Cruel Prayer in the Senate

by Jesse Galef –

Just when I think things can’t get crazier at the intersection of church and state, Senator Colburn decides to prove me wrong. This started out as a heartless political ploy and turned into something far worse. In the razor-thin supermajority in favor of the healthcare reform bill, every vote counts. When it comes to the vote of a 92 year-old senator, some understanding is warranted, but not given (via Ezra Klein):

Another example came last night, when the ailing Robert Byrd was wheeled in at 1 a.m. to break a filibuster on the manager’s amendment. Byrd’s presence was not required, especially considering that he’d clearly telegraphed his intention to vote to break the filibuster. But Republicans forced him to travel to the chamber. Indeed, shortly before he arrived, Sen. Tom Coburn headed to the floor to propose a prayer. “What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can’t make the vote tonight,” he said. “That’s what they ought to pray.”

Just like Jesus taught you to pray, right? Turn the other cheek, then pray that your political opponents drop dead! Video of the remarks and Senator Durbin (D-IL)’s response can be found here.

I met Senator Byrd a couple years ago. He was frail then, he’s frailer now. There is legitimate concern over his health. Fortunately, Byrd made the vote, but Senator Inhofe (R-OK) didn’t.

On CSPAN, someone called in and wondered what went wrong (via Think Progress):

CALLER: Yeah doctor. Our small tea bag group here in Waycross, we got our vigil together and took Dr. Coburn’s instructions and prayed real hard that Sen. Byrd would either die or couldn’t show up at the vote the other night.

How hard did you pray because I see one of our members was missing this morning. Did it backfire on us? One of our members died? How hard did you pray senator? Did you pray hard enough?

Instead of denouncing the very idea of praying for the death of a colleague, Sen. Barrasso merely said that Sen. Inhofe was traveling and couldn’t make the vote. How charming.

Obviously I don’t believe prayer will have an effect, but it says a lot about the people praying. It’s indicative of the sad state we’re in that I can’t tell whether the caller was sarcastic or not – those could have been tears or laughter making him choke up. But I’m astounded – and disgusted – that neither Barrasso nor the moderator commented on it.

About Dr. Denise Cooper-Clarke

I am a graduate of medicine and theology with a Ph.D in medical ethics. I tutor in medical ethics at the University of Melbourne, am an (occasional) adjunct Lecturer in Ethics at Ridley Melbourne, and a voluntary researcher with Ethos. I am also a Fellow of ISCAST and a past chair of the Melbourne Chapter of Christians for Biblical Equality. I have special interests in professional ethics, sexual ethics and the ethics of virtue.

  • http://spsein.blogspot.com/ Gabriel G.

    I’m just laughing at the irony of Christians who claim atheists have no morals but then turn around to pray for someone’s death.

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    SIck and sad. Praying for someone’s death – how nice is that? Well, it’s not nice, it’s evil.

  • http://godlizard.com godlizard

    Even worse, this is so *not* uncommon – praying for death or disease to strike one’s enemies is part of many a Christianist’s arsenal. After all, back in the good old (testament) days, there was a whole lot of calling on the lord to smite the enemy. Standard operating procedure. Don’t agree with someone? “Lord, i pray thee smite these (insert name of potential smite-ee here).”

    Sen. Byrd rocks though. That was just epic, and I think I should go write him a nice thank-you note.

  • Jamie

    That is awful, and they should be ashamed of their actions! Will they be? I hope other Christians condemn this.

  • http://angryatheist.net ANGRYATHEIST

    This is sick.

  • http://irreligionist.wordpress.com Jaylee

    As disgusting as this is; unfortunately it doesn’t surprise me.

  • Sive

    The simple thought of this makes me sick to my stomach. I can understand that it doesn’t make one whit of difference but to have such openly hateful intentions to someone that is attempting to HELP so many other people.

  • Richard Wade

    Mmmm that Christian love just warms your heart, doesn’t it?

    These assholes ought to try voodoo dolls. Much more effective.

  • Ed

    I’m confused- When was anyone told to pray for someone to die? In the clip provided Coburn asks that they pray someone can’t make it. That is rather different from praying someone dies.

  • 3D

    The call was satire. Even the most deluded Christians don’t really think prayer works that directly — they just say the rhetoric without following up on it with actions.

    If they really did believe the prayer stuff, they wouldn’t go to doctors or go food shopping every week, they would just wait for their illnesses to go away and for food to drop out of the sky.

  • Jer

    The call was satire. Even the most deluded Christians don’t really think prayer works that directly — they just say the rhetoric without following up on it with actions.

    Um, where do YOU live? I only wish the Christians who believed that prayer worked directly weren’t real.

    Here in the midwest, however, the story is different. Yes, unless we’re talking about a Christian Scientist or a “cult” member the Christian in question isn’t going to solely rely on prayer for their medical problems. But that’s because they generally have pastors who aren’t idiots and who tell them “you should pray, but you need to do what your doctor tells you too”. OTOH, some of them have financial difficulties and they believe their pastors who tell them “perhaps you’re not giving enough to the Church” is the reason for their financial distress (we JUST HAD a story about that here the other day IIRC).

    The thing is – Christians believe their pastors until their pastor does something to void that belief. Even then some of them will continue to believe their pastors. It’s how Christianity rolls (for all I know it’s how ALL religions roll – Christianity is the only one I have much experience with). If someone’s pastor tells them that an imprecatory prayer is going to be helpful, they’re going to do it. When it fails (as here) their pastor can fall back on “God has a plan” or can tell them that they need to have more faith and that God is testing them or whatever hoary cliched excuse they feel like pulling out of their Bibles this week for why God doesn’t appear to be listening.

  • Tim Carroll

    Hmmmm… maybe GOD is in favor of Healthcare Reform. Maybe?

  • 3D

    Jer says…

    The thing is – Christians believe their pastors until their pastor does something to void that belief. Even then some of them will continue to believe their pastors. It’s how Christianity rolls (for all I know it’s how ALL religions roll – Christianity is the only one I have much experience with). If someone’s pastor tells them that an imprecatory prayer is going to be helpful, they’re going to do it. When it fails (as here) their pastor can fall back on “God has a plan” or can tell them that they need to have more faith and that God is testing them or whatever hoary cliched excuse they feel like pulling out of their Bibles this week for why God doesn’t appear to be listening.

    I probably wasn’t clear enough, but I was talking about the “when it fails” part. Most Christians will go through the motion of prayer, but they have a built-in excuse when it fails, since it usually fails. You outlined some of the excuses above. And they’re so used to the failure of prayer that they make sure to back up the prayer with action, like going to the doctor, food shopping, going to a shitty job every day instead of waiting for money to show up on their doorstep, etc.

    So, a real Christian probably wouldn’t call into C-SPAN to complain that their prayer didn’t work, because they’re already used to their prayers not working on a daily basis, and they would already be convincing themselves of one of the prefabricated excuses.

  • littlejohn

    I used to live up the road from Senator Byrd, who was the Grand something-or-other of the KKK in Sophia (pronounced “SO-fee”) West Virginia. He’s a tough old, well, bird. He’ll make it for the vote, if they have to roll his corpse in and raise his hand for him. That’s one mean racist. He also has god on HIS side. I know. He’s told me more than once.

  • Jer

    So, a real Christian probably wouldn’t call into C-SPAN to complain that their prayer didn’t work, because they’re already used to their prayers not working on a daily basis, and they would already be convincing themselves of one of the prefabricated excuses.

    Not necessarily. Not if they haven’t had a chance to talk to their pastor first before they made that call to C-Span. Most people are bright enough to rationalize on their own but many folks have to have rationalizations presented to them (and I don’t just mean in the area of religion – it’s pretty common with all kinds of beliefs that are held as dogma rather than being completely understood, like some political beliefs and inherited prejudices).

    This caller could be a hoax, or it could be someone who falls into that second camp. I haven’t listened to the segment myself but I’ve watched enough C-Span call-in shows to know that despite the fact that they’re watching C-Span, you can’t assume that everyone who calls in is all that bright, nor can you assume that they are capable of independent thought. The caller could easily fall into that latter camp and won’t have their rationale for why their prayer didn’t work until they have an opportunity to talk to someone quicker with the rationalizations than themselves.

  • Epistaxis

    If I were the Senator from West Virginia, I would have flipped Coburn the Byrd as they wheeled me out. Of course, that’s probably why I’m not a Senator.

    I’ll stop short of wishing him 50 more years, but this is nice.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Just when I think things can’t get crazier at the intersection of church and state, Senator Colburn decides to prove me wrong.

    Just when I think that Senator Colburn can’t act like more of a loon. . . Oh, wait a minute. I stopped thinking that a long time ago.

  • Mak

    Friendly fire prayer? BRB, dying. XD

  • Ed

    Can anyone provide a scrap of evidence Senator Colburn called for a “prayer of death” for another Senator?

    To twist the quote “The American people ought to pray someone does not show up” into “Pray Robert Byrd dies,” is dishonest and shockingly absurd.

  • qiker

    color me not surprised……

  • http://www.twitter.com/shocktwist Brittany

    Can anyone provide a scrap of evidence Senator Colburn called for a “prayer of death” for another Senator?

    To twist the quote “The American people ought to pray someone does not show up” into “Pray Robert Byrd dies,” is dishonest and shockingly absurd.

    I don’t think it was twisted. The caller was the one talking about praying for the death of the senator.

    Wouldn’t be much of a stretch to think that some religious, conservative nutjob prayed for something like that anyway. Ann Coulter (another religious, conservative nutjob) once told a college student that every night, she prays that something bad happens to democrats.

  • littlejohn

    Ed: Even if all Colburn did is ask god to interfere with some senator’s ability – any senator – to arrive, are you saying that’s not mean and crazy?
    Byrd is in his 90s and extremely infirm.
    I can’t prove it, but I know the West Virginia congressional delegation (I was a journalist there for years) and it is common knowledge what Colburn was saying, and who he was saying it about. There’s certainly nothing “shockingly absurd” about the inference.
    Colburn has a bit of a record regarding this sort of angry, god-botting nonsense.
    Of course I may be wrong, but you’ll never hear Colburn make a similar admission.

  • Chris

    I’m calling Poe’s Law on that phone call.

  • Baconsbud

    Things like this make me want to make praying for the death or injury of others illegal. I figure people that believe that these types of prayers are ok are the same ones that don’t want government involvement in their lives except for those government benefits they are using.

  • Derek

    /facepalm

    Yes, other Christians oppose this sort of moronic behaviour. Sadly, we have our share of idiots.

  • Ed

    LittleJohn in your opinion as a former journalist, if Richard Dawkins said “You had better hope too few people show up” would it be alright to report he had said “I hope Bill dies”?

    Even if all Colburn did is ask god to interfere with some senator’s ability – any senator – to arrive, are you saying that’s not mean and crazy?

    No, and I never implied anything of the sort. My point is that unless someone has some proof Colburn advocated praying for Robert Byrd to die it is a untrue (and in my opinion given the facts I have seen thus far, shocking and absurd) to claim he did. Nothing in the youtube link Jesse provided suggests anything of the sort.

    Colburn has a bit of a record regarding this sort of angry, god-botting nonsense.

    Ok, that may be true. I have never heard of the man and perhaps if I had I might be a little less surprised at how he is being treated. Regardless I would hope I would find the way he is being misquoted, distasteful.

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  • http://drudgeretort.wordpress.com Ben Hoffman

    Some of those religious nuts have the morals of rats.

    I wrote a short column about how Jesus may have been an alien from outer space and you wouldn’t believe some of the comments.

    http://drudgeretort.wordpress.com/2009/12/23/was-jesus-an-alien-from-outer-space/

    It makes more sense than Intelligent Design. :)

  • Jesse Galef

    Ed – read the Ezra Klein blockquote I included. His comments were right before Sen. Byrd was wheeled in. Context matters.

    When you’re in the process of forcing a 92 year-old man to be carted onto the floor so he can vote then say “Pray someone doesn’t make it to the next vote” I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that illness, injury, or death are involved.

  • Ed

    Jesse, I read that block quote as well as the whole Washington Post piece. Colburn made his comment at 4pm. You can see or read it in full here. Durbin made his comment at 5:11pm. Senator Byrd was wheeled in around 1am the next morning for the early morning vote. I still see no evidence that Colburn was refering to anyone in particular with his comment. I am quite certain he would have been very pleased if ANY democrat had failed to make the 1am vote. It is unfair to put words in Colburn’s mouth. Even if Colburn went home and prayed all night long that Senator Byrd die he never said such a thing or even suggested it.

  • http://www.theyoungturks.com Ron Brown

    I’m as much of a progressive as anyone, but I think it’s overboard to just assume that this Republican-delivered prayer was any kind of a wish for death or ill-health toward Byrd. The Republican himself said that his intention was that something along the lines of a person’s alarm clock failing to go off occur. I find this explanation to be completely believable. I’m all for calling out any politician, regardless of Party or policies, for inappropriate political behaviour. But in the interest of civility and trustworthy political communication, I think it is better that in cases such as this, we give people the benefit of the doubt. Is it fair to point out that this message was perhaps a poorly chosen one given Byrd’s health? Sure. But lets not assume that this comment was intended to be deeply cruel. It’s far harder to have political discussion between politicians and bases when both sides assume the worst of the other.

    Now, maybe I’m missing something. If I am, then perhaps I would be more on the side of progressives taking this very incriminating interpretation.

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  • satanhimself

    Don’t forget that Byrd is no friend of atheists. I was in the Capitol in September with Mike Newdow, when who is rolled in by us?
    Byrd himself.

    1999:
    Mr. BYRD. Mr. Chief Justice:

    I think my country sinks beneath the yoke,
    It weeps, it bleeds,
    And each new day,
    a gash is added to her wounds.

    I am the only remaining Member of Congress who was here in 1954 when we added the words `under God’ to the Pledge of Allegiance. That was on June 7, 1954. One year from that day we added the words `In God We Trust’ to the currency and coin of this country. Those words were already on some of the coins. But I shall always be proud to have voted to add those words, `under God’ and `In God We Trust.’ They mean much to us today as we meet here.

    ——————————–
    2002:
    In an impassioned speech on the Senate floor just before the resolution vote, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, said he is the only remaining member of Congress who voted for the addition of “under God” on June 7, 1954. He warned the judges who declared the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional to never come before him because “he’ll be blackballed.” “I wonder if that judge would hold the Declaration of Independence unconstitutional,” said Byrd. “I hope the Senate will waste no time in throwing this back in the face of this stupid judge. Stupid, that’s what he is.”
    —-
    Can it be that we, too, are ready to embrace the foul concepts of atheism? Somebody is tampering with America’s soul, I leave it to you who that somebody is.
    – Robert Byrd, in response to the US Supreme Court’s verdict in Engle v. Vitale

  • http://www.banalleakage.com martymankins

    Seems prayer works both ways for the ultra religious. They pray for death when it best suits them. For shame.

  • http://n/a John Windsor III

    If all WV christian love is the cause of, Senator Robert C. Byrd, I think he should be shoot. I went to Trinity Assembly of God, from 1983-1988, went to Pocahontas County, WV volunteering at, WVMR for seven weeks. I then moved back to Fairmont, WV until April 1994, going Graceland, and later moving to Morgantown, WV in July. The last christian church I attended was, First Presbyterian in Morgantown, WV on Spruce Street for about 2 years, and then I got interested in Wicca/Witchcraft after attending a Pagan ritual of CUPPS at, the Unitarian Chruch, Morgantown, WV


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