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Tuesday, April 27, 2004  

Whose God?

A local controversy has erupted that sheds light on the issue "God" and the US government. Bear with me for a moment while I give some background. In Washington County (Oregon), where Portland's western suburbs are located, the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship arranged a Mayors' Prayer Breakfast for May 5. On a vote of 7-1, organizers decided to revoke an invitation to Shahriar Ahmed, president of the Bilal Mosque Association, to join other clergy in offering a prayer.

Peter Reding, the fellowship's communications director, said Muslims pray to Allah rather than God and contended they are not part of "Judeo-Christian tradition." Both suppositions figured into the steering committee's 7-1 vote to bar Ahmed from praying. The group said he could still attend and sit in the audience. Ahmed has said he will skip the event.

For fifteen years, America has been debating God--where it's appropriate to pray, which groups are allowed to receive federal funds, and what identifying "God" in govermental functions (the Pledge of Allegiance at schools, say) means theologically. Christians have been at the forefront of a movement to loosen the separation of Church and state, arguing that the "establishment" clause of the Constitution doesn't bar commingling. A key component of their argument is this: "God" is generic, not specific, and support of Christianity doesn't mean exclusion of other faiths.

I'm going to go ahead and give the Christian activists credit on this point: I think they sincerely believed these two points, even while they were unable to imagine how non-Christians interpreted the same rulings. It was a failure to see their own assumptions. Perhaps incidents like this will reveal the inherent conflict between religion and government, and the wisdom of the first amendment.

The truth, demonstrated here, is that "God" is not a stand-in for people's own beliefs, a generic signifier of private belief. "God" means a Christian God--not a Jewish God or Allah or Vishnu. Of course it must. Listen to the Fellowship's Vision Statement:

Our vision for the fellowship is based upon a series of prophetic messages given over a period of time and confirmed by a literal vision from God.

In the vision, untold masses of men from every continent and nation, of all races and diverse culture and costume, once spiritually dead, are now alive. Delivered and set free, they are filled with power of God?s Holy Spirit, faces radiant with glory, hands raised and voice lifting their praises to heaven.

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.

The mission is clear: "To reach men in all nations for Jesus Christ."

The concept of the Prayer Breakfast is something that has been going on for decades--Bush has spoken at them. Their function is actually to dissolve the separation between church and state and turn the US into a Christian nation.

The GOAL is to reach every city across the USA with a well planned Prayer Breakfast.

Our PURPOSE is to reach leaders for Jesus Christ.

Our OBJECTIVE is to Pray for all in authority, that we might live Godly lives.

Our STRATEGY is to use Prayer Breakfast events. They have shown to be highly effective at reaching into our community and impact our leaders. They create a desire to become involved and also remind us of our country's heritage.

(Jeffrey Sharlet wrote a wonderful article on this topic for Harper's).

We live in a democracy, so all voices must be heard. If a group wants to turn the US into a theocracy, they're definitely allowed to argue the point. What we need to be wary of is groups whose agendas aren't clear (even to themselves). The Washington County Prayer Breakfast was a great opportunity for us all to step back and have a good look at our assumptions. "God" is specific. If you don't think so, ask Shahriar Ahmed.

[Update: Iggi points us to this Guardian story.]

posted by Jeff | 8:44 AM |
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