I have long thought the professional secularists take a rather dim and distorted view of American history. It's as if the nation we love was birthed in a philosophical vacuum, with no deep beliefs girding its founding. Certainly some pillars of that foundation come from the secular Enlightenment, but most of the folks who breathed life into the fledgling American republic were Christian believers. Even if some had doubts about a personal God, they still held in great esteem the tenets and principles found in the Judeo-Christian Bible.
Religious belief is part of our core. Otherwise, maybe President Lincoln shouldn't have declared Thanksgiving a federal official holiday (and just Whom are we thanking?), or President Roosevelt shouldn't have led the nation in a heart-wrenching prayer on the eve of the D-Day invasion.
These are just a couple of examples of people in the leadership of this country – people of faith being who they were – freely exercising their religious belief despite their positions.
In light of that, just what did HUD Secretary Ben Carson do so wrong, in the eyes of today's secular critics, when he prayed at the beginning of the Cabinet meeting the other day?
Here's what Carson prayed:
"Our kind Father in Heaven, we're so thankful for the many blessings that you have bestowed upon us in this country, and we're thankful for the people of courage who have been here before us, who have fought hard for the rights of our country.
And we thank you for President Donald Trump, who also exhibits great courage in face of constant criticism. And we ask that you would give him strength to endure and the wisdom lead, and to recognize you as the sovereigns of the universe with the solution to everything. And the people around the president – the vice president, the cabinet, the advisors – give us all an understanding heart and a compassionate heart. Those are the things that will keep America great.
And help us all to recognize as a nation that separation of church and state means that the church does not dominate the state, and it means the state does not dominate the church. It doesn't mean that they cannot work together to promote godly principles of loving your fellow man, of caring about your neighbor, of developing your God-given talents to the utmost so that you become valuable to the people around you and having values and principles that govern your life.
And if we do those things, then we will always be successful. And we thank you for hearing our prayer, in your Holy name. Amen."
Apparently, the words from the prayer that most rankled critics is the part where Carson comments on church and state. Carson said the one does not dominate the other, but that "doesn't mean they cannot work together to promote godly principles of loving your fellow man, of caring about your neighbor, of developing your God-given talents to the utmost so that you become valuable to the people around you, and having values and principles that govern your life."
Rachel Laser, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said in a statement that Carson's commentary on the church/state issue "is hypocritical and does a disservice to this constitutional principle."
So are you saying, Ms. Laser, that people of faith and secularists can't work together? Thomas Jefferson, just days after he wrote about that "wall of separation" between church and state, actually attended Christian church services in the US Capitol building, held throughout the time he was President. He apparently didn't interpret the "separation" the same way you do.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, decried Carson's comments as well.
"Religion and believers have no monopoly on" the positive values Carson described, Gaylor said, but his comment "makes it sound like they do," reports the Associated Press.
I'm sorry. Did she read or hear the same prayer I did? Seems to me Carson actually acknowledged that believers have no monopoly on those positive values when he said that both church and state can work together to promote nice behaviors like "caring about your neighbor," and "loving your fellow man."
I'm beginning to think Gaylor and Laser just don't think Christians should be allowed to serve in a government position – even if elected by the people – unless they leave the very essence of their lives – their faith – outside the government building, or better still, locked inside the church walls.
Gaylor's group is the one that warned the governor of Oklahoma that he would be breaching the "separation of church and state" by speaking – as governor – at his own church, unless the fact that he was the governor was not mentioned or advertised.
It's the same group that railed against a mentoring program in the Kingsport, TN public schools because it used volunteers from a local church. Gaylor said the volunteer mentors were "proselytizing" without citing one student who'd been "proselytized." With great foreboding, she sounded the alarm because the program "allows church personnel to come into the school during the school day to interact with students." Yikes!
Gaylor concluded, "Religious organizations should never be allowed access to such young public school children."
She makes it sound like students might catch a disease from these church folks. Or, honestly, that she'd prefer needy students just do without a mentor if those nasty church people are the ones doing the mentoring. Methinks a prejudice is showing!
I like how HUD spokeswoman, Caroline Vanvick, responded to the outrage about Ben Carson's prayer:
"The Secretary's heartfelt prayer speaks for itself. He simply used prayer to emphasize the value of every American, the need for civility, and the importance of morality. It is saddening some people would try to skew his genuine words into anything other than the contrary."
I agree, and say, Secretary Carson, keep on praying. The uproar over your very conciliatory and loving prayer shows we really need it.