The Prayers That Offended

by Victor Knowles

No sooner had the prayers ended than the criticisms began. On January 20, 2001, the inauguration of America's 43rd president, George Walker Bush, featured two powerful prayers delivered by prominent preachers and a call to prayer from the new president himself.

Baptist evangelist Franklin Graham, Billy Graham's son, gave the invocation. He concluded his prayer, which called for national repentance from sin, with these words: "Now, O Lord, we dedicate this presidential inaugural ceremony to You. May this be the beginning of a new dawn for America as we humble ourselves before You and acknowledge You alone as our Lord, our Savior and our Redeemer. We pray this in the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

The benediction was delivered by Kirbyjon Caldwell, pastor of the Windsor Village United Methodist church in Houston. His spirited prayer concluded with these powerful words: "O Lord, let Your divine favor be upon President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Welch Bush and their family. We decree and declare that no weapon performed against them shall prosper. Let Your divine favor be upon the Bush team and all Americans....We respectfully submit this humble prayer in the name that's above all other names, Jesus the Christ. Let all agree say ‘Amen.'" But not everyone would agree.

In his inaugural speech, President Bush, a Methodist who reads his Bible every day, called on all citizens to care for one another with compassion "on the road to Jericho," a biblical reference to the account of the Good Samaritan. He also asked for the prayers of the nation as he began his administration. His first official act as president was to declare Sunday, January 21, as a national Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving.

My wife and I watched and listened with gratitude and joy in our hearts. We were especially appreciative of the prayers that went beyond the usual bland and generic to the bold and specific.

But on inauguration night a woman from Ohio called in on C-Span (on the Democratic line) and said something like this. "Now, I'm a Christian and prayer is nice and all that. But don't you think it was offensive for those prayers to include the name of Jesus? I mean, calling him God's ‘Son' and ‘Savior.' That's just so exclusive. Don't you think that turned a lot of people off?" The hosts murmured their assent.

Pray tell, would the Christian woman expect Christian ministers not to pray to God in the name of Jesus Christ? Apparently. Ibrahim Hooper, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the preachers should have been more "encompassing" in their words. Even Martin Marty, a Lutheran minister and leading religious scholar and writer, joined Hooper in expressing surprise and dismay at the prayers in Jesus' name. "It implied that if you didn't join in, you were an outsider. People don't mind the prayers, they mind the assumption of exclusivism and Christian privilege....The problem with saying "Jesus" is that it cuts off access to the Father for Muslims, Jews and others." And this, from a leading Lutheran!

Caldwell responded, "It is never my intention to insult anyone who hears a public prayer that I offer!...(but) I am a Christian, I was invited by a Christian president to offer a prayer. I would have been misrepresenting who I am and arguably even why I was there had I not prayed in Jesus' name."

A spokesman for Graham, Mark DeMoss, added, "Franklin Graham would never vary the way he would pray." In other words, you don't jettison Jesus just to cajole non-Christians.

Then came a letter from a woman in New Jersey, published in USA Today (Jan. 24,2001), criticizing President Bush (she disrespectfully called him the "new kid on the block") for "insulting" Americans by issuing his proclamation for a National Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving. She stated, falsely and in ignorance, that "separation of church and state...is the foundation of our democracy." The newspaper chose to headline her letter, "Divisive ‘day of prayer.'"

The Offense of the Cross

The name of Jesus is above all names, far above all other names that have ever been named. The Apostle Paul declared, "Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:9-11). Yes, we confess, there is something about that name!

The Apostles Peter and John were criticized-even commanded to cease and desist from speaking at all in the name of Jesus. But they boldly replied, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved...Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God for we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard"(Acts 4:12,19-20). The newly sworn-in president and his chosen preachers are in good company!

Jesus Himself declared, with great and final certitude, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).

Prayer is offered to God the Father in the name of Jesus the Son. We dare not approach God in our own name or in the name of anyone other than Jesus. His name is always acceptable to God. At the baptism of Jesus, God voiced His approval. "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17 nkjv). The Great King on His throne will not hold out the scepter to any other name.

The world hates Jesus. Giovannie Papini said, "The fury of so many against Him is a proof that He is not dead." Jesus was crucified for who He was, not for what He had done. If He came back today, it would not take men 30 years to crucify Him. He would be crucified nightly on the news and late night TV and before 30 days were up, He would be on the cross again.

Josh McDowell asks, "Why is it that you can talk about God and nobody gets upset, but as soon as you mention Jesus, people often want to stop the conversation?" When an orthodox Jew, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, was chosen to be Vice-President Al Gore's running mate, no one kicked against the pricks. In fact, praise was swift and nonpartisan in forthcoming. But let two Christian ministers dare to mention the name of Jesus in their inaugural prayers and all hell breaks loose.

Jesus Himself said, "You believe in God, believe also in Me" (John 14:1 NKJV). To believe in Jesus means to believe in personal sin for His very name means, "He shall save His people from their sins." A recent poll showed that 96% of Americans believe in God. Not nearly that many believe in Jesus. Why? Because Jesus cuts to the chase. And the chase ends at the cross.

Our Lord calls us to the life of the cross. He died on the cross. Because man is a sinner. Men don't like to be called sinners or reminded that they need the blood of Christ for salvation. An Jesus demands that we take up our cross and follow Him. Daily. The "offense of the cross" is great. It grows greater every day in these tolerance-charged and politically-correct days. Let us who wear His name never be ashamed of Him nor His words in this crooked and increasingly perverse generation.

I do not want to offend anyone unnecessarily in my praying or preaching. But more than that, I do not want to offend God nor be ashamed of Jesus. He is Lord-Lord of all! And for that we should make no apologies.

Victor Knowles heads

Peace on Earth Ministries (POEM) and is president of Central Christian College in Moberly, Missouri.