Oklahoma legislators demonstrated the divisive power of state-sponsored prayer last week when — apparently for the first time there — a routine motion to enter an opening prayer in the official record was met by opposition.
The prayer was delivered by Rev. Scott H. Jones, pastor of Cathedral of Hope in Oklahoma City. Jones paraphrased the so-called Prayer of St. Francis, asking God to give “these elected representatives of your people courage and wisdom, that they might be instruments of your peace, sowing love where there is hatred, pardon where there is injury, union in place of discord . . . “
The discord began even before Jones began to pray. In his opening remarks, he acknowledged people in the gallery — “dear friends, my wonderful parents, and my loving partner and fiance, Michael.” Jones is gay. So is state Rep. Al McAffrey, Oklahoma’s only openly gay legislator, the man who invited Jones to pray and who made the motion to enter the prayer in the record.
It all was a bit much for state Rep. John Wright who objected. The prayer was then put to a vote. Sixty-four representatives voted to include the prayer, 20 voted to strike it from the record, 17 abstained — so it’s now official.
Afterward, Wright told the The Oklahoman newspaper that his motion was “not meant to be derogatory nor divisive nor in any way trying to cause diminishment of someone’s sense of self-worth . . . My actions were motivated by the faith.” He didn’t elaborate on which faith he considered The faith, but presumably it’s his.
McAffrey, a legislator for three years, said he’s never heard anyone object to entering a prayer in the official record. “I’m sure that because most of Scott’s congregation are gay people and Scott is gay himself, I’m sure that’s the reason why there were negative votes on it,” McCaffrey said.
The House’s action drew a rebuke from Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ. “As the leader of Rev. Jones’ denomination, I am deeply offended by the treatment he received from the legislature and dismayed by the message of intolerance it sends to the citizens of Oklahoma and beyond,” Thomas said.
“It is comforting, however, to remember that our prayers are judged at the throne of grace and not in the halls of petty principalities.”
If elected officials can vote on whose prayers are acceptable, will they next vote on whose faith is acceptable? The Oklahoma House’s opening prayer is ceremonial. Like the House itself, shouldn’t it be open to all faiths and preachers?