13 February 2013

Politics or Prayer?

Even those who don't identify themselves as full-fledged "two-kingdoms" folks when it comes to political theology (check here and here) might, I suspect, have some qualms about a phenomenon called a "National" Prayer Breakfast. I've never paid much attention to such confabs in the past, figuring they were either platitudinous or partisan, and this year was no different. Unrelated to any awareness of his connection to this year's event, I overheard some talk-show remarks by Dr. Ben Carson who, it turned out was its keynote speaker.

Frankly, I gave Carson's interview only a few seconds of attention until I read the comments of syndicated columnist Cal Thomas here. Cal Thomas was, and so far as I know still is, a well-regarded and distinctly conservative voice in American politics, especially among Evangelicals. The title of his comments says it all: "Ben Carson owes Obama an apology." Turns out, at least from Thomas's view of matters, that Carson "broke with a 61-year tradition and publicly disagreed with some of the president's policies."

What policies you ask? Federal funding of abortion and embryonic stem-cell research? Offing American citizens without due process of law? Unrelenting efforts to undermine the eons-old understanding of marriage? No. According to Thomas, Carson's ire was not directed toward any of these issues with respect to which there is a reasonably consistent Christian witness but instead Carson vented on Obamacare, taxation, and the national debt. Hardly the stuff of an address at an event billed as something to do with prayer.

I've attended two local prayer breakfasts over the course of my life, one in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the early 1990s and the other in Suffolk, Virginia a year ago. As far as I can remember both focused on prayer for elected leaders of government at all level. In other words, something like what the Apostle Paul enjoined in his first letter to junior pastor Timothy here.

There is a place for principled political speech. There is also a place for public prayer, even in Washington, DC. To mix the two reveals again, as if it needed further confirmation, that American Evangelicals don't know the difference between this age and the age to come or between Church and culture. (Check here for a review of a history of the Left and Right in American Evangelicalism, both of which had a hard time making these distinctions.)

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