The Taser's Edge


Honest Abe, (Vampire Hunter and) Theologian

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I hadn’t realized the National Day of Prayer was a federally recognized religious holiday until it was ruled unconstitutional by a judge in Wisconsin last week.  Who knows how accurate Wikipedia is on the subject, but it at least says the modern National Day of Prayer (the one the court struck down) is from Reagan in 1988.

There was a long history of national days of prayer before that, and a friend of mine sent me the text of Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation instating a National Day of Prayer in 1863.  If today’s NDP really were what Lincoln envisioned (and it’s far from it), then there would be no question that (at least according to the last decades of precedent in understanding the First Amendment) it’s unconstitutional.

My question is why religious folks are so concerned that the US Government officially recognizes and endorses their practice.  My further interest is in Lincoln as theologian whose strong voice and idiosyncratic faith, is light-years more honest and open than anything in the Obama/Falsani interview I posted on Sunday.  (And this post also connects to the recent scandal about Confederate history in Virginia without slavery.)  Finally, I want to point out an unexpected strong connection between Lincoln’s theology and a certain popular Black Liberation theologian.

An excerpt from Lincoln’s proclamation for a National Day of Prayer in 1863:

And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord…We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

And an excerpt from his Second Inaugural:

Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

That is a complicated, rich, and incredibly troubling read of God in history.  A similar read of God in history has not gone away either.  From a recent controversial sermon by a controversial preacher after 9/11, who seems to share some substantial theological assumptions with the 16th president:

Every public service of worship I have heard about so far in the wake of the American tragedy has had in its prayers and in its preachments sympathy and compassion for those who were killed and for their families, and God’s guidance upon the selected presidents and our war-machine as they do what they got to do – pay backs…

America’s chickens are coming home to roost! We took this country by terror away from the Sioux, the Apache, the Aroawak, the Comanche, the Arapaho, the Navajo. Terrorism! We took Africans from their country to build our way of ease and kept them enslaved and living in fear. Terrorism! We bombed Grenada and killed innocent babies, non military personnel. We bombed the black civilian community of Panama with stealth bombers and killed unarmed teenagers and toddlers, pregnant mothers and hard-working fathers. We bombed Gadhaffi’s home and killed his child. Blessed are they who bash your children’s head against a rock! We bombed Iraq. We killed unarmed civilians trying to make a living. We bombed a plant in Sudan to payback for the attack on our embassy. Killed hundreds of hard-working people; mothers and fathers who left home to go that day, not knowing that they would never get back home. We bombed Hiroshima! We bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye! Kids playing in the playground , mothers picking up children after school, civilians – not soldiers – people just trying to make it day by day. We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and Black South Africans, and now we are indignant? Because the stuff we have done overseas has now been brought back into our own front yard! America’s chickens are coming home to roost! Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred and terrorism begets terrorism.

The not-so-mystery author?  Jeremiah Wright.


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