Virtual Voices

Praying for the right (or left) result

Religion

Texas Republican governor and potential presidential candidate Rick Perry will headline a "Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis" on Aug. 6 at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

The ACLU of Texas and liberals are predictably upset.

Liberals aren't against prayer, so long as it advances a secular earthly agenda. While wringing their hands and even threatening legal action against the Aug. 6 gathering (the prohibition of which would violate the freedom of assembly, as well as the free exercise of religion clauses of the First Amendment), the ACLU of Texas and its fellow ideological travelers have said nothing about another prayer meeting that took place last week in the White House.

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Here is how Jim Wallis of the liberal Christian magazine Sojourners described that meeting on his website:

"I, along with 11 other national faith leaders, met with President Obama and senior White House staff for 40 minutes. We were representing the Circle of Protection, which formed in a commitment to defend the poor in the budget debates. Sitting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, we opened in prayer, grasping hands across the table, and read scripture together. We reminded ourselves that people of faith must evaluate big decisions on issues like a budget by how they impact the most vulnerable."

Wallis says President Obama mentioned a passage from Matthew 25 where Jesus is talking about "inasmuch as you've done it unto the least of these, you've done it also unto me." There is no indication that Jesus commanded government to be the primary caregiver for the poor. His commission was for those who followed Him to do it, because His objective was not only to fill empty stomachs, but also to fill empty souls. The debate about the role of government vs. the role of the church has long been a tension point between conservatives and liberals in religious circles.

If this had been a prayer meeting hosted by conservative evangelical leaders with President George W. Bush in attendance and the prayers were about conservative social policies, one can safely predict how liberals would have reacted. But since this was about maintaining government spending for social programs favored by liberals, these prayers were no problem for them.

Who are the poor? Are they a perpetual underclass that never changes? Are they worse off, or better off than they were in the 1960s when the "War on Poverty" began, a war that has lasted longer than the one in Afghanistan, which is often described as America's "longest war"? A new report on poverty by The Heritage Foundation has some revealing facts.

Compiled by Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, "Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What is Poverty in the United States Today?" references the U.S. Census Bureau, which says the poor population in 2009 was 14.3 percent, 5 percentage points lower than in 1964 when Lyndon Johnson announced a "War on Poverty." But today's poor have a far different profile than they did back then.

Rector and Sheffield note:

"[T]he average household defined as poor by the government . . . [is] equipped with air conditioning and cable TV. The family had a car . . . two color televisions, a DVD player, and a VCR. If there were children in the home (especially boys), the family had a game system, such as an Xbox or PlayStation. . . . [T]he typical poor American had more living space than the average European. . . . Poor boys today at ages 18 and 19 are actually taller and heavier than middle-class boys of similar age in the late 1950s, and are a full one inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than American soldiers who fought in World War II."

Both liberals and conservatives claim to pray to the same God, but for different results. Abraham Lincoln noted this conflict in his Second Inaugural Address: "Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. . . . The prayers of both could not be answered."

Perhaps what's needed is less praying for results favorable to one side and more listening to what the One to whom each side is praying has already said.

© 2011 Tribune Media Services Inc.

Cal Thomas
Cal Thomas

Cal, whose syndicated column appears on WORLD's website and in more than 500 newspapers, is a frequent contributor to WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Cal on Twitter @CalThomas.

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