Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Invocations: Senator Terri Bonoff Is Correct

Earlier this week a Baptist pastor gave the invocation which opened the republican controlled Minnesota Senate in which he asked the assembled elected officials to do their work exclusively through and in the name of Jesus Christ. The pastor also proclaimed that no one (apparently referring to more than just the assembled public officials) can know God except through Jesus Christ. The invocation lasted slightly less than two minutes and can be viewed HERE. This is standard fare for believing Christians of a wide variety when gathered together in church or otherwise.

The Minnesota Senate being neither, democratic State Senator Terri Bonoff rose afterwords and objected to the extremely narrow--and exclusive--nature of the prayer. As a practicing Jew, Sen. Bonoff could hardly be expected to sign off on the fundamentals proffered by this Baptist pastor nor do her duty to her constituents under those auspices. Why should she? She asked that in the future invocations be less religiously sectarian and more generic or inclusive in nature. The senator is correct.

Regrettably, some in the Minnesota Republican Party have attempted to make political hay over something which should be simple religious decency. MC restrains itself from discussing why there are prayers in the first place at the opening of a public session of government. Tweets about "banning" or wanting to "prevent Jesus Christ" from being mentioned are unworthy of our party. A FOX News article titled "Democrat: Ban Jesus Prayers" is disgraceful. One could be forgiven for thinking that Sen. Bonoff called for invocations to be eliminated. She didn't.

According to the AP as published in the StarTribune, Bonoff simply asked that Senate tradition be observed once more. Visitors who give invocations are asked in a "letter given to [them] by the Secretary of the Senate . . . .'In an effort to be respectful of the religious diversity of our membership (Christian, Jewish and possibly others among them), we request that your prayer be interfaith and nonsectarian.'" The problem with this is what, precisely? Rather than deal with the merits of her understandable request, the basest of political hay is made.

In that same article (which can be read HERE), Sen. David Brown, R-Becker, observed that invocators come from specific belief systems. "I believe we don't have the right to censor their prayers." This is either willfully demagogic or deeply ignorant. The framing of the issue in this way betrays a base political prism (and not a terribly sophisticated one at that) through which religious pluralism is transmuted into opportunism. Mr. Theology went on to say that "there just seems to be intolerance for the name of Jesus on the Senate floor." What on earth is his name doing there in the first place? Moreover, MC is confident that that name is taken in vain daily during Senate doings and mostly by his followers. Preferring not to be beseeched to do one's legislative duties when one does not believe in him is not being intolerant of Jesus. Must this even be said?

Finally, Sen. Brown opined that "[t]here's nobody that loves the Jews any more than the Christians, so that was not meant as an insult or disrespect." Of course. And pork is delicious too, if only they tried it! But MC and Jews misunderstand, apparently. Said Brown: "Rather, it was a show of respect to Jesus Christ — just like our founders showed respect to Jesus Christ and the word of God when they built our Constitution." Someone is watching too much Glenn Beck. MC fears for Sen. Brown's psyche should he ever learn of The Jefferson Bible. Hint: go HERE.

Are MC's republican colleagues so insecure in their faith that at government proceedings they feel the need to proclaim it no matter what the religious composition of those gathered before them? MC realizes that at republican party functions there's a fair amount of invocations of the exclusively Christian kind. MC cringes for its Jewish friends at such events but they insist they can suck it up and carry on in the conservative cause. One doubts the same of those who give such invocations were the situations reversed.

Sen. Bonofff, however, needs improving as well. She said "I'm a very religious woman and believe deeply in God. We honor God in public and our political discourse, and that's proper. But in doing a nondenominational prayer we are honoring him without violating the separation of church and state." No. Invoking Jesus or Yahweh does not violate the separation of church and state. This misses the point entirely but then again MC has not found democrats to be well versed in either religion or the constitution. She should have quit while she was ahead.

Interestingly, at last year's MN GOP convention, the first day's invocation was given by a rabbi. Progress, thought MC. The next day's invocation was given by a Roman Catholic priest who never mentioned Jesus (the theological equivalent, one supposes, of being labeled a RINO). The simple point here is that the Minnesota Republican Party is not made up exclusively of Christians. We have Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and even atheists, God forbid!

One can make a strained case that members of our party can or should or must put up with an exclusive emphasis on Christ. At February's Elephant Club meeting in Minneapolis, Sen. Hall gave the invocation. Before doing so, however, he opined that those who were about to feel left out by his prayer to Jesus sit quietly and invoke whatever other lesser Deity they were foolish enough to follow. Of course the Senator didn't put it in those terms; the condescension of his precise words were almost worse, though. It failed to occur to him that when engaging in spiritual matters before political events, such comments are a sign of failure. MC hopes for a Shinto priest at this month's luncheon, and then a mullah in April, followed by a Hindu priest in May, and then a Buddhist in June. In July let's go all out with a lesbian rabbi!

Seriously, when the invocation is before the Minnesota Senate, such sectarian provincialism has no place. Not only is Sen. Terri Bonoff not wrong, it's wrong to treat her genuine request as a political football. What's next? Fund raising emails from Minnesota Majority decrying the vanquishment of God (ie, Christ) from state government?

Democrats are profoundly wrong on almost all major issues of the day. Minnesota republicans control the senate for the first time since the dawn of creation. They control the house. Their deeply flawed gubernatorial candidate lost to a paleo-liberal in a red wave election. There is much to do and these are serious times. Treating Sen. Bonoff's spiritual request politically is unserious and discrediting. Republicans are better than this and the senate leadership should honor her request. Then everyone can move on to the business to which all members of the legislature were elected to address.

UPDATE: Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch last week rejected a nondenominational approach to the essentially silly practice of praying before senate sessions by burbling: “I’m not going to get into the process of sort of editing prayer.” Why, yes, editing. That's what this entire affair was about! MC supposes she didn't mean to insult people's intelligence but she did. The New York Times has it HERE.

The majority leader is laughably cynical and that's giving her the benefit of the doubt. Who edited prayers before the republicans took over the senate, Senator Koch? Did she have anything to say about not wanting to make members intentionally uncomfortable? No. Did she decry MC's friend deputy chair Michael Brodkorb's misguided tweets designed to hurt democrats over a religious issue? [Those tweets got certified crazies Dan Riehl and Mark Levin into a spittle flecked lather!] Any contradiction there, Sen. Koch? Oh wait: she wouldn't want to edit his tweets either. Got it. Any thoughts about those of us who actually vote you types into office and are made to look ignorant, backwards and foolish as a result of your behavior? Any?

No doubt abusive religiosity goes over well with the Emmer neanderthals with whom the party leadership has allied itself so as not to have a challenge from its fringes at State Central. Mission accomplished. The financial and business benefits of this craven alliance will be explored another time. Feeding into the snake handlers in the party may be (temporarily) expedient but when it comes a cropper MC hopes it takes down only those who made that Faustian wager rather than the rest of the party and its activists.

Sen. Bonoff and her fellow brain-dead liberal colleagues, of course, over-played their hand in spectacular fashion. Not satisfied with having made an easily understood, discreet religious and political point, they obnoxiously insisted on changing the language of the letter given to guest invocators from "requesting" they take the mix of religious faiths in the chamber into account in their prayer to "requiring" it, whatever that truly means. Then, with the whiff of totalitarianism that always attends true liberalism, the paleo-liberals in the senate demanded that anyone in the future who violated the "require" language be barred forever more from being invited back to pray again.

They may as well have fled to Illinois for all the good this tactic did them. It allowed the majority speaker to cast the issue in terms of editing--which it wasn't--and elide the more serious underlying argument. MC, to that extent, can't really blame Sen. Koch but it does wish she had not given in to the most political opportune riposte but acted as a leader in her own right rather than someone well schooled by others.

At any rate, the democrats in the senate have no moral high ground in this matter given their own conduct. Yes, they are smarting still from losing their birthright of being in the majority in the senate. MC can only relish this. But such bitterness from an election defeat ought not to bring out the worst in people though it often does. Had Sen. Bonoff and her colleagues acted in good faith, so to speak, much of the ensuing nonsense could have been avoided. Instead, each side played to the worst amongst it for temporary gain.

The members of the Minnesota senate deserve each other.


Gerald said...

I appreciate your reasoned commentary. Thank you for framing the issue as being respectful of others and "simple religious decency." I'm stunned by the tunnel vision of some who are critical of Sen. Bonoff's request.

Anonymous said...

Ignoring the specific issue for the moment, I think there is a highly important distinction to be made, that deserves to be made. It is a political distinction, certainly, but Republicans, at least, should be consistent in matters of principle. In this case, the principle is freedom of religion. Where Republicans "ask" for respect of others in such matters. Democrats want to COMMAND it, using the power of government to quash that which they, personally, do not like.

Sorry, Sen. Bonoff, that you were offended. I am a Christian but I expect I would have been offended, as well. But I don't want the next invocation to be scripted by you or anybody else not doing the praying. This is one person's prayer on behalf of the Senate. Show a little respect.

J. Ewing

John Hugh Gilmore said...

Mr. Ewing, as usual, makes a good point and an update to be published tomorrow will address, at least in part, his concerns. What no one has convinced MC of is the need or, indeed, legitimacy, of sectarian invocations in the first place. The Pledge of Allegiance says we are one nation under God. That seems quite sufficient, though certainly reasonable people can disagree.

Anonymous said...

"Any thoughts about those of us who actually vote you types into office and are made to look ignorant, backwards and foolish as a result of your behavior?"

Now you're just being peevish. The crux of this problem is and always was the perpetual wantonness of the hyperbolic left to cast aspersions on people of the right trying to do the right thing, and having their media allies make a mountain out of all such molehills. That, coupled with the weak-kneed members of the right constantly wailing that the left doesn't like them and says bad things about them, their mothers and the horse they rode in on, makes for a tragically comic operetta where a functional, intelligent and deliberative body should be.

I've long been of the notion that Republicans, having seized the majority, ought to just do what is right and needs doing, and ignore the slings and arrows that will fall regardless of what they do. You can't please everybody, so you ought to dance with the one what brung ya.

OK, they could have agreed the pastor was over the top, or they could have apologized if members were offended, but that's exactly what these libs always want, is to change the subject, do political damage with whatever trifle real or conjured, and prevent the real reforms Republicans need to make. In a perfect world, yes, such things could be attended. Where we live, never give an inch. "Be sure you're right, then go ahead." -- Davy Crockett

J. Ewing

John Hugh Gilmore said...

If MC is peevish, surely Mr. Ewing and the entirety of his most recent comment is incoherent.

Michael1954 said...

I often vote Democratic, but am independent in my thoughts. This thought that Democrats have it all wrong, is not particularly Christian. If all people mess up, and they do, (or have sinned, as Christians would say)then it makes no sense to believe that Republicans or Democrats have a monopoly on truth. For those like me who tend to be in the middle, maybe left leaning, I can see that both parties condemn the other in this all or nothing thinking. By the way, I am a practicing Christian who had a Jewish mother, so I can see both sides of the issue. And there are also atheists in my family who sometimes act more Christians than the Christians. Not always, but sometimes. So, what do you want to do with that little piece of information? My point is, just be decent and realize that there are different points of view, and you MAY be able to learn from those other points of view, such as Sen. Bonoff.