Saturday, January 9, 2010

Praying for the President's Death

I see that some of our Southern Baptist friends are using Psalm 109:8 as a prayer for the death of President Obama. The verse says: "Let his days be few; and let another take his office" (KJV).

For example, an article over at notes the following about Southern Baptist Pastor Wiley Drake:

What has garnered [Pastor Drake] the most media attention is what he said to national radio talk show host Alan Colmes in June.

“Are you praying for his death?" Colmes asked Drake, referring to President Obama. "Yes," Drake replied. "So you're praying for the death of the president of the United States?" Colmes asked. "Yes." "You would like for the president of the United States to die?" Colmes asked once more. "If he does not turn to God and does not turn his life around, I am asking God to enforce imprecatory prayers that are throughout the Scripture that would cause him death, that's correct."

Pastor Drake is not alone:

Pastor Steve Anderson of Faithful World Baptist Church in Tempe, Ariz., also incorporates this form of prayer in his worship. In fact, Frederick Clarkson of Religion Dispatches surmises that Anderson inspired one regular attendant of Faithful World Baptist, 28-year-old Chris Broughton, to show up to a speech by the president with two guns in hand when he issued the following sermon:

"You’re going to tell me that I’m supposed to pray for the socialist devil, murderer, infanticide, who wants to see young children, and he wants to see babies killed through abortion and partial-birth abortion and all these different things," Anderson said, referring to President Obama. "Nope. I’m not gonna pray for his good. I’m going to pray that he dies and goes to hell."

The article continues by nothing that Psalm 109 "is now a top Google search" and that this prayer "even inspired a line of bumper stickers and T-shirts that sinisterly read 'Pray for Obama,' while pointing to the Psalm, and in particular, the passage that calls for an end to present leadership."

Read it all.

My initial response was to say that it's one thing to oppose (even angrily or bitterly oppose) the President's policy initiatives and his positions on particular moral issues. But it's quite another thing to actively pray for his death and for his eternal damnation in hell. That's morally evil. And it's anti-Christian.

In response to all of this, I also recalled a particular passage from a New Testament epistle:

We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them (1 John 3:14-15 NRSV).

Using Psalm 109:8 as an imprecatory prayer for the President's death is a striking and disturbing example of abiding in death.

But let's say that a Christian genuinely regards the President as an enemy. I believe someone in a position of authority had something to say that's relevant to that scenario, too:

But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:27 NRSV).

The person who invoked theological ethicist Stanley Hauerwas in response to a piece on this over at Faith and Theology has a point. Here's what Hauerwas says:

"Most North American Christians assume that they have a right, if not an obligation, to read the Bible. I challenge that assumption. No task is more important that for the Church to take the Bible out of the hands of individual Christians in North America. Let us no longer give the Bible to all children when they enter the third grade or whenever their assumed rise to Christian maturity is marked, such as eighth-grade commencements. Let us rather tell them and their parents that they are possessed by habits far too corrupt for them to be encouraged to read the Bible on their own."

When Christians use the Bible to pray for the death and damnation of other people, it does, indeed, suggest that such persons possess corrupt habits that disqualify them from reading the Bible on their own. Perhaps it should also disqualify them from exercising the authority to teach and preach as well. I'd wager that the writer of the first epistle of John would agree.


Jendi said...

Very well said, esp. your last paragraph. Pardon me if this is thread drift, but the implications of the Hauerwas quote perplex me: "they are possessed by habits far too corrupt for them to be encouraged to read the Bible on their own".

Hauerwas is known to toss off extreme and provocative statements in order to shock his fellow Christians out of complacency, but this is one place where he seems to have preferred a good one-liner to genuine analysis. Who then should read the Bible for "the rest of us"? Isn't everyone equally corrupt--the magisterium as well as the lay people? I'd like to understand the context for this statement, since I didn't peg Hauerwas as a Catholic conservative.

Just Me said...

That really is quite disturbing.

Anonymous said...

Bryan I am just home from Church and I read this and am truly sickened but sadly not surprised.

The Bible it seems can be a dangerous tool not only in the hands of some individuals but some Denominations as well.

Jesus must weep at the state of His church . . . I hate (a strong word) Denominationalism.

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks, everyone, for the comments.

Jendi, you are right to point out Hauerwas' penchant for throwing out statements for shock value. And certainly, this quote has its fair share of hyperbole. But I think that the point Hauerwas is making in the part you've flagged is in keeping with a patristic understanding of what is required for persons to rightly read and interpret scripture.

Here's how Christopher Hall puts it:

The fathers affirmed a deep connection between the spiritual health of biblical interpreters and their ability to read the Bible well. For the fathers, the Scripture was to be studied, pondered and exegeted within the context of worship, reverence and holiness. The fathers considered the Bible a holy book that opened itself to those who themselves were progressing in holiness through grace and power of the Spirit. The character of the exegete would determine in many ways what was seen or heard in the text itself. Character and exegesis were intimately related. ...

Neither Athanasius nor Gregory [of Nazianzus] envisioned exegesis or theology as the academic activity of biblical scholars or theologians divorced from the life of the church or personal spiritual formation. Rather, the fathers believed, the best exegesis occurs within the community of the church. The Scriptures have been given to the church, are read, preached, heard and comprehended within the community of the church, and are safely interpreted only by those whose character is continually being formed by prayer, worship, meditation, self-examination, confession and other means by which Christ's grace is communicated to his body. That is to say, the fathers argue that any divorce between personal character, Christian community and the study of scripture will be fatal for any attempt to understand the Bible [Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers (InterVarsity Press, 1998), pp. 41, 42; emphasis added].

Tony Seel said...

Absolutely despicable.

The Underground Pewster said...


I pray the pastors see how they are making scripture repugnant. Perhaps they never got the chance to study our old 39 Articles.

XX. Of the Authority of the Church.
The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.

Russ, Anna, Pepper and Vesper said...

I had not heard any of this before about the Baptist preachers, terrifying!!!!!

bob said...

I don't think that even pre-christian emperors or the Sultan in the case of persecuted Eastern Christians had this happen to them. It's a pure American, Protestant phenomenon as far as I know. Sigh. Along with the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, et al it's "Our" contribution to christian and para-christian history. Let's hope it improves.

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks everybody, for the comments. Obviously, I share the sick feelings and the moral outrage. And I would hope that any person - Christians as well as non-Christians - and regardless of political party affiliation, would likewise find this abhorrent.

Good point about making scripture repugnant, Underground Pewster. We do well to remember that how we interpret and use any part of scripture must be in accord with the whole of scripture. And that the whole of scripture - or, to put it a bit differently, the heart of scripture - is supremely revealed to us in the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus. I believe that definitively rules out what these particular pastors and others who are following their lead are doing.

And that's an interesting point about the uniquely American character of this, bob. What a far cry this is from the apostle Paul's exhortation to Christians living under a hostile regime:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment (Romans 13:1-2 NRSV).

One wonders if, in our individualism, the real locus of authority in the case of those pushing this imprecatory prayer is not scripture (I'd be interested in how, as literalists, they deal with this passage from Paul), but themselves defined over and against the government on the basis of their particular political/moral ideology.

The American Sovereign Self strikes again!