A wide spot in my imagination.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Religious Liberty

At the memorial service held in Arizona, a Native American medical school professor offered an opening blessing.

As a pastor, I take prayer seriously and try to pay attention to the words I speak and to the company in which I pray. But it never occurred to me that prayer is the kind of thing that talking heads on TV should dissect.

However, before the evening was out, television commentators and others were criticizing the professor's blessing:

  • On Fox News, Brit Hume called the prayer "peculiar" and seemed to smirk at the ideas included.
  • Blogger Michele Malkin said the Native American rambled and babbled. She followed that up with, "Mercy."
  • The blog Power Line said the prayer was "some sort of Yaqui Indian tribal thing" that was "ugly."

These comments strike me as insensitive and intolerant. Let's imagine some other scenarios:

  • What if an atheist commentator ridiculed a Christian praying to God as laughable?
  • What if a Christian prayed using classical Trinitarian language and a Muslim blogger called it polytheism?
  • What if a Native American said that Christian eucharistic prayers were cannibalistic?
Too bad Christmas is past. Seems like religious liberty should be high on our list of asks.

And the religious liberty we need isn't some newfangled, touchy-feely, latter-day liberal concoction. It is rooted in the profound respect for the human conscience.

In 1920, Baptist pastor George W. Truett said in a famous sermon: "It is the natural and fundamental and indefeasible right of every human being to worship God or not, according to the dictates of his conscience, and, as long as he does not infringe upon the rights of others, he is to be held accountable alone to God for all religious beliefs and practices. Our contention is not for mere toleration, but for absolute liberty."

Seems to me, these commentators should have given the professor the liberty to let his prayer stand as his effort to connect with God according the dictates of his conscience.

Back to Truett's sermon. He was a man of his time. He went on to make what seem to me to be some rather intolerant broadsides in that same sermon.

However, he circled back round to his point to talk about those who sought religious liberty:
"They dared to be odd, to stand alone, to refuse to conform, though it cost them suffering and even life itself. They dared to defy traditions and customs, and deliberately chose the day of non conformity..."

So, while some critique, question and make fun of the religious traditions of others, at least those who take a different path have old Truett's blessing "to be odd, to stand alone, to refuse to conform."

1 comment:

  1. Truett reminds me of a Baptist minister who was in a reality TV series several years back. Several modern families were chosen to live as the early settlers of New England lived, and the minister (from Texas) was not surprisingly assigned the role of the village cleric. 400 years ago church attendance in the colonies was mandatory, and in the reality show there were weekly religious services. One of the families in the village was opting out of church, but the minister found it impossible to act "in character" and make them attend. For him, religion was something that absolutely had to be approached by choice.