And so, when you look down upon us today, you see two kinds of people only — those who believe in you and those who don’t know you. Those who believe in you are your children, and you work through your children to bring peace and love and blessing to the earth,” he said. “And the devil works through those who don’t know you to bring confusion and strife and division, the work of the enemy, because he came to steal, to kill and to destroy.”
From there, the Express-News notes:
The nuance of the message delivered by Wolmarans caught some off guard.
And by "nuance," the newspaper apparently means that the pastor said the kind of prayer he might at his own church — as opposed to the sanitized, interfaith invocation more often uttered at government meetings.
The council prayer story is written by a City Hall reporter, who makes little mistakes like failing to capitalize "Protestant." While the piece is not terrible, it's long on quotes from council members and short on relevant context.
Part of that is because the Express-News could not reach the pastor for additional insight. (Kudos to the newspaper for trying.)
But here's what would have helped this story:
1. Background on what the U.S. Supreme Court has said about prayers at government meetings.
The high court ruled 5-4 in that "legislative bodies such as city councils can begin their meetings with prayer, even if it plainly favors a specific religion," as the Washington Post reported.
Meanwhile, a federal appeals court will consider whether a county commission in Richmond, N.C., "violated the Constitution by conducting Christian prayers, and inviting the congregation to join in, during their council meetings," as the Christian Science Monitor recently reported.
2. Insight from a theologian or religious scholar on the pastor's prayer.
From the story:
But Mayor Ivy Taylor, who invited the pastor to give the invocation, defended his message.
“I may not have said it in the way he did, but I appreciate his willingness to come down and share from his heart what he felt with San Antonio, and I don’t believe he meant it to be divisive,” she said.
Taylor said she didn’t believe Wolmarans was saying that those who haven’t accepted Jesus are therefore working with the devil. She declined to explain why, however.
Yes, it's a bummer that the pastor himself couldn't be reached. But why not seek an expert's analysis of the prayer and how Christians typically see the devil and those who have not accepted Christ?
Beyond that, some background on the denominational affiliation and basic beliefs of the pastor's church would be helpful.
3. Mention of the recent prayer controversy in Phoenix, which has made national news.
That city, as you may have heard, recently stopped public prayers rather than allow a Satanic Temple official to give the invocation.
Including the Phoenix case study would have put San Antonio's mini-prayer-controversy into a larger context — and perhaps elevated the newsworthiness of the Express-News' local angle. Just a thought.