Notes on the Atrocities
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Thursday, May 08, 2003  

Prayer Breakfasts

Related to this story is another that’s emerged here in Portland (Oregon). Seems the mayors of Washington County (that’s a suburban Portland county—home to the Nike and Intel campuses) have organized a prayer breakfast. It’s an annual event, coordinated with the National Prayer Breakfast that happens every year in Washington. But this year, a Beaverton councilor, Fred Ruby, became uncomfortable when he learned more about it.

Ruby, who is Jewish, criticized the religious event for appearing to be sanctioned by the city because of its name. In addition, he noted that sponsors acknowledge the event is limited to Christian participation.

"The identification of the mayor's office with this program is wrong, and bad public policy, for several reasons," Ruby wrote Drake in March.

Using the word "mayors" to promote the breakfast violates the spirit if not the letter of the Constitution's separation of church and state, argued Ruby, a lawyer. The mayor, he said, should insist that any community program include the religions of all Beaverton residents. Oregonian, May 6, ’03

I’ve written about the Prayer Breakfasts before (here and here), but this is the first I’ve seen of someone taking issue with them. In this case, the group has planned to go ahead with the breakfast, noting that no public funds are being used. In a similar case in Georgia last year, a federal court ruled the same thing.

“On Jan. 7, U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash ruled that East Point, Ga., can proceed with the community’s five-year tradition of having a prayer breakfast featuring local civic and religious leaders. Local officials, however, must not use city funds, employees, facilities or supplies to subsidize the events.”

The ruling seems appropriate, and I expect nothing more to be made of the case in Oregon. But as I’ve mentioned in the past, while these things may be legal, they’re still a bit creepy—particularly when the government is sanctioning faith-based discrimination described in the blog below.

The prayer breakfast program is designed specifically to convert politicians and lobby them to craft Christian policy. From the prayer breakfast website: “Our purpose is to reach leaders for Jesus Christ.” Politicians involved in the movement—the organizers—make it clear that the fidelity to Christ comes before the fidelity to nation.

And the parent group, the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International, is a full-on missionizing group. From its mission and doctrinal statements:

• To reach men in all nations for Jesus Christ

• We believe in the Bible, in its entirety, to be the inspired Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and conduct.

• We believe in intensive world evangelization and missionary work in accordance with the Great Commission, with signs following.

And if that’s not enough to demonstrate what kind of mental model this group works from, there’s this (from the mission preamble): “We see a vast global movement of laymen being used mightily by God to bring in this last great harvest through the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit before the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I think Fred Ruby was right to question the prayer breakfast in Washington County. I think it’s also fair to ask leaders who attend this question: based on the mission of the groups who organize these events, do you craft your legislation to serve your god, or the people of Washington County? If it’s not the people of Washington County, they have a right to know.

posted by Jeff | 11:11 AM |
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