This story is not linked to Lambeth

Question Mark on Stained Glass 02At first glance, there really isn’t much going on in this little Detroit News metro feature entitled “Pastor believes prayer can save city.”

The focus is on Greg Barrette, pastor of Renaissance Unity, and his vision of an Aug. 24 day of prayer to somehow “levitate the economy right out of its doldrums.” There are some slightly spacey quotes and then some politicians get involved, sort of pointing their fingers at each other. This happens in politics from time to time.

But people get on board with the project because, what the heck, interfaith prayer doesn’t cost any money. What can this hurt? Then he hit this final strange passage in Laura Berman’s story:

Renaissance Unity dispatched 15,000 e-mails this week, an effort that will be followed by a mass snail-mailing to other churches, synagogues and mosques. He argues that prayer is personally beneficial (“It raises cortisol levels”), even if you’re not supernaturally inclined.

Kenneth J. Flowers, pastor at Greater New Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, insists that “prayer is always in order.” After praying for economic uplift, he thinks the city of Detroit will need its own special day to pray for scandal relief.

In Clawson, the Rev. Harry T. Cook, rector at St. Andrews Episcopal Church, a self-described agnostic, dismisses the idea of a group prayer day, saying “these are man-made problems that require man-made solutions.” The rector suggests politics: voting, mobilizing, taking action.

All together now: The rector said WHAT?!?

Now, before we get started on jokes about Episcopalians (the church does contain a bishop who is not a theist), let’s stop and think about this for a minute. If this priest really called himself an “agnostic” — someone who is not sure whether he believes anything about spiritual and eternal issues — then the journalist owes the reader a bit more content. In a way, dropping this little bombshell and then moving on is a kind of insult against the religious left.

Or, do you think that the priest said that he “is an agnostic” on the issue of whether this kind of interfaith, politically correct prayer day will have any real impact?

I vote for the latter. I think. Either way, it’s a strange reference that needs some tweeking.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Matthew

    He calls himself an agnostic:

    There is a lot less Christianity left in the Episcopal Church than most people believe.

  • tmatt

    Well, there you go.

    “One more thing, and I’m out of here.”

    I still think the reference needed to be more clear.

  • Pamela

    When the head bishop of the Episcopal Church says that Jesus is one of many ways to God I would say there is no true Christianity left there. Sounds like anyone can be a part of that church to me. I’m not the least bit surprised that an Episcopal rector is an agnostic. It also would not surprise me if there was an atheist that is also a rector.

    From time to time I read articles from Virtue Online to gan information from the most traditional Episcopal church members. Last year I read the following article about a Episcopal priest that was also Muslim. I was hoping I could find the article. This is a picture of who can be a part of the Episcopal church leadership. Absolutely anyone. It is no longer Christian.

  • Barbara

    As a conservative Episcopalian in a very liberal diocese, this does not surprise me in the least. The “bishop who is not a theist” was the Bishop of Newark for over twenty years, and was never, ever disciplined. In retirement,he still draws his full pension, and is honored in many places. Indeed, the current Presiding Bishop is one of his disciples.

  • Martha

    Okay, leaving aside all Episcopalian jokes, I think the man is indeed a “self-described agnostic”, if we go by this effusion:


    … Warrant for trust in such articles and tenets springs from so-called sacred texts, the contents of which are also supposed to be beyond ordinary textual investigation, and which are to be taken as the express law and will of whatever god is imagined therein. “It says in the Bible,” “It says in the Koran”: these are the justifications given for so much of what the Scots poet Robert Burns called “man’s inhumanity to man.”
    What is called for in the 21st Century is courage, not faith; knowledge, not belief. Courage is that which enables a person to seek for and deal with what is real, rather than what is imagined or wished for. Knowledge is that which is arrived at by observation and rationalized experience. Courage to seek and accept knowledge rather than relying upon blind belief in what some religious or political authority claims to be true is the key to establishing a just society.

    It is an act of courage to face life knowing that one’s light, one’s truth, and one’s strength are within one’s own self and, because we are not unconnected in this world, in others. Such qualities do not repose in some unseen deity which may or may not be caring of our welfare. It is an act of courage to declare something to be factual because it fits with the known facts. It was an act of courage for Charles Darwin to have observed the fauna of Galápagos Islands with no agenda other than finding out about it. It was an act of courage, not faith, that prompted Darwin to publish his all-important Theory of Natural Selection which, when married to genetics, has become the baseline of modern medicine.

    The courage to search for and act upon knowledge regardless of sectarian demands will be what saves America from becoming a theocracy. History bears witness to the fact that widespread reliance upon faith in unseen deities or systems based upon appeal to deities and their alleged laws, always mediated by a ruling hierarchy and defended by personal preference, leads inexorably to theocracy, meaning government by ruthlessly applied central authority and suppression of dissent. It also goes by another name: fascism.

    Uncritical tolerance of faith and belief systems will lead us there. A faith-belief-based system–a religion, in other words–must be judged on the behavior of its adherents toward others, and by no other standard. Where religion is used, especially in league with government, to restrict human rights, to bless unjust war, to maintain class supremacy, theocracy has come into its own. This must be resisted.”

    He is also “a former editor of the ‘Detroit Free Press’”, so he has some experience with journalists (I should imagine), meaning he knew what he was saying and how it would be written up.

  • Martha

    Also includes a great example of why non-scientists should step away from the keyboard before invoking Great Names:

    “Theory of Natural Selection which, when married to genetics, has become the baseline of modern medicine”

    Can anyone tell me how that sentence makes sense? So – it wasn’t germ theory, promotion of hygiene and asepsis, and discovery of antibiotics, plus chemical analysis of molecule structures to increase the effectiveness of drugs, that gave us modern medicine – it was the discovery of evolution in action?

  • Martha

    Annnd finally: why on earth did this guy go for a job in a church instead of, say, a laboratory?

    I mean, it’s like a vegetarian deciding to work in an abattoir!

    I agree, tmatt, that’s a story I’d love to read. Why do I suspect the answer, stripped of any fancy philosophical icing, would be along the lines of “Well, I had an Arts degree and needed a job, and this gig seemed like a cushy one.”?

  • Steven in Falls Church

    Why do I suspect the answer, stripped of any fancy philosophical icing, would be along the lines of “Well, I had an Arts degree and needed a job, and this gig seemed like a cushy one.”?

    Your suspicion is pretty close to reality. I got married in a large, liberal Episcopal parish. In a meeting to discuss selection of music for the service, the parish assistant music director let drop that he does not believe in God, but he loved his job because it was “a great gig.”

  • Bill

    A link, please, to the “One more thing and I’m out of here” reference, tmatt. I have read it, but my memory is weak.

  • tmatt
  • Jay

    All this commentary about the agnostic priest obscures the real substance of the article. I lived in Detroit for a while. They were always having prayer days to halt crime or drugs or to improve the school system or something else. I assume a lot of people prayed. The crime rate and drug usage kept going up and the schools kept getting worse. Perhaps the priest is right to be agnostic about the efficacy of prayer days?

  • Stoo

    Well depending on how you define agnostic, lots of and lots of people can fit the bill. Including many believers. They’re not necessarily mutually exclusive.

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