Last week, Rev. Gerry Stoltzfoos was invited to deliver an invocation address to the Pennsylvania state House.
When he found out he could not say “In Jesus’ name, Amen” at the end, he decided not to accept the invitation. He said he “had carefully crafted the prayer not to be offensive in any way.” Of course, it it offensive to many of us who don’t buy into the Christian faith.
The Pennsylvania Senate, on the other hand, is more relaxed with their rules.
Stoltzfoos was invited to give an invocation there on Wednesday — he was allowed to say what he wanted — and he accepted.
The Rev. Stoltzfoos said the same prayer in the Senate that he had planned to give in the House, but with two tweaks. He added a “preamble,” which read:
“I am painfully aware that there are many here today who have embraced belief systems other than mine. I am not here to say that everyone ought to believe as I do. But I can only pray to my God. If you believe in some other power, I invite you to address yours as I address mine.”
In the body of the prayer, he used the words God and Lord, but not Jesus. In the last sentence, instead of just saying “In Jesus’ name we pray,” he used the words, “For those of us who are Christians, we pray in Jesus’ name.”
I don’t think people of any faith should be delivering an invocation in a government building. But if it’s open to people of faith, it ought to be open to people of any faith and no faith.
I think Stoltzfoos did a really nice job of addressing the concerns while still being true to his beliefs. Good for him.
Of course, there are religious groups that want to make this a bigger deal than it is:
Since stories appeared in two small newspapers in York County and then in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on July 19, [Stoltzfoos] said, “I have gotten hundreds of e-mails and at least 100 phone calls. It’s amazing. I’ve gotten messages on Facebook and MySpace. People at my church are high-fiving me and slapping me on the back. They are happy that we’ve had a tiny role in affecting our culture.”
The Rev. Stoltzfoos said five law firms have contacted him about whether he wants to sue the House to overturn its opposition to pastors naming specific religious figures such as Jesus, Muhammed, Allah or Buddha.
He isn’t sure what he’ll do. “I don’t like legal fights, but I don’t want to let an opportunity pass to defend the Constitution and my faith,” he said.
It’s a battle he would lose.
I hope he has the good sense to realize that and just stays away from the lawsuits altogether. Right now, he’s seen as the good guy in this story. To be at the center of a lawsuit at the whim of people who want to tear down the wall of separation between church and state would ruin any goodwill he’s found.
(Thanks to Matthew for the link!)