The Pledge as Prayer

August 24, 2006

Wiley Drake, the current Second Vice-President of the Southern Baptist Convention, is criticizing the city council of Lake Forest, California for not opening its meetings with an invocation. Drake claims it is hypocritical for them to say the Pledge of Allegiance but not have an invocation. He argues:

You’re praying to God, really, in that Pledge -- ‘one nation under God’ -- and then you move right into the meeting without having a prayer. You want God in the Pledge, obviously -- you say it; but you don’t want God in your city council meeting.
This may be one of the oddest comments about the Pledge. There are three problems with this. First, it is inaccurate because the Pledge of Allegiance is not really a prayer. It does include the phrase “under God” but it is not addressed to God as a prayer would be. This is similar to the difference between the hymns “How Great Thou Art” and “Because He Lives.” While the former addresses God the latter is about God.

Next, his statement is problematic because it is inconsistent. He claims that not having an invocation means the council is saying they “don’t want God” in their meetings. However, if the Pledge is a prayer, then they already prayed and thus they already brought God into the meeting. Why, then, would they need another one?

Third, his statement is wrong because it presumes that the city council should pray at each meetings. This is not a church service and not everyone in Lake Forest is a Christian, nor even of the same Christian tradition. Is this really the most important project Drake could find to send his time working on? What about sharing the love of Jesus? What about spending some time in his closet praying? What about catching up on his Baptist history and principles?

Such problematic rhetoric could easily be avoided if it were not for Drake’s status as the 2nd Vice-President of the SBC. With that status and affirmation, his voiced is increased. It helps him as he works to tear down the historic wall between church and state and as he waters down the Christian faith.