AUSTIN–Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick released a draft of a letter Feb. 6 in response to invocations that prompted some legislators to feel left out when offered in the name of Jesus. On the same day, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst insisted the Senate reinstate a prayer offered by a Jewish rabbi that had been stricken from the official record due to its political overtones, believing prayers should not be censored.
Seven of the House’s first 17 sessions included references to Jesus Christ, including one offered by Canton pastor Mark Moore of Lakeside Baptist. The House letter asks that “the tone and content be respectful of the diverse nature of the body, such that all members of the House, whatever their respective faith, may add their voice to the collective ‘amen’ that begins our day’s work.”
Offering his prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, Moore asked God to “influence this distinguished group to lead with uncompromising integrity” and “with righteousness which is derived solely from you.” Other than a reference to the challenging budget shortfall, Moore did not address any political issue, focusing instead on the need for God’s wisdom.
However, San Antonioan Rabbi Barry Block’s Feb. 5 prayer applied the seasons of Ecclesiastes 3 to current events that state senators will address. He cited “a time to speak” to encourage lobbying for resources to protect “women’s well-being.” Block prayed, “Planned Parenthood saves lives. Reproductive freedom is a cherished American liberty.”
The Senate’s parliamentarian and secretary excluded the text of the prayer from the official record due to its political nature, noting simply that Block offered the invocation. Dewhurst intervened, ruling that “all prayers will be printed as they were given,” according to an article in the Austin American-Statesman, quoting spokesman David Beckwith. “We said we shouldn’t be in the business of censoring prayers,” Beckworth said.
That drew praise from the Jewish rabbi who was quoted as saying, “I am well-versed in the difference between political statements and speaking out on moral issues. I would never offer a prayer that mentions any partisan political matter or an elective race. However, I would not accept any invitation to pray if I were told that the prayer could not address either spiritual or moral issues such as the one addressed.”
Democrat Scott Hochberg objected to Moore’s prayer because “there are a lot of us who do not pray in Jesus’ name.” Such a reference “cuts us out of the loop and that very much says we are not expected to participate,” he was quoted as saying.
The impact of such a House letter is dubious. Even Craddick’s spokesman, Bob Richter, acknowledged, “Once they get up there, they can say what they want,” calling the letter an attempt to set some ground rules. While Craddock, a Catholic, was not offended by references to Jesus Christ, he indicated that he understood why others were.
Hochberg, who is Jewish, said he was uncomfortable participating in a prayer that ran counter to his beliefs. “The purpose is to pray with us and the people of this state, and not at us.”
Moore disagrees. He told the Southern Baptist Texan, “The purpose of prayer is to get God involved in our lives and for his will to be done here on earth.” When praying before the House, Moore said he asked God to give wisdom, power, strength, boldness, compassion and endurance to all of the representatives. “If by praying that God would give these qualities to each representative was viewed as me praying at them or trying to proselytize them, then I don’t know what else some would want to be included in a prayer.”
The Canton pastor habitually ends every prayer in the name of Jesus, believing the Bible clearly states the only way to the Father is through Christ. “My prayer would be nullified if I did not pray in Jesus’ name.”
Moore questions whether religious freedom is fully understood by all concerned. “If I am attending an event where a Muslim was invited to pray, then I would fully expect that individual to pray an Islamic prayer,” he said, expecting the same approach by adherents to other faiths. “In fact, I would be disappointed in that person’s faith if he prayed contrary to his beliefs.”
For Moore, it seems that the only religion not being tolerated in America is the Christian faith. “You can call out name after name after name and hear no response, but the moment you bring up Jesus’ name, you have gone too far,” he argued. “In our society, the name Jesus is simply not politically correct.”
Both the Texas Senate and the House invite religious leaders from various Protestant, Catholic and Jewish groups to offer prayers, though no other religions have been represented thus far in 2003. All but one of the Baptist pastors invited before the House prayed with reference to Jesus, as did an Episcopalian, Church of God in Christ minister and a religious broadcaster. Some religious leaders danced around the divine references, preferring terms like “Creator of us all” and “Author of liberty” and “God of wisdom.”
Moore does not believe a political agenda should be promoted in prayer. “We need to get plugged in to God’s agenda and not man’s and this will not be accomplished by praying some generic prayer which gives everyone a warm fuzzy feeling.”
He added, “Christians should not be ashamed that Jesus Christ is the answer to our country’s problems,” thus praying in the name of Jesus. “These are serious times requiring serious leadership and this is no time for Christians to shirk their God-given responsibility to lead. It no longer is enough that Americans sing ‘God Bless America,’ but it is time for America to bless God.”
Invocation of Mark Moore
Our most gracious Heavenly Father, today I stand before not only you our Father, but also these men and women who have been elected by the citizenship as well as appointed by you to lead the great State of Texas. It is my hope and prayer for each of these representatives that they acknowledge your supremacy in all things. You have declared concerning your Son that, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him,” (Colossians 1:15-16). So therefore, under divine appointment and mandate, the members of this House of Representatives are subject to your kingdom.
You, our Father, have blessed this lone star state beyond measure. Texas has been a major launching pad which has provided dynamic and courageous leadership not only throughout these United States, but the world as well. We thank you for men and women of courageous faith who have dared to stand up and be counted, even in the face of great opposition. May you strengthen and empower these leaders to be the driving force for the welfare of every citizen of this state, whether rich or poor, weak or strong, educated or uneducated, young or old. Father, please place within each of these representatives the stamina to fight for that which is right and holy. No doubt, every single member of this select group will come under intense scrutiny and harsh criticism in the hours, days, and weeks to come. I ask in your son’s name, Jesus Christ, that you breathe within each of these the qualities and traits needed to govern in such a way as to not leave one single citizen behind. May each and every one of their votes be cast in such a way that their decisions will always make Texas a better place to live and to raise our families.
I ask you Father to influence this distinguished group to lead with uncompromising integrity. Impress upon their hearts and minds that the oath of office which they took requires them to govern with righteousness. And may they lead with righteousness which is derived solely from you. This House of Representatives mush also be empowered to lead with a fierce compassion. A compelling compassion that causes them to defend those who weep and to find out who or what is causing them to weep and put a stop to it.
And Father, may these men and women, who have come from every corner of this immense state, have an enthusiastic endurance. Our state’s problems, which are numerous, especially the multi-billion dollar budget shortfall, desperately call out for leadership. May you give wisdom to this legislative body to remain faithful to their high calling until they get each and every decision right. We acknowledge that this type of wisdom surely must come from you as stated in your holy word, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him,” (James 1:6). Father, we ask for this kind of inspired godly wisdom upon each of these legislators.
Thank you, Father, for these who have committed their time, talents, energy, and resources to serve the people of Texas. Thank you for raising each of these individuals up “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). May you bless them individually and as a corporate body as govern in these pivotal and decisive days. We not only call out for you our God to bless Texas, but it is equally my deliberate and steadfast prayer that Texas might bless you. I pray all of these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our savior and Lord. Amen.
Invocation of Rabbi Barry Block
To everything there is a season, a time to every purpose under heaven. A time for despair: For weeks, even month, senators struggled. So many needs, too few resources. A time to die: Saturday morning, our world stopped; last week’s concerns, suddenly supplanted. A time to mourn: Yesterday, the Senate joined our state and our nation, America, Israel and India, indeed all the world, in a gathering a grief; daily duties delayed. A time to work: Healing is incomplete; but business and budget beckon; the Senate returns to order. A time to serve: Even at an hour of tragedy, we preserve perspective on priorities — healing the sick, educating our children, protecting America’s freedom, the Senate’s sacred calling. A time to speak out: Delegates descend upon Austin, demonstrating democracy. Lobbying legislators: Women’s well-being requires resources, Planned Parenthood saves lives, reproductive freedom is a cherished American liberty. To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. As each of us directs ourselves differently toward the Diving, may we search for the sacred in every time. in every season. Amen.