May 2, 2013 10:21:09 AM
Late this morning, people of a faith gathered on the lawn of the Lowndes County Courthouse to observe the National Day of Prayer.
The inclusion of the word "a" preceding the word "faith" is not a typographical error.
The National Day of Prayer was established by Congress in 1952, inviting people of all faiths to participate. If ever there were a benign, non-controversial event, the National Day of Prayer should be it.
Sadly, efforts to hijack the event by a politically conservative group of Evangelical Christians has spread in recent years. As is the case with most really misguided ideas, the trend has now reached Columbus, where the local organizers have established the National Day of Prayer as an event planned by Christians only, conducted by Christians only and directed to an audience of Christians only. The faiths, prayers and beliefs of anyone outside of Christianity are neither acknowledged, respected or welcomed.
Jews were not invited to attend and they certainly weren't invited to participate in the program. The same went for Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims or any other non-Christian faith.
Glenn Lautzenhiser, the man who would be mayor, also serves as publicity chairman for the local event organizers. He confirmed that today's event was for "Christians Only."
"This is the Christian Community and Prayer Committee -- it is strictly the Christian community and National Day of Prayer committee," Lautzenhiser said.
Lautzenhiser did say non-Christians would not be turned away. Of course, any effort to remove a "non-believer" from the grounds of the Courthouse would have been a violation of the Constitution since the area is designated as a "free speech zone," so it's pretty obvious that Lautzenhiser's "generosity of spirit," is not only an empty gesture but an insulting one.
We do not know if the views of the organizing committee are shared by those who spoke in today's event, which included Canaan Baptist Church Pastor Danny Avery, Fairview Baptist Church Pastor Dr. Breck Ladd and Father Robert Dore of Annunciation Catholic Church, along with various other community leaders and officials.
We can only hope that sentiment is limited to the organizers, because that attitude runs contrary to the origin and purpose of the event.
Perhaps this is merely a snapshot of the times we live in, when religion is often used to wound more than heal, to scatter more than gather, to put down more than to lift up. There are two schools of thought that seem to be colliding at this juncture in our national history: The idea that one of the founding principles of the nation was religious liberty and the belief, held by many, that ours is a "Christian nation" and our policies and laws should reflect as much.
But if one religion is given favored status over all others, which appears to be the implication of the local NDOP organizers, the concept of religious liberty is rendered meaningless. When you have only one choice, you have no choice at all. You are one step closer to the establishment of a state religion, an idea so abhorrent to the Founding Fathers that it was expressly forbidden in the Constitution.
To suggest that only Christians can exercise their faith by participating in the observance of the National Day of Prayer is an assault and an insult to others who value their faith just as much as any Christian and have just as much right to participate in a National Day of Prayer as any Christian, no matter what Glenn Lautzenhiser, et al., have to say about it.
Paradoxically, there will be some who will view criticism of the local "Christian-only" event as an attack on Christianity.
To make that assumption is to miss the point, of course. It is not a matter of Christians being compelled to embrace the beliefs of other faiths. It is a matter of "doing unto others what you would have them do unto you," a teaching that you rarely hear anymore among politically-charged Evangelical Christians. In almost every case where the chorus of "Christianity under attack" goes up, it is generally made by those who are busy attacking the faiths of others through slander, stereotyping and, in this case, exclusion.
This "Christians only" attitude not only runs contrary to our national history, it is a violation of our national ethos, which compels us to respect all faiths. And in all faiths, prayer is a sacrament.
To purposefully exclude all those who don't share a particular faith from the observance of the National Day of Prayer -- as Lautzenhiser and the local organizing group most certainly have done -- is an attack, all right.
But it is emphatically not an attack on Christianity.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.