An injection of prayer

This Washington Post headline sure conjures up an odd image:

House Injects Prayer Into Defense Bill

The story concerns language in a defense authorization bill that was amended to include language that would allow chaplains to use Jesus’ name prayers offered at public military ceremonies.

“Focus on the Family, the Christian Coalition and other evangelical Christian groups have lobbied vigorously against the Air Force and Navy rules, urging President Bush to issue an executive order guaranteeing the right of chaplains to pray in the name of Jesus under any circumstances. Because the White House has not acted, sympathetic members of Congress stepped in.

“We felt there needed to be a clarification” of the rules “because there is political correctness creeping into the chaplains corps,” said Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.). “I don’t understand anyone being opposed to a chaplain having the freedom to pray to God in the way his conscience calls him to pray.”

Among the provision’s opponents is the chief of Navy chaplains, Rear Adm. Louis V. Iasiello, a Roman Catholic priest.

“The language ignores and negates the primary duties of the chaplain to support the religious needs of the entire crew” and “will, in the end, marginalize chaplains and degrade their use and effectiveness,” Iasiello wrote in a letter to a committee member.”

The National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces and the Anti-Defamation League don’t care for the language either.

The Diocese of Washington is home to the National Cathedral, which functions both as an Episcopal Church and what its charter refers to as a “great church for national purposes,” we deal with the issue of public prayer in interfaith settings on a fairly regular basis. It can be done well, but it can’t be done easily. The three monotheistic faiths have a common ancestor (Abraham), and were born in the same part of the world, so there is some language available that e is inclusive (for lack of a better word) without being so generic, as to render the prayer meaningless. But when you move beyond monotheism to other faith traditions, the sledding gets tougher, and the destination becomes increasingly ambiguous.

So I have some sympathy with people who say “If I can’t name my God in my prayer, it isn’t worth praying.” But that doesn’t lead me to argue for faith specific public prayer–which I think is unconstitutional. Rather, it leads me to ask whether it is worth offering communal prayer in multi-faith settings.

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