White House Vetting Prayers?

According to U.S News and World Report, the Obama administration is vetting the prayers offered by various religious leaders before President Obama’s appearances. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki says that this has “been standard since the campaign.”

In a departure from previous presidents, [Obama’s] public rallies are opening with invocations that have been commissioned and vetted by the White House … Though invocations have long been commonplace at presidential inaugurations and certain events like graduations or religious services at which presidents are guests, the practice of commissioning and vetting prayers for presidential rallies is unprecedented in modern history.

Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, (who is against prayers being offered in State settings) said, “The only thing worse than having these prayers in the first place is to have them vetted, because it entangles the White House in core theological matters.” Dr. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, comments:

I rarely find myself in agreement with Barry Lynn, but I am with him on this issue — at least with respect to his argument that this practice “entangles the White House in core theological matters.” Of course it does. When a White House approves or edits prayers, it has entered theological territory and takes on a theological function … The government has no authority and no proper role in the vetting of prayer. No Christian should allow any prayer to bear the label, “This prayer approved by the White House.”

What do you think about the practice of vetting prayers for government occasions?

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  1. John W says:

    Just about anything a President says at a public function is either written for him or vetted. To me, the ultimately sad thing here isn’t the content of the prayer, or the tag line, but that he is doing it at all. It is being used as a tool to pander to the Far Right fundamentalists who somehow long ago forgot about the reason why “separation of church and state” is important. I’m sure there are very many people out there whose hearts “swell with pride” to hear a prayer authorized by The Whitehouse. That actually scares me a bit.

    Personally, I turn a deaf ear to it because I have little doubt that is being used as a political maneuver — a “warm fuzzy” in an attempt to win over the Far Right that has a part of their constituency that despises him (I’ve heard “Red Neck” comments that would make you have trouble sleeping at night…). I dislike that prayer is being “abused” that way at all, but since politicians will be politicians, all I can do to keep from ranting is shake my head and dismiss such an obvious ploy.

  2. Ray Fowler says:

    Just to clarify, these are not prayers that Obama himself is offering at State events, but rather the prayers of the various pastors and religious officials who have been asked to provide a prayer or invocation before an event. (I have added the words “by various religious leaders” to the first paragraph to clarify this.) It has always been common practice in the U.S. to have someone offer a prayer before a State event. What is new is having the prayers screened in advance.

  3. Bethany says:

    I wasn’t aware that prayers were being screened, and am not familiar with the history of official “public” prayers. I do wonder though if the media’s (in my opinion) vicious use of Rev. Wright to smear Obama during the campaign has played a part in this decision. I do not generally believe in guilt by association. I do not always agree with things said by my friends or my pastor, and would hope that people would judge me by what I myself say and do. However, many people in the media, and in mainstream America, chose to equate Rev. Wright’s beliefs with Obama’s, despite clear statements to the contrary. Perhaps for this reason he is overly careful about what is being said now that he is in office. I may not like it, but I do understand it.

  4. Margaret says:

    I agree with Bethany, word for word. We seem to share exactly the same opinions. Thank you for expressing so well the way I feel too.

  5. Sharon Gamble says:

    I am with Barry Lynn and Dr. Mohler. The reason for a decision might be ever so understandable due to personal circumstance (like the Rev. Wright issue), but when a president makes a decision, it has to be seen in the light of setting a precedent. In this case, it seems alarming to me that ministers would need to get “approval” by a government official when asked to pray. I think that choosing the minister who is going to say the invocation should be sufficient to insure that what is prayed is within the bounds of decency. It could get pretty “silly” after awhile if every prayer is vetted – can we use the word “Jesus”? Can we pray for the soldiers or would that offend the war protesters? I can just see a whole big huge can of worms here. Ask a minister you trust, President Obama, and keep the prayer short and God-honoring, but don’t start parsing every word. Those who listen ought to listen with respect and, like John above, receive or not receive it as they choose. There is no need for this kind of micro-management.

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