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On Public Prayers that Avoid Specific Reference to Christ

June 30th, 2007
Marketing Advertising Blog — VuManhThang.Com

Great quote here. HT Treaders

To require a Christian priest to say little more at a benediction than
“the Sustainer bids you to peacefully love your neighbor” or “May the
Holy One be with you always” is effectively the same as asking a
surgeon to say to a man dying on the operating table, “Don’t worry,
everything is all right.” It is not a truthful word, and the dying man
(and we are all dying men) needs the truthful word.

Read the whole article here.

Benediction Fiction

John Parker on the Dishonesty of Inclusive Prayers

Once I accepted an invitation to give the benediction at the graduation of
  the Medical University of South Carolina. I was delighted that a school like
  MUSC was still willing to invoke the Name of God and ask his blessings on those
  who are to be sent out into the world to practice the work that the school
has trained them to do.

Having driven past the university’s beautiful St. Luke’s Chapel
  (named after St. Luke, the evangelist and physician) hundreds of times, I began
  to consider what words might be fitting for these medical students. I sat at
  my desk, reviewing ancient books of Christian prayers, to write the most appropriate
  one for those commencing the next step of their professional medical lives.

 

Parochial Names

Two days later, I received by mail a delightful letter, thanking me for agreeing
  to deliver the benediction and inviting me to a number of related festivities.
  Included with the letter, though, was a memorandum from the Office of the President
  of the Medical University: “Guidelines for Invocation and Benediction
  at Public Functions,” guidelines to which I would be required to conform
  in order to bless the graduates.

 

The first was a reasonable request for any public speaker: “Appeal
  to the larger spiritual virtues that all faiths have in common: love, faith,
  hope . . . peace, goodness.” The second was acceptable, although dripping
  with political correctness: “Use inclusive language: forbears rather
  than fathers, . . .” etc.

 

The third was a problem. Here is the text (the boldface appears in the original):

 

Steer clear of parochial, exclusively defining religious names, concepts,
    practices, and metaphors. A good rule of thumb to remember is that you come
    representing the entire faith community, not just your own group. The prayer
    should therefore not be offensive to anyone, whether Catholic, Baptist, Jewish,
    Muslim, etc. For example, when opening or closing, an inclusive choice
    would be “Holy God, Holy One, Creator, Sustainer,” rather than “Allah,
    Jesus, Holy Trinity,” etc.

In four sentences, the Medical University of South Carolina, in its effort
  to “set a tone of reverence at our public assemblies” and “bear
  testimony to [our] richly diverse religious and cultural heritage” and
  somehow to make generic and inoffensive any public benediction or invocation,
  sanctioned officially one religion over all others: American pop-religion—a
  tray full of cafeteria-style faith, which takes nice-sounding “religious” words
  from this group and that, pleasing to the ear but without real content.

 

I sent my prepared benediction to the Office of the President, wanting to
  embarrass neither myself nor the staff of the Medical University at graduation.
  I soon received a polite call from the same office, during which I was un-invited
  to bless the graduates.

 

The truly Christian benediction (the only type of benediction I am authorized
  by my archbishop and my ordination to give) is not permitted. Thus, the university,
  hoping to display its “religious heritage” and seeking to demonstrate
  its “pride in . . . diversity,” actually shows itself to be selectively
  inclusive. Inclusion in the Medical University’s public religious expression
  is limited to those who will show no conviction at all.

 

No Good Word

The heritage of the Medical University is, to some degree, Christian. Its
  chapel is not “generic” by any stretch—it is named for a
  Christian saint, adorned with his stained-glass image, and topped with the
  Cross of Christ. These have been the marks of a certain faith. Not
  a generic faith.

 

Only a certain faith offers what people truly want and need, while a generic
  faith cannot—which we often see, ironically enough, in the world into
  which these graduates are being sent. Someone suffering from a third heart
  attack doesn’t want to hear about spirits that sustain us or a “god” who
  is with us in our suffering. He wants—even needs and expects—the
  blessing and grace of God in that moment.

 

His heart longs for some assurance that even if his body won’t be okay
  (sometimes it won’t), Someone is reminding him, “Lo, I am with
  you always, even unto the end of the age.” This is the very same assurance
  and grace this Orthodox priest hoped—and was invited—to offer to
  the graduates who will care for such a soul.

 

To require a Christian priest to say little more at a benediction than “the
  Sustainer bids you to peacefully love your neighbor” or “May the
  Holy One be with you always” is effectively the same as asking a surgeon
  to say to a man dying on the operating table, “Don’t worry, everything
  is all right.” It is not a truthful word, and the dying man (and we are
  all dying men) needs the truthful word.

 

Doctors, nurses, indeed all hospital personnel and those for whom
  they care need, like all the rest of us who are struggling to live in this
  dying world, a true, good word—a real benediction in the fullest sense
  of the term. Why can we no longer give it to them?

 

Within the walls of a hospital, a sterile, antiseptic environment is critical
  for the care and recovery of patients. But the sterile, antiseptic “benediction” the
  guidelines require is a “good word” to no one, blesses no one,
  offers no promise of divine aid and comfort to men and women who will need
  it desperately. Such selective inclusivity removes every particular faith to
  a space well off to the side, where it can do no harm to the secular ideal
  of “inclusivity,” but can do no good either.

 

In the end, to ask a Christian pastor to bless a gathering in this way is
  little more than having some person in religious clothing stand in front of
  a crowd to say a few generically religious words, hoping to give some religious
  legitimacy to a public gathering. Not only is there no power or grace in it,
  it is devoid of any essential meaning.

 

A True Prayer

That May, I did offer my prayer for the graduates of the Medical University
  of South Carolina, though not in their presence. I prayed:

 

“O Lord Jesus Christ our God, Lover of Mankind, Physician of our souls
  and bodies, who in pain bore our infirmities, and by whose wounds we are healed:

 

“Who gave sight to the man born blind, who straightened the woman who
  was bent over for eighteen years, who gave speech and sight to the mute demoniac,
  who not only forgave the paralytic his sins, but healed him to walk, who restored
  the withered hand of a troubled man, who stopped the flow of blood of her who
  bled for twelve years, who raised Jairus’s daughter to life, who brought
  the four-days-dead Lazarus to life, and who heals every infirmity under the
  sun,

 

“Do now, O Lord, give your grace to all those here gathered who have
  labored and studied hour upon hour, to go into all the world, and also to heal
  by the talent you have given to each of them. Strengthen them, by your strength,
  to fear no evil or disease; enlighten them to do no evil by the works of their
  hands, and preserve them and those they serve in peace.

 

“For you are our God, and we know no other. And to you we send up glory
  together with your Father who is from everlasting, and your most Holy, Good,
  and Life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

 

John Parker
is priest-in-charge of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church, a mission parish
of the Orthodox Church in America, in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. He
earned his MDiv (2001) at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in
Ambridge, Pennsylvania, and his MTh (2004) at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox
Theological Seminary in Crestwood, New York. He can be reached at
frjohn@ocacharleston.org.

             
            
         
       
 
            
             

             

“Benediction Fiction” first
                      appeared in the May, 2007
                  issue of Touchstone. Click here for a printer-friendly
                    version.

               

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. July 1st, 2007 at 11:06 | #1

    Confessing Christ is not only a challenge for those of you in the priestly caste, but for those of us layfolk who teach Sunday school every week. One would think that when a parent drops their little crumbcrunchers off to a Lutheran Sunday school class that the parents would want the children to hear that Christ is the only way to heaven. Sadly, I’ve had more than one parent express concern to my pastor that I was teaching (highschoolers) that the Buddist, Hindu, or Muslim by denying Christ, ultimately ended up in hell.
    This Scriptural and Confessional teaching of course conflicted with the multicultural teaching of the local county school board and caused offense in the same way that forced MUSC to uninvite Fr. Parker.
    I wouldn’t even want to guess how many times folks feel that they need to change their prayers so as to not offend to ones offered to some generic god.
    Thanks for pointing out the article.

  2. July 8th, 2007 at 01:04 | #2

    My Letter to the Editor is published in the July/August issue, and it outlines my experiences in this arena.

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