Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Moving from Talk to Action in Oklahoma

Controversy is swirling again around the Interfaith Day of Prayer and Reflection in Oklahoma.

Two years ago a group calling itself STOP (Stop Theocracy in Oklahoma Policy) protested the partisan "Christian Nation" political rallies being held on the steps to the State Capitol each year on the National Day of Prayer. They asked me as President of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State to join them. Also being a Baptist Minister, who finds it impossible to protest against prayer, I declined. Instead I asked them to join me in creating an event that would unite the community rather than divide it.

Last year we organized the first Interfaith Day of Prayer and Reflection on the steps to the State Capitol on the National Day of Prayer. The event was truly interfaith and inclusive. We involved Christians, Jews, Muslims, Pagans, and Atheists. Seventeen people spoke about the common value of religious freedom, liberty of conscience and respect for the diversity of belief and conviction. Then we observed a moment of silence and sang the national anthem. We invited representatives from Shirley Dobson's organization to participate with us, but they declined. In fact, they and Southern Baptists in Oklahoma organized their own exclusively evangelical service inside the State Capitol and bused people in from churches around the state. In spite of the well organized opposition, our event was very successful. Here's a link to information, pictures, and transcripts of speeches from last year's event.

This year we organized a second Interfaith Day of Prayer and Reflection. This year opposition from the Dobson organization and Southern Baptists was muted until it we announced that Barry Lynn, national Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, would be one of our speakers. Then the heat started rising within a church that agreed to let us use their facilities for a speech by Barry later in the evening. The heat got so hot that I was just informed that permission to use the church had been rescinded and the church issued a press release to that effect.

Here's a link to the Mainstream Baptist blog where you can read more about this sad story.

There's no need for despair, within two hours another church offered use of their facilities and newspaper reporters were calling me for comments and information about the new location. Frankly, the additional publicity will probably serve to increase our attendance.

It just saddens me to see Baptists suffering from such timid and spineless leadership. I'm afraid you'll find some more of it in pulpits that are not Baptist.

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