A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Dueling Prayer Meetings: Civil Religion on the Right, Domesticated Religion on the Left

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who seems to have presidential aspirations, has initiated a prayer rally for Christians in Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas. Perry's invitation on the website states, "As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy," Even though this mega prayer meeting is billed as apolitical, its politically conservative bent is obvious.

Not to be upstaged, the religious left is now offering an alternative to the Perry rally with its own "Family, Faith, and Freedom" celebration to be held in Houston at the Mount Ararat Baptist Church, sponsored by Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Executive Director, Barry Lynn states, "This event unites us in our conviction that government should have no favorite theology and that it must always strive to ensure that all citizens -- Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists and others -- are full and equal partners in the public square,"

Now, I have no objection whatsoever to Christians gathering together for prayer in a stadium or anywhere else, for that matter. Christians praying together always seems like a good idea to me. Neither will I protest religious leaders from various faiths gathering together. I think there is a common good toward which we all should work.

What I object to is once again nation state politics is the determining factor on how Christians operate and respond to each other. On the right we have a clear display of civil religion, and on the left we have an obvious example of domesticated religion. And no matter how one refers to these, both Christians on the right and on the left may affirm Jesus is Lord, but in actuality it is Caesar once again calling the shots, even in how we are now going to gather for prayer.

If I lived in Houston, I would not be attending either event. Maybe I would just stay home and pray for unity.


Unknown said...

While I agree that both of these events are marked more by their partisan leanings than by genuine faith, I'm not quite sure how the alternative gathering to Perry's is "domesticated". Is that simply because it includes people of other faiths? I'd like to hear more about what you mean here.

Dennis Sanders said...

I agree with your take on both prayer rallies, but like Matt, it would be helpful if you'd unpack what is meant by a "domesticated religion." I think I know what you mean, but would like more clarification.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Matt and Dennis:

Thanks for your comments.

What I am getting at are the presumptions that motivate both rallys.

As I said, I am not opposed to inter-faith gatherings where we can all rally around the common good. What I object to are the Christendom assumptions that motivate the two gatherings in question. As I have argued in my book The Politics of Witness (a little shameless self-promotion there :-]), both the religious left and the religious right proceed on the same latent Constantinian and Christendom assumptions. In other words, when most Christians think politics, they think state. I want them to think church.

And while the religious right acknowledges their promotion of civil religion, the left continues to deceive itself in denial. Thus both the religious right and the left are not only guilty of promoting their own versions of civil religion, they have both willingly domesticated themselves to the principalities and powers. Jesus becomes Lord of the world and the nations only in theory, Caesar is Lord in reality, which is why we have Christians holding dueling prayer rallies. Left and right are more determinative for their identities than what it means for them to be "in Christ." Indeed, no one questions whether the polarities of left and right are in and of themselves problematic for Christians.