What the other half pray for

Sunday, 23rd September 2007 at 10:53 UTC 12 comments

I was having a chat not long ago with someone involved in campaigning who asked what seemed quite an obvious question, but then, when I thought about it maybe its not so obvious after all: “what do you pray for”. Well, I pray for activists and the stuff they get up to, unlike some people, who pray for some really quite bizarre stuff. I guess I’d forgotten that to most people, prayer is weird and tied to hierarchy, and that most people think all Christians must pray for the Queen everyday. Sadly, for many, this is still the case…

I was reminded again of this when I saw a book on a friend’s shelves which I recognise from my more evangelical days, entitled Operation World. Its a country by country prayer reference for the entire world, which draws heavily on local missionaries’ own information (when I say local, mostly I mean people who’ve gone to live in those countries, not local people who are missionaries).

I picked it up, flicked through and found some particularly worrying stuff. I was reminded of how uneasy I found reading some of it at the time, but I guess lately I’d forgotten that many Christians pray in this way. It was a bit weird thinking about how some people with whom I apparently share a faith actually think along these lines. So assuming that this book is taken as literally today as it was when it first came out, here’s a few examples of the worrying (and amusing) things people pray for:

  • “Younger Europeans have moved away from the certainties of their Judeo-Christian heritage to New Age thinking [erm, think thats an exaggeration of numbers], relative truth, reincarnation [again, not sure thats really a significant trend] and the occult”. Perhaps they mean interest in faux-Buddhist tat and Harry Potter; whatever it is, perhaps this is where some Americans get their weird ideas about ‘a new dark age in Europe’ from.
  • The EU: throughout there are nice references to the lack of accountability in the EU. Sadly, for anyone who’s spent a lifetime watching the bewildering shifts in semi-apocalyptic debates in the shadows of Evangelical circles, this sounds only a tiny fraction removed from the “help, unified government, God not in the constitution, look, Revelation talks about a beast government unifying the world…”, you get the picture. The book never says it, but it does play into the hands of anyone wanting to draw those conclusions.
  • Again, in Europe “Bible-believing [sic] Christians are ridiculed, marginalised and even legislated against through the insistence of secularists on equality before the law of deviant lifestyles contrary to scripture”. Good grief, did you ever hear a more contorted way of saying “Gays are no longer thrown in jail”!
    OK, it says more than just that, but my point is, its worrying that people still think their religion should be curbing non-adherents practices, and use their effectiveness at this as a measure of religious freedoms. Just because gay sex is legal doesn’t mean your church has been imprisoned.
  • In the UK, “the freedoms of the 1960’s led to social disaster and spiritual decline… The gay rights movement, though representing a small minority, has seized the initiative in many areas of public life and in government legislation. Spiritual need is highlighted by increasing violence in the cities, the high divorce rate, suicide and illegitimacy rates, and drug abuse. Paralleling this is the growing number of younger people who have no contact with or knowledge of Christianity.
    So basically, doom and gloom because Christians no longer dominate, in the most negative sense of the word, the political agenda. And a big dose of post hoc ergo propta hoc (after, therefore because of).
  • Tolerance is again the bogeyman, with religious minorities pushing for “freedoms they would never grant Christians in their lands of origin”. Possibly fair do’s, but so close to saying “Muslims kill us in their countries, why shouldn’t we do it to them here”.
  • “Astrology, the Occult reincarnation old world paganism (Druid/Wicca) and even Satanism have become popular, with a massive increase in literature promoting their ends”. Yes, I remember this from my College CU, where someone often prayed about the people buying books from the mind, body, spirit section of Borders in town. The fact I was taking peeks at some of them to understand certain friends meant I was totally loathe to join in.
  • We are commanded to pray that “UK Christians may recover a confidence in the ‘intolerant’ gospel”. Another rather worrying trend.
  • “There are signs of hope… [including] Traumatic Social Change and the devastating consequences of violence, family break-down and fear for the future”. Christians never prey on people in vulnerable situations, honest!
  • “Globalisation is largely driven by US technology, media and culture… There are downsides too – an insensitive cultural imperialism imposition of a post-Protestant American individualism without its biblical constraints, a glorified perception of recently gained human rights, freedom and democracy that could generate [wait for it…] anarchy and moral collapse”.
    I just generally find this attitude really quite weird.

I haven’t really got time for more (and I doubt anyone would thank me if I did) and in many ways thats not my point. My point is rather more about the way many Christians pray as if they have some kind of right to rule the world through Earthly political structures and to dictate the political culture and direction of a country in which they are a tiny minority.

I have to say that the book includes many quite reasonable points, for instance in the sub-section on Wales concern is expressed about the Welsh language and culture being lost, and in other places materialism and/or poverty are challenged. But for many Evangelicals these aren’t even minor asides, and I suspect many reading the book I have here will have simply skipped over them and on to more of the imperialistic attitudes that I find really quite unnerving.

I find it easy to forget exactly what makes me so cross about most Evangelicals, and writing this piece has been a good reminder. Its good to remember the diversity amongst Christians, indeed, people of any faith, and to realise that sometimes, even something as basic as prayer can be quite a divisive issue when looked at in any detail. Meantime, I shall continue to pray for unity in the church and in society, for protection for minorities everywhere, and for peace, wisdom and safety to all those who seek justice, peace, democracy and freedom.

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Entry filed under: Faith, Politics, Religion.

A truly awful false dichotomy Party conferences: less democracy, more glitz

12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. theprogressiveprophet  |  Sunday, 23rd September 2007 at 16:52 UTC

    This is weird… I tried posting this comment and it didn’t show up the first time. I don’t know if WordPress is doing that weird thing where an action is taken and it happens hours later, so if this comment appears twice then I do apologise…

    I agree with the thrust of the issue you present, ie, that of not wanting to impose authoritarian rule through prayer. Actually, now that I think about it a bit more, this is a bit tricky… because I believe that God *does* use the rulers and powers of the world (remember, all things hold together in Him – Colossians 1:15-20), and that this creates a form of order which is perhaps more essential for people who have not committed themselves to the Gospel of Peace. Additionally, I think you may have to clarify your post a little, as, with some head-tilting and squinting, it seems as if you are saying we *shouldn’t* pray for the Queen, politicians, etc! I think we stand on messy ground if we start to think that someone ought to be excluded from our intercessions, not least of all because the Bible encourages prayer for ALL people, even kings and rulers (1 Timothy 2:1-6).

    Now I’m sure that’s not really the point of your post, but rather you seem to reject the idea that all Christians believe in the divine appointing (and approval) of all forms of authority, and if that is the case then I am in agreement with you. However, I would not go so far as to say we shouldn’t pray for them.

    On a personal note, when I pray for the governments of the world, it’s usually a request to God that they will find repentance 😉

    Reply
  • 2. Duck  |  Sunday, 23rd September 2007 at 16:58 UTC

    ‘Welsh language & culture’ probably translates as traditional chapel-going culture (ignoring the Sophia-esque Weird Hippies). Basically a way of saying the UK was much better 50 or 100 years ago.

    I *do* want to impose my beliefs on the rest of society. I want arms dealers to have to sell water pistols. If you have strong beliefs, surely in most cases it’s reasonable to wish others would follow them too. For example, I cycle because I think it’s good for the environment (amongst other reasons), therefore I would prefer other people to cycle too, & will try to convince them to do so. Not wanting other people to share your beliefs suggests to me you aren’t too sure about them yourself. At least Evangelicals are honest about this.

    I’d pray for the people buying stuff from Borders, that they may not be misled by the false teachings of armchair pop-psychology with no evidence base whatsoever… ’tis annoying when people lump one’s studies in with astrology.

    EU stuff was very much implied rather than actually stated.

    Reply
  • 3. Greg  |  Sunday, 23rd September 2007 at 19:25 UTC

    So Duck is defending Operation World to someone considerably more evangelical than her?

    Hang around for a bit while I go off and laugh myself silly, then I’ll come back and possibly post something more constructive!

    Reply
  • 4. Graham Martin  |  Sunday, 23rd September 2007 at 19:43 UTC

    Enjoy the scintilating feeling of a free flow of endorphines, Greg! Meantime, I guess I’d not thought of the reasons for supporting old Welsh-language chapels.
    EU stuff was definitely implied, that was my point, I know it wasn’t stated, but the fact its implied is rather worrying in the middle of quite a respected book in certain circles I thought had enough brain power to figure the difference between the EU and a Beast government.
    Its also the obsession with the idea that an EU constitution must have God written into it, so that we can have another few centuries of the Augustinian heresy forced upon us. How about we have religion legitimised by people and not by empire/state?
    And by the way Greg, I have been wondering lately who out of myself and Duck really is the more Evangelical. The world is so full of surprises!

    Reply
  • 5. misterbunbury  |  Monday, 24th September 2007 at 8:17 UTC

    Thanks for the sentiments, but now the endorphins have faded away, I got up late this morning and so didn’t have a chance to drink any caffeine. So I’m all grumpy now, meh.

    We may not wish for Europe to return to theocratic government. However, it’s sad to see a continent that was once very christian, largely reject that faith.

    As far as astrology/wicca/ouija goes, people may not run their lives by it. However, we’ve got to the point where many people set as much store by it as they do by Christianity; when many who will never voluntarily enter a church other than for a wedding, will voluntarily play tarot or read their horoscopes every week.

    As far as Tolerance goes, come on, you rant along the same lines as Operation World often enough on this subject. But to take your example, okay, it’s a good thing that gays are no longer thrown in jail (not that anyone had actually used that law without an ulterior motive for a long time before it was repealed in 1961). However, we’ve got to the point where the services of Catholics aren’t acceptable to the government because they don’t subscribe to New Labour dogma. Far worse than that, a friend who’s worked for my parents’ council tells me that in this and many other councils, my views (roughly equivalent to these: http://custardy.blogspot.com/2007/05/homosexuality.html ) would exclude me from being able to adopt – the argument goes that anyone with such views could end up abusing the child if they turned out to be gay. So now kids would be better left in care than going to thousands of evangelical or catholic homes? Great. And if you want another example of our country’s ‘liberal’ secular self-loathing at the expense of Christianity, just recall Nadia Eweida’s case.

    Needless to say, I think you’re being very harsh on Operation World here.

    Reply
  • 6. Greg  |  Monday, 24th September 2007 at 8:18 UTC

    That was me. And yes, this means that I’ve not got a wordpress account.

    Reply
  • 7. Sophia  |  Monday, 24th September 2007 at 10:28 UTC

    When they talk about Welsh Language and Culture I have a feeling they are talking about the quite recent history. Around about Victorian times there was a strong Welsh chapel culture in rural areas. What I consider to be the proper tradition of Welsh language and culture has a lot more to do with bards and druids and Eisteddfodau. I doubt they want that.

    Reply
  • 8. Duck  |  Monday, 24th September 2007 at 15:36 UTC

    Hmmm – at risk of setting off a big fight – a lot of the stuff with Druids & the like is Victorian or more recent invention too. Though it would depend how much they like ++Rowan I suppose.
    Much of what gets taught as Welsh ‘culture’ has been bowdlerised, Christianised, re-invented by soppy Victorians & ‘imaginative’ neo-Pagans & twee tourist boards until it’s unrecognisable. My namesake Ceridwen is a case in point – read the stuff my cousins get in school and she’s a foolish, doddery old hag. *sigh*.
    There’s a ‘stone circle’ on the housing estate where my parents live, freshly built 5 years ago, though at least I’ve never actually seen anyone using it. (The only other religious structure on the whole estate is a big Mormon church).
    There’s an interesting class dynamic around use of Welsh too – my grandparents & parents (mostly shopkeepers) went to the ‘Respectable’ ‘Church in Wales’ church, and chose to speak English, even though my great-grandparents had a few Bardic Chairs for Welsh poetry. Dad’s father in particular still much disapproves of me going to ‘Chapel’ where Ministry is sometimes in Welsh – it’s yet another thing a well-brought-up young lady shouldn’t do! The Welsh Independent Chapels tended to be much more working-class (this being something to take pride in then).

    Define ‘Evangelical’. I’m definitely a Fundamentalist (well, Quaker Fundamentalist…). A lot of my problems with Evangelicals have more to do with the way they do things than what they believe (well, I disagree with good chunks of that too, but there’s little in this world that can’t be solved with enough tea & biscuits). I’m probably more evangelical than people think…

    I’m trying to tell everyone that it’s National Quaker Week (for the first time ever!). Could you write a blog post about how Impressive & Good Quakers are?

    Reply
  • 9. Duck  |  Monday, 24th September 2007 at 15:51 UTC

    Oh, and I *do* want a theocracy, in the proper translation of the word.
    Theos = God, Cratein = to rule.
    Direct rule by God, without needing a separate group of leaders or priests.
    Mind, if decisions were taken in the manner of a Meeting for Worship with a concern for Business, the environmental impacts of growing & transporting tea & boiling kettles may be not inconsiderable.

    Reply
  • 10. Duck  |  Monday, 24th September 2007 at 16:09 UTC

    [triple-post – procrastination rising to severe levels].

    Greg, you *do* live in a theocracy atm. Lizzie Windsor is head of both Church & State.

    Graham – if you don’t want a government run along principles, why protest for them?
    Surely, if you take the process of making political demands based on your faith to its logical conclusion, the outcome is a society run on principles of faith. Thinking ‘But Christians *should* always be outside government’ doesn’t really make sense if you also want a government which will act in accordance with Christian principles (or indeed think that people involved in politics are in as much need of God as anyone else).

    Reply
  • 11. Greg  |  Tuesday, 9th October 2007 at 22:42 UTC

    Graham, having looked at your book and cd collection, I find it funny that you’re saying you think Ceri’s more evo than you. You’ve certainly got the evo heritage behind you. (Says he who’s got Tillich etc on his shelf).

    Oh and Ceri (not that you’ll read this now), when Brenda makes a law because of her religious convitions and that law affects me, I’ll concede that we live in a theocracy. A considerably more likely possibility is that she dies and is replaced by a “Defender of faith”.

    Reply
  • 12. Graham Martin  |  Wednesday, 10th October 2007 at 0:21 UTC

    Which will be even worse, because then we won’t even be a nation under a statist interpretation of God, we’ll be a one nation under religion. Argh!!!
    Question: Will he be defender of every single faith, or just the faiths he chooses. There are some interesting options here. Does he really want to defend Satanism?

    Reply

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