Mike Pohlman Christian Blog and Commentary

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Rick Warren, Billy Graham, and Praying in Jesus' Name

  • Mike Pohlman's Blog
  • 2009 Jan 30

Timothy George has a thoughtful post at the First Things blog where he takes up the controversial question of public figures praying in the name of Jesus. As you can imagine the foil for his argument is Rick Warren and his prayer at President Obama's inauguration.

With the exception of George asserting that Warren is the new Billy Graham (this comparison needs to stop--it reminds me of all those pundits that said Harold Miner was the next Michael Jordan), I whole-heartedly embrace his call for Christians to pray like Christians in public--even as he recognizes ways to avoid it:

Of course, there are ways for Christians to get around the awkwardness of praying in Jesus’ name in such settings. We can simply say “Amen,” and breathe “in Jesus’ name” silently, under our breath as it were. We can lamely offer our prayer “in your name,” as though God (or we) were confused about who he really is. Or we can try what Robert Jensen calls “syntactically impossible pronominal neologisms,” such as “Godself,” or blander still, appeal to the deconstructed deity invoked by the Episcopalian bishop Gene Robinson at the Lincoln Memorial inauguration service: “O God of our many understandings.” Of course, the sovereign Lord can hear and even answer prayers offered in this way, and no doubt he does. It is another question altogether whether Christian ministers should sidestep the scandal of particularity in the interest of making people less uncomfortable.

George, of course, is against this shameful "sidestepping":

Praying in Jesus’ name at a presidential inauguration is an expression of the free exercise of religion guaranteed to every American in the First Amendment. It no more violates the establishment clause than the fact of the president’s taking his oath of office on the Holy Bible (Abraham Lincoln’s King James Version, in Obama’s case), or the president’s concluding his oath with the words “so help me God.” The doctrine of nonpreferential accommodationism requires, of course, that Jews may invoke the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Muslims the words of Muhammad. It also means that an atheist president can be sworn in on The Humanist Manifesto, and that a Wiccan president can use a Ouija board. But it does not mean that Christians must hide their faith in the inner reserve of their private consciousness. Indeed, they must not do so. For Christians, religious faith is more than what one does with one’s solitude. It is a public declaration to all the world that Jesus Christ is Lord. The one who said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” was not crucified in private.

In Jesus' name, Amen.