January 11, 2018

Problem of Partisan Prayers

Late last night, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens, a Republican elected in 2016, admitted to an affair with a married woman in 2015 just as he started his run for governor. He denied, however, allegations he threatened to blackmail her with revenge porn and used physical violence against her.

The hypocrisy of "pro-family" claims by Greitens during his campaign are now more obvious. If you're married and have an affair with a married person (and especially when that affair wrecks the other person's marriage), then you don't get to claim to be a pro-family politician.

But also troubling today is the (mis)use of prayer to advance partisan politics. Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican also elected in 2016, issued a short statement that demonstrates this problem.

"I am deeply concerned by these complex allegations, which must be taken seriously," he wrote. "I will continue to pray for the Greitens family and ask the people of Missouri to join me in doing the same."

Praying for the Greitens family is appropriate. They need it. But what about the woman? What about her ex-husband whose marriage was wrecked by the affair? What about their children and family? They all need prayer as well. A one-sided prayer is more partisan politics than religious devotion. This weaponizing of faith is wrong.


Unfortunately, this isn't new. As I argued in a book, Sacramental Politics: Religious Worship as Political Action, politicians and activists in both parties have inappropriately used prayer and other religious elements for partisan gain. When this is done, it changes the sacred nature of the moment.

Some supporters of Greitens have spent the last year trying to clothe their partisan support of him in calls to prayer. In fact, the current issue of the Missouri Baptist Convention's publication The Pathway praises Greitens, saying it was "refreshing" to hear him talking last week about prayer at the annual Governor's Prayer Breakfast. Don Hinkle, who leads public policy for the MBC, also spoke at the event and has bragged several times about meeting with the governor and even leading the governor and his staff in prayer.

Most significantly, the MBC featured Greitens, Missouri's first Jewish governor, at their annual meeting in October. Giving him the microphone to make a political prep rally speech was framed by Hinkle in terms of prayer.

"We are delighted the governor has accepted our invitation to speak to Missouri Southern Baptists and we look forward to putting into practice the Apostle Paul's instruction to Timothy in 1 Tim. 2:2, that we pray for those in authority over us," Hinkle claimed.

However, praying for someone - as Paul commanded - and letting them speak at your missions meeting are not the same thing. We can - and should - pray for leaders. That doesn't mean we must give them the pulpit. I'm pretty sure Paul never invited Caesar to speak at a church event.

If having Greitens speak at the meeting is proof of following Paul's admonition, then does that mean they didn't follow the biblical command for the previous eight years when Democrat Jay Nixon, a Christian, was governor but not featured at an MBC meeting? The MBC has a record in recent years of inviting lots of Republican candidates - regardless of faith - to speak at their meetings, but hasn't brought in Democratic candidates. Greitens, it seems, had the right faith for them after all: (R).

That reminds me of Matthew 21: "It is written," [Jesus] said to them, "'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it 'a den of robbers.'"

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