This election, there’s a movement around the country to use the Bible and prayer in the wrong way. It makes God a political partisan. It associates God with vengeance and hatred, substitutes a personal or group judgement for God’s own as it despoils the idea of divine glory, and mocks God by asking God to grant divine intervention and authority to actions God condemns.
Put aside the impulse to run to the barricades of clichés, the library of platitudes about religion. Go outside free will, the failed standards of churches, the doubts about the existence of God, the comfortable substitution of superstition, the smug blindness by which we ignore the invisible, universal presence our ancestors were able to discern with slowly evolved awareness of its immanence. For all doubters, simply look to creativity–one concept–the endless, infinite, ever-changing, amazing creativity that is the world, things small and large, near and far, that are, even by our limited measure, eternal marvels of patterns and chaos that link light arriving to our eye before the earth was formed.
After creativity, morality is a universal set of human rules, tied to an afterlife. Sacred texts developed by communities coded behavior and designated good and bad. For Christianity, the Bible is a sacred text. Its words by many believers are considered the holy writ of God. And its believers, many people of power and influence, of education and means, are using its verses to pray for the defeat, death and the spiritual disembowelment of Barack Obama.
E-mails are being widely distributed with the title, “Pray Psalm 109:8.” Here’s the relevant section of Psalm 109 people are using to pray for Barack:
When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him. 8 May his days be few; may another take his place in office. 9 May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. 10 May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven[a] from their ruined homes. 11 May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor. 12 May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children. 13 May his descendants be cut off, their names blotted out from the next generation. 14 May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord; may the sin of his mother never be blotted out. 15 May their sins always remain before the Lord, that he may blot out their name from the earth.
People around the country are praying these words, sending them to friends, specifically putting “Pray Psalm 109:8” on tee shirts, hats, and bumper stickers and earnestly bowing their heads without thought or remorse that Barack be “blotted out.” Others are using what they believe are God’s words to ridicule Barack, mocking him with the swift righteousness of a God whose wrath is final. But God’s wrath is not theirs; their judgement is not His. By not embracing God in love, they deceive themselves and mock God.
Harriet Tubman is a major source of my own belief, this woman whose head was crushed by a 40 lb. scale weight when she was 12, leaving her in a six-month coma and with debilitating lifelong seizures and migraines. She was the height of 19th century courage as she guided small bands of the enslaved to freedom across hostile landscapes, never caught, never losing a passenger on her underground railroad, even as she lapsed into day-long seizures, never captured despite the $40,000 price tag on her head by those who condemned her victories for freedom as evil.
During the Civil War, Harriet Tubman served as a soldier, scout, spy, and nurse–but never fired a shot. She united faith and works. She healed hundreds of soldiers given up on with dysentery, using an herbal remedy she learned from the enslaved. She liberated the largest one-day total of the enslaved, over nine hundred, as she commanded three ships clearing mines from the Combahee River, a blackwater river along coastal South Carolina. She was present at the nation’s first emancipation celebration at Port Royal, SC, beginning midnight, January 1, 1863. As freedom spread across the South in its own long march, at the time and place of its notice, no soldiers died and no deaths were recorded. Freedom was unspoiled.
God’s warrior angel deserves sainthood. Her work is how God answers prayers. It shows how God intervenes, not through death but hope. God is a refuge, not an assassin. The grace and protection of God surrounded her every step. She always claimed to be guided by God’s voice.
Those who are praying the verses above are praying not for the righteous guidance of God but for his vengeance. Their praise of God corrupts his intent. Their hearts do not see God as a fortress against distress. Their stubborn hearts follow a false way. They profane the sweet honey from the rock.
Among the leaders of the Psalm 109 prayer movement is Kansas Speaker of the House, Republican Mike O’Neal. O’Neal also wrote in an e-mail: “At last – I can honestly voice a Biblical prayer for our president! Look it up – it is word for word! Let us all bow our heads and pray. Brothers and Sisters, can I get an AMEN? AMEN!!!!!!” This is a man deceived by the wickedness of his own heart, a man who cannot ask for glory. He has misjudged God’s trust.
Rick Santorum referenced Psalm 109 during his run. But the movement is wide on “the broad place,” among grass roots citizens whose independent morality shapes the quality of American life, as tolerant or unforgiving. It’s mind-boggling to see believers pray to a forgiving God (with salvation tied to His mercy) an unforgiving prayer!
The 109 prayer groups see God as an all-knowing judge, a witness to their way of life, a God who sanctions their mutual command. The 19th century enslaved saw God as a protecting hand, an all-wise defender, a waymaker providing counsel and comfort.
The theology problem is that political disagreements are being attached and interpreted as divine differences, and ultimately good and evil. Matthew Henry, the eminent Bible scholar, has this to say about those praying to seek an end reserved for the enemies of God: “Greater impiety can scarcely be imagined than to vent a devilish passion in the language of sacred writ.”
Truth is writ large and transparent, easily translated into comparisons and analogies, from nature to physics, and will include its own paradox and discovery. Things false reflect a single position, stubbornly closed to curious inspection, argued in circles. Although false things are singular and cannot be expanded to other realms (legally, such a prayer is a threat against the President’s life; it is exposed by the condemnation many of those praying hold for Islam; it evokes the dark arts), the attraction hinges on what the Psalms (119) call “double-minded,” a belief that God aligns with human will.
Listen to the spirituals: the enslaved did not impugn God by calling upon His vengeful will. Instead their prayers consistently called for expanding His truth. Prayer and souls ride the same train. The enslaved knew prayer rises above the storm and elevates the spirit and resists the third temptation that Christ faced, to rule the world by the desire of woes. Their faith put despair aboard with suffering and expanded its truth without dread or fear, without seeking revenge or advantage, and abjured enduring rage for love. They listened to be called, conquered divisions, united around truths that live as well today as they did yesterday. That they could and knew how to touch their troubles on the divine sword of justice of a kind Savior is, in Harriet Tubman’s words, a part of the glory of everything.
So with courage of heart, I pray for Barack: “may his years endure to all generations!”