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PRAYERS THAT PROVOKE

Prayer provokes some people. Four hundred years before Christ the Hebrew prophet Daniel provoked his contemporaries in Babylon by praying to the God of Heaven. Read the fascinating account of how prayer collided with politics in Daniel 6 in the Bible. To summarize it ever so briefly, legislation was passed which outlawed any prayer except that which was sanctioned by the state, all in an effort to cause problems for the man of God. The politicians managed to get Daniel thrown into a den of lions after he disobeyed the state ban on prayer. But God "sent his angels and shut the lions' mouths" so that they did not harm him (Daniel 6:22). In the end those who sought to destroy Daniel were thrown to the lions.

Preacher Clifton Fox of the Etowah, Tennessee church of Christ recently got a little taste of how Daniel may have felt. The Tennessean reported that on Monday, March 8, Fox was serving as "minister of the day" for the Tennessee state Senate and opened the session with a prayer. Turns out the prayer rubbed some senators the wrong way. Within minutes of debate on a proposed constitutional amendment that would specify that the state constitution does not guarantee or protect abortion, the pesky preacher prayed that senators be protected from "civil liberty lawyers and lobbyists against life" and also "give our legislators the strength to stand for what is right" ("Invocation before abortion debate concerns senators' ; The Tennessean, Saturday 3/13/04, p IA). Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, said she was "shocked" when she heard the prayer and found it "disturbing that a clergy member would attack citizens of Tennessee, be they ACLU lawyers or others fighting to protect women's rights." (It doesn't seem to bother Hedy that in abortion a helpless baby is attacked, but that's another issue.) Senator Jerry Cooper (D-Morrison, TN) was also provoked by the prayer. He told reporters he thought the prayer was "totally inappropriate," and said "you don't take a side when you're praying." Comedian Milton Berle once said politics consists of two sides and a fence. Not all politicians are fence-straddlers, but some are when it comes to moral issues. And some politicians apparently want preachers and prayers to straddle the fence. I realize those who lead public prayer need to be sensitive to the circumstances, but there was nothing in Fox's prayer that deserves the criticism he received. Lord help us when those responsible for making our laws are provoked by a prayer that they "will have the strength to stand for what is right." Any preacher worth his salt would much rather provoke people, even powerful people, than provoke God.

Dan Gulley
Smithville church of Christ