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Great. You prayed. Now what?
Pictures of Members of Congress praying are truly encouraging. They don't mean anything unless the effects of prayer happen afterward.
Should we be excited because they prayed? Yes and no. But mostly Yes--with some major caveats.
I wanted to respond to this post by Sean Feucht. It can be hard for people to interpret what they are really seeing here. The average church-going Christian will do backflips after seeing this. And there is a sense in which they should be very grateful knowing there are Members of Congress willing to pray. But I want to moderate your reaction with some perspective that will help you interpret this picture properly. I do so having spent many years working as a high-level staffer on Capitol Hill.
The answer to our problems as a country is not primarily prayer but the results proper prayer can bring about in government and in society as a whole.
As a country, we need to repent from the actions which have led to a $33 trillion debt. We need to repent of the spending patterns that cause us to have a $2 trillion deficit. We need to repent for creating the unjust system of money in #TheFed (Deuteronomy 25:15). We need to repent for not following the clear language of the Constitution which is the written law by which our government ought to be restrained. Without its restraint we lose our freedoms and, frankly, we don't have a country at all. The Constitution IS the United States. There is no United States without it.
All these failings from debt to threats to liberty are issues which every rational being can and should accept as wrong. There may be many approaches to deciding the steps to fix these problems. But as they say, "the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one." That admission is what can also be called "repentance." and it must lead to effective action.
All members of Congress and especially all Christian members of Congress should subject themselves to the Constitution again. This is the greatest security of our freedoms. Christians in Congress should not just publicly but privately subject themselves to prayer and personal repentance so that they may have courage, wisdom, and fortitude to change an obviously broken system of which they are to their shame a part.
In a way, I represent the "Christian Right," but I'm not always happy about that.
I am an Evangelical Christian. I have been a follower of The Way (John 14:6) since 1981. I am also someone who has been working in and around politics for more than 30 years now. In that time, I've done work with Christian politicians at every level from the towns I've lived in, also in most of our state legislatures, and in Washington, DC and Congress having had fellow staffers and friends in the White House. I also worked for Dr. James C. Dobson at Focus on the Family doing public policy work right in the middle of the rise of the Christian Right.
I am grateful for this movement. The 1990s and 2000s were good years for them. But there were blind spots also. And in the end, it also became subject to misuse by politicians, the media and political movements.
The #LGBTQ political movement has done all it can to defame Christians and the Judeo-Christian ethic that is the foundation of our law and Constitution. Nothing they say against Christians and Christian thinking is correct. Christians are maligned as authoritarian theocrats who want to destroy their rights. That's clearly false. But the accusation remains. It's also a one-sided claim that neglects what most political debate neglects--self introspection. The LGBTQ movement and others on the Left lack any humility or insight into how their own movement can be corrupt, crude, rude, and authoritarian--theocratically so I would argue since it is also a religion.
But without digressing too far down that path, let me do a bit of introspection for myself and the movement represented in party by the picture below.
I want to address this picture of Members of Congress praying and what that means.
I am looking at the people in this picture closely. I know some of them. I believe I see Cong. Richard Hudson's (NC) shoulder in the pic. I see Cong. Jim Banks (IN). These are two good men I know. And I know them to be Followers of The Way. I don't see Cong. Jim Jordan (OH) or Cong. Gary Palmer (AL) in the picture, but I know them too, and they are most definitely followers of The Way. I believe Cong. Lauren Boebert (CO) is there also, and though she has had some struggles in the media lately, I know her to be a follower as well (have some grace, people because you don't want people to know about you either). There are others, I'm just pointing out a few. And I am not omitting them on purpose. I'm just pointing out some I know.
Though I don't know him well, I have met Speaker Mike Johnson. I like him. He's intelligent, highly capable, and thoughtful. And I am convinced he is a Follower of The Way (John 14:6) based on brief discussions with him and hearing from those who know him. I know so many other Members or have been around them in my work and travels in DC. Many claim to follow Christ. Some do. Many do not at all.
What you see here is not evidence that honor for God has suddenly come to Congress under Mike Johnson. It is a good sign, and I have great hope for that because Mike is a good man. It is not evidence.
But you should be glad these members are willing to take this step publicly. Many of the people in this picture do so honestly and sincerely. Not enough do.
You don't get off easy irreligious people who are dying to be critical of me right now. Quick note to those on the Left who hate Christians. You WANT God's Word to be followed in Congress because it's your only guarantee that you'll remain free in a society worth living in. There is no freedom without the Rule of Law. There is no Rule of Law without the Judeo-Christian Ethic.
(As a primer to how Christianity and concepts like love and the Rule of Law have benefited Western Society, read Tom Holland's book Dominion).
The First Amendment is fundamental to American Liberty
When looking at this picture, Democrats and those on the Left will get bent out of shape again about a bunch of “MAGA Republicans” praying in the hallowed secular grounds of the Capitol. Let me briefly address that.
Freedom of religion has been a highly controversial subject in the last 80 years of American History. That wasn’t always the case. Except for some relatively minor disputes about Catholics and Jews in the 19th Century, Freedom of Religion has been a stable part of the American psyche and polity.
The First Amendment is very clear about the exercise of Religion.
Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
What you see in this picture is not only appropriate. It is also necessary. It was assumed by those of the founding generation that prayers would be offered in legislative bodies. They saw a country steeped in the ideas of the Judeo-Christian ethic.
Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States in 1831-2 to study the American prison system. In his travels, he learned much about this country. And he was driven to write his famous Democracy in America. He was moved by the positive effects of religious sentiment in this country then. What amazed him was how harmless religion was as it related to government:
Upon my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things. In France, I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country.
Yet since the 1950s and 1960s, there has been an assault on religious sentiment in our politics—particularly of a Christian sort. There is no doubt many of the problems we face correlate with the negative social problems with which we constantly struggle.
That problem goes deeper than the society as a whole. Those claiming Christ have done a very poor job working to uphold America’s traditions and strength.
In the last 100-150 years, Christians don't have a great Constitutional track record
I maintain that many Christians inside and outside of politics are antinomian. What that means is that they are "against law." How, you ask? Because they are not willing to treat the Constitution the same way they are commanded to treat God's Law. They don't even read the Constitution, so how can they begin to follow it? They also give you many reasons why they don't.
- "It's not politically feasible"
- "We need to change this unconstitutional the law to benefit conservatives as much as it benefits liberals"
- "You have to work within the system to change the system."
There are hundreds of excuses. But none of them are acceptable reasons. One thing I can tell you, prayer won't change that problem. Prayer plus reformation of understanding and obedience will. Not prayer alone.
I provide this caution. Prayer alone is not the solution to Congress' problems. I am very glad to see Speaker Mike Johnson is dedicated to prayer. God hears prayer. And He honors prayer too. But that's not enough. If I can get a bit technical here: prayer is a sufficient cause of positive change in a government or a society. It is bus one of many efficient causes that can bring Congress to fidelity with the Constitution.
And it's worth noting that government does not create a free and prosperous society. Its only duty is to give a limited framework for citizens themselves to build a free an prosperous society.
What do I mean by the distinction between "sufficient" and "efficient" causes?
A sufficient cause is something that provides adequate conditions for success. An efficient cause is something that when carried out actually leads to success. In this sense, prayer is sufficient but it is not itself efficient except where it may lead to direct Divine intervention. That has happened in history. But it's not the primary means of action by God in society. He changes individuals who end up changing society. All history is subject to God's sovereign Will. The decisions and activities we choose as humans fall within the scope of God's sovereignty and themselves are part of a process of human reformation by which God intervenes in society. This is in part the story of Western Freedom. We stand in basic freedom upon that foundation.
So, what does this mean as it relates to the success or failure of Members of Congress?
The purpose of prayer is individual transformation as much or more so than corporate, national, or worldwide transformation.
This is a chicken and egg argument but the chicken (individuals conforming to truth) produces the egg (the liberties and prosperity which are the story of Western success).
Don't misunderstand. There is a biblical call to corporate prayer.
2 Chronicles 7:13-14
"If I [GOD} shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
Corporate prayer is critical to the process I am describing. But the main effect of it is in the sum total of individuals who repent and turn back to God.
Prayer is a necessary habit that followers of The Way should make part of their lives at all times. The main purpose of prayer for the believer is to align one's self to objective truth by seeking understanding of God's Character, His Law, and His Will. Prayer should be undertaken in reference to God's Word (λόγος). In that Word, we find various commands from God and a revelation of God's Character and Nature which should inform us in everything we do. For example, The Ten Commandments have some useful moral teachings that can positively affect a society:
- You shall not commit murder
- You shall not steal
- You shall not covet
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (lie about others).
- You shall not covet
- You shall honor your father and mother
All of these commandments speak directly to both the character of legislators who make laws and the legislation they consider. Their actions in the legislative process must conform to these commands if we want good legislative results. The laws they make must provide appropriate penalties when the breaking of these commandments by individuals causes direct harm to others.
Of course, I have omitted from the list above the more spiritual commands of loving God with all one's heart, refusing to make idols, not taking God's name in vain, and keeping the Sabbath. These spiritual dictates are critical as well because if followed will lead men to righteous behavior that should have the effect of warding off waste, corruption, fraud, and abuse in and outside of government. The use of prayer in this regard should have an individual effect of personal reformation that should lead to more righteous behavior as well as other virtues like courage and wisdom to direct their actions.
So what am I getting at here?
Ok, let's get to my point. As a follower of The Way, I don't regard corporate prayer in the Capitol as the answer to all our problems. When I am glad for what I see in this picture (and I do share that gladness with), It's not because I believe this particular instance of prayer will suddenly make things better by itself. It is because I am hopeful that the group of people here submitting to prayer will now begin the process of personal change that will lead to more just and righteous outcomes in their duties in Congress (and ultimately more Constitutional ones). And the people I have mentioned at the beginning of this post are ones whom I know can be affected by that prayer.
There are many in this picture who will not subject themselves to personal reformation (partly or fully). That is to be expected. Good and bad people get elected to Congress. As I've said many times, "6000 years of recorded human history proves the moral depravity of man." We all start at the point of being bad and must discipline ourselves to be good.
What you see below is not a goal. It should never be a goal in and of itself. It should be the beginning of a reformation of character and resolve to fulfill the Oath of Office to which these Members state loyalty in every new Congress.