Thursday, February 28, 2008

Americans United, Wiley Drake, and imprecatory prayer

Imprecatory Prayer. Imprecatory prayer may be somewhat hard to define, or at least defined in different ways by different people. According to one source, "Imprecatory prayer is an appeal to the court of divine justice (1) for protection and (2) the appropriate punishment for the criminals." To others, imprecatory prayer means to pray for evil or misfortune to befall someone. Some would argue that under the "old testament" it was was appropriate, yet under the "new testament" it is not desirable behavior.

Wiley Drake. Pastor of the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, CA. Wiley Drake is evidently fairly well-known in Southern Baptist circles, and has been or is 2nd Vice-President of the SBC. He is considered an egotist by some and a hero by others -- some just view him an eccentric. Greg Warner wrote of Drake as "the irrepressible Drake -- a Los Angeles-area pastor, radio crusader, SBC gadfly and self-proclaimed 'champion of the little guy'." I probably would agree with Drake on core Bible doctrines and little else.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State. A religious liberty "watchdog" group. I would probably agree with them on a few things (such as no Congressional chaplains paid from public funds), but view them as extreme "freedom from religion" zealots in most cases. For example, they opposed the religious entanglement of a church giving shoes to school children at school, even though the parents of the individual children concerned had given their approval.1

Where these three come together is this:

Americans United for Separation of Church and State asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the tax-exempt status of First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, CA. In August of 2007 the pastor, Wiley Drake, used a church letterhead and a church-supported radio show to endorse a Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. Barry Lynn, Americans United executive director, said, “Federal tax law is clear, churches and other non-profits may not endorse candidates, if they want to keep their tax exemption. I am confident that the vast majority of Americans do not want to see their houses of worship politicized.”2

Drake responded by asking his supporters to pray imprecatory prayers against Americans United. For example, "In light of the recent attack from the enemies of God I ask the children of God to go into action with Imprecatory Prayer. Especially against Americans United for Separation of Church and State. I made an attempt to go to them via Matt 18:15 but they refused to talk to me. Specifically target Joe Conn or Jeremy Learing. They are those who lead the attack..."3

Americans United has interpreted that Drake has "urged his followers to pray for the deaths of staff members at Americans United for Separation of Church and State." Though Drake's words do not specifically ask for this (as far as I know), AU noted that Drake gave examples of imprecatory prayer such as Psalm 109 (which in verse 9 states, "Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.").

My opinions briefly are these:

I can't imagine wanting to pray an imprecatory prayer against (and especially for the death of) those who held some differing views about separation of church and state. I would nevertheless uphold Drake's right to believe in imprecatory prayer even if he prays it against me. And if God should answer it, who am I to complain about it? If we accept God's Word as inspired and infallible, in our theology we need to sincerely deal with the imprecatory prayers in the Psalms, as well as Rev. 6:10 - And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? I am fairly content with Heb. 10:30 - Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord.

From a scriptural standpoint, I don't believe churches should be political centers. I think Baptists need to start reading more of their Baptist forefathers circa 1776 about religious freedom instead of quoting American fathers who had no problem with union of church and state. But from a political standpoint, I don't think it is AU's business whether or not the vast majority of Americans do or do not want to see their houses of worship politicized. Let them decide for themselves. If Wiley Drake and FSBC of Buena Park (or any other churches) sincerely want to endorse candidates, let them bite the bullet, forfeit the tax exempt status and do it as much as they like. It won't hinder me from going my own way.

1. Americans United Protests South Carolina Ministry's Foot-Washing Ritual At Public Schools “Needy pupils identified with the help of the schools have letters sent by the organization to their parents asking permission to give shoes to them.”

2. ref.

3. Drake's entire statement is here: Pastor Wiley Drake Calls for Imprecatory Prayer against So-Called Religious Liberty Watchdog Group

4. Americans United Deplores California Pastor's Renewed 'Death Prayer' Campaign


clinch64 said...

It is so unfortunate that churches and some ministers will use the pulpit to exhort political views and even pray for harm against those who disagree.

You would think a church member would be led in their heart to vote for the candidates or issues to which they feel most resembles their convictions. Being prodded to vote a certain way by a minister is another matter altogether.

An example which comes to mind is the funeral of a Democratic senator who perished in a plane crash several years ago. There were many dignitaries present from both sides of the spectrum. Before the service was over, it had turned into a full-fledged political rally.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Many modern churches have given up on the power of God to change lives, and are fully committed to doing it through the political process. I'm sure some believe they can do both. But the purpose of churches is to preach Christ and Him crucified.

On the other hand, I think in a free country it is for each church to decide how they want to handle this rather than Americans United. I think I understand the IRS rationale of not granting tax-exempt status to political groups. If political machinations could be conducted freely without tax as "a church", then political machines could just claim they are churches and be tax-exempt. Churches kind of get caught in between here a little bit, I suppose, because many do feel an obligation to speak out on moral issues, and some suppose that also includes endorsing candidates who stand in some particular way on moral issues. Again, I'd say that churches that feel particularly strong about this should just forget the tax-exempt status.

Anonymous said...

I've often wondered how Paul would have handled politics if voting for various Roman government officials had been available to the early church, not to mention if voting for religious officials had been available to the Jews. It's hard for me to believe that he would have remained silent as he traveled from local assembly to local assembly. Surely he would have indicated, strongly, to the church at Rome how he felt they should vote were they able.

It's a fine line: There is, and always will be, a sort of 'private persuasion' that ministers practice with their congregations when it comes to politics, but on Sunday morning when a minster has a captive audience--and getting up and walking out would send too strong a message or seem overly rude--some discretion should be shown on the part of the speaker...if politics is the subject.

Surely we stand or fall by the Grace of God...and surely this holds true for our politicians. Perhaps we feel too 'in control' when it comes to voting.

I would go into at least a four-year depression if Hillary or Obama were elected President. However, their election would not catch my God of guard.

Grace is still sufficient...even when it comes to politics.

Bro. Anon

R. L. Vaughn said...

Bro. Anon, when you write "Perhaps we feel too 'in control' when it comes to voting," I think you bring up a very important point. I think we Americans have come to believe that we can raise up leaders with our votes without the Providence of God. But it is God who raises up one and puts down another. In America, our votes are part of the process He has ordained to do so.

His providence unfolds the book,
And makes His counsels shine;
Each opening leaf, and every stroke
Fulfills some deep design.

Here He exalts neglected worms
To scepters and a crown;
And there the following page He turns,
And treads the monarch down.