Voices
Robin Bartlett Frazier
Maryland State Archives
Robin Bartlett Frazier

Something about the name

Religious Liberty | It’s not mere preaching that provokes anger, it’s preaching in the name of Jesus

Issue: "Believing in Iraq," May 17, 2014

There has always been something about the name of Jesus.

In the first century of our Lord—or the “Common Era,” as we are now supposed to call it—Stephen was doing okay with a tough crowd for 52 verses, but hit a wall when he mentioned “the Righteous One”: “They were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. … [T]hey cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him” (Acts 7:54-58). 

Teeth gnashing; screeching; pressing palms to one’s ears like vampires before a wooden cross; accosting and stoning. A little inordinate, no?

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Peter would have been tolerated had he been more generic in his preaching, but mention of Yeshua (Jesus) drove the buttoned-up clerical class insane. The apostle liked peace as much as the next Jew, but could not comply: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge” (Acts 4:19).

After a slap on the wrist, he was back on the streets with the same unadulterated message. The heat arrived too: “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name” (Acts 5:28). But it was not negotiable. “They left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day … they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus” (verses 41-42).

Fast forward two thousand years, and commissioners of Carroll County, Md., were doing fine until a few irate citizens noticed Robin Bartlett Frazier using “the name” in her pre-meeting prayers. They got the American Humanists Association to help them sue. Federal Judge William Quarles served an injunction—not forbidding prayer altogether, mind you, just forbidding “the name.”

Ms. Frazier, not unlike Peter, explained to those in attendance the day after the March 26 ruling: “There was an injunction … that came down that said, oh, we could pray, but we just can’t use certain words, like ‘Jesus,’ and ‘Lord,’ and ‘Savior.’ … I think that’s an infringement on my First Amendment rights of free speech.” Also like Peter, she added: “I am willing to go to jail over it.”

The insanity and teeth-grinding not appeased by the silencing of commissioners, plaintiffs sought contempt of court charges after county resident Bruce Holstein during public comment time invoked the name of Jesus. Frazier, for her part, desiring to show that the Founding Fathers were not averse to “the name,” read a prayer found in a chest of George Washington’s papers in the 1890s that contained the prosecutable phrase “Jesus Christ.” 

Then began the dispute over authorship of Frazier’s quoted prayer (it being embarrassing for even liberals to criticize the man who led Continental troops to victory across the icy Delaware). The Smithsonian Institute, as well as William Ferraro, associate editor of Washington’s papers at the University of Virginia, say the handwriting is not Washington’s.

For another opinion, I contacted Peter Lillback, author of George Washington’s Sacred Fire, and he said Frazier’s chosen selection is from a book of prayers called Daily Sacrifice that was found among the president’s possessions: “They have been widely attributed to him, and just as widely rejected by opponents of a believing GW.”

However, continued Lillback, “there are over 100 prayers written by GW in his known writings. Each of these, from a sentence to several sentences in length, have been catalogued in GWSF. … [A] far better argument is to use the Daily Morning Prayer of the Book of Common Prayer, that GW probably prayed hundreds if not thousands of times throughout his life. … [T]hese prayers are just as deeply Christian as the one being unnecessarily debated!”

Here is an excerpt from the orations that would have been often on Washington’s lips:

“We praise thee, O God: We acknowledge thee to be the Lord. … The Father: of an infinite Majesty; Thine honourable, true: and only Son; Also the Holy Ghost: the Comforter. Thou art the King of Glory: O Christ. Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father” (from “The Order for Morning Prayer” of the Book of Common Prayer).

If the commissioners of Carroll County are found guilty of inciting with the name, I believe we shall find them to be in good company.

Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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