Praying for Obama – Whether He Wants Me To Or Not

Editor’s Note: This is the second post from John Mark Reynolds, Provost of Houston Baptist University and frequent social commentator, who is now a contributing writer to this blog. I will continue to note his posts for a week or two, until people get the idea that it can no longer be assumed that every post is from me, Timothy Dalrymple. I am now the lead writer but no longer the sole writer at Philosophical Fragments. If you’re new to the blog, please join our new Facebook page in the sidebar!

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I pray for President Obama every day and have done so for four years now, but now I do not know what to do. Evidently, my prayers offend him, even though I have only asked that God grant him long life, wisdom, and protection.

Does Mr. Obama welcome my prayers even though I believe in the sexual morality that’s taught in the Bible on which he’ll take the oath of office?

I am confused, but mostly for one simple reason: President Obama will take the oath of office on Sacred Scriptures. Why keep the Bible, but object to prayers by Bible believers?

From under the Internet bridge where trolls dwell will come the complaint that nobody sane believes in Biblical morality. Obama is using the Bible, because every President of the United States from Washington (who kissed the Book!) has done so.

Obama doesn’t believe the Bible, because nobody in American history in the mainstream has ever believed most of it. President Obama has just done to sexual morality what the rest of us, including mainstream Christians, did long ago. The Troll will rant about eating shell fish or the rape laws in ancient Israel. Apparently, in two thousand years of Church history, intelligent Jews and Christians keep giving up on “impossible” areas of Biblical morality without noticing it.

Now the brave Troll will tell us that Mr. Obama is just like we are: he loves the Bible while ignoring the nasty bits just like the rest of the sane. He uses the Bible, because it is a harmless costume from the Founders. A more skeptical reader than the Troll might worry that the same Troll is usually ranting that the Founding of America was totally secular and that religion and the state must be utterly separate.

But we need not ask secular Trolls to be consistent, we must demand they be literate.

After all, how plausible is this idea that nobody takes all the Bible’s morality seriously? Did literary scholars such as the late C.S. Lewis or philosophers such as Richard Swinburne not notice this self-deception? Did we have to await the twenty-first century atheist to find out our folly?

Probably not, since nineteenth century village atheists made similar complaints, though too many people in the nineteenth century had an education in classics to give the argument much force. Learn to read Greek texts, even in translation, and the village atheist argument about the Bible and morality sounds foolish.

Whatever the merits of our technical education, too few of us get a sound grounding in our roots. We lack classical reading skills so we tend to read old books as if they were new books written on scrolls instead of computers. But ancient authors were not just modern authors with quills, they had a different worldview.

Ancient Biblical law books require some cultural sophistication to read. Weirdly, the same people who would scoff at the Ugly American Tourist who cannot be bothered to learn the subtle linguistic norms of another culture (“adjectives oft come after the noun in our language,” the guide explained wearily) butcher old cultures’ thought patterns.

Some Biblical laws applied only to a nomadic people. Some were meant for a poor and embattled kingdom…and others were universal. Scholars might argue at the margins, but there are sensible ways to differentiate the categories.

Sexual desire, like any physical desire, deceives us easily. It makes demands that humans exiled from God find overwhelming. Most people in most places in most times have discovered that restricting those desires is necessary for civilization. They had a word for cultures that did not: decadent.

We haven’t discovered anything new that would change morality. Our Constitution, signed by the Founders “in the year of our Lord,” remains incomprehensible apart from the classical and Christian tradition.

President Obama is right to take the Oath on the Bible, but he is wrong to reject its morality. He is divisive to reject the morality of many Americans and most of the globe in a fit of parochial, partisan exclusion.

If President Obama doesn’t want the prayers of good men like Lou Giglio, then he doesn’t want my prayers. And yet the Bible, the morality of the Bible, commands I pray for him anyway. I must love him, I must honor him, and I must ask God to give him wisdom. And so I will pray tonight as I have every night:

“God save our Republic and my President Barack Obama.”

  • Hal Espen

    I’ve never seen prayer framed as concern trolling before.

  • CBO

    My prayer is different: God, bring Obama to the point of acknowledging who you are so that he will bow to you and lead this nation according to Your will rather than his own, with the result that you, God, will be glorified.

  • Joshua

    One of the issues I take with your article is the implication that Obama is being divisive and rejecting “the morality of many Americans” in a “fit” of partisan exclusion; come on, that’s an overly harsh sentiment. Simply taking a side in any argument can be boiled down to rejecting the other side, but saying it’s fitfully partisan and divisive is unnecessarily inflammatory. Just because he doesn’t agree with other Christians doesn’t make him overtly hostile to them, and I’m sure he would appreciate your prayers nonetheless. (I don’t know the man personally, but I say this based on his voicing his appreciation to pastors, some of which didn’t agree with all of his decisions, who have had the opportunity to tell him that they were praying for him.)

    Also, the issue of homosexuality, while condemned in Scripture, is highly sensitive, controversial, and divisive by itself. Right or wrong, the issue has arguably not been handled in the most Christlike fashion by many Christians over decades, leading to many gays being physically and mentally assaulted, even by those who claim to lovers of God. While the faults of the followers don’t mean that the message of the Followed should be watered down, it’s necessary for Christians to recognize that we have to be as understanding and wise in our dealings as possible, seeing that we have a lot of hurt, pain, and prejudice to overcome.

    It also behooves Christians to recognize that (1) the founding documents of this country do not support setting policy endorsing one religion over others, (2) Christians should not be necessarily looking to secure power through politics in the first place, and (3) the Bible is a very thick book, and says much more about helping the poor and the evils committed by the rich towards the downtrodden MUCH more often than it talks about homosexuality.

  • Jeremy Forbing

    I do not believe the Bible directly labels homosexuality as a sin, but we all read Scripture differently, and I don’t think anyone is asserting that those who do believe the Bible says so should not pray for whoever they wish. But President Obama is under no obligation to give anyone who does believe so a wider audience.

    This entire blog post is calculated to use false outrage for entirely partisan political purposes. Another blow in the continuing effort to diminish Christianity and make it subservient to conservative politics.

    • TR in ATL

      The Bible is the Bible. We don’t read it differently. We may interpret it differently. Whatever your reasoning, the Bible, GOD’s Word, clearly states that desires for the same sex results in His punishment. (e.g. Rom 1:27 Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.)

      We were all dead to sin. Only Jesus can save us and lead us to life!

      • Joshua

        Well, I’m not necessarily commenting about homosexuality, but I think many of us do read *and* interpret the Bible differently. It’s not just the fact that translations necessarily remove innate meanings of Hebrew and Greek languages (I like to compare this idea to translating a crossword puzzle into another language: sure, we get the words, but the puzzle is shot).

        Many preachers would rather preach an argument, philosophy, or agenda, with a collection of “gotcha” scriptures to back them up. And many tend to hibernate on specific subjects (homosexuality, abortion, tithing, etc.) much more than other subjects (i.e. sort of like a news channel, which chooses the stories to lead off with and/or report ten times a day as opposed to other stories because of ratings, political bias, etc.).

        Agreed about Jesus being our Savior.

      • Jeremy Forbing

        TR, “Only Jesus can save us and lead us to life!” is a statement I wholeheartedly endorse.

        Everything else you have posted here, I disagree with. I could line up serious religious thinkers who do not believe the New Testament proscribes homosexuality as a sin.

  • Joshua Lyman

    Wow.. what a vile, nasty piece of writing.
    Everyone who disagrees with you, you label as a troll, thus avoiding having to actual deal with anything they say. Also, you attribute things to them that they didn’t say. You are factually incorrect in your claims about the historical record. And you make claims about who Barack Obama wants “praying for him” based on zero evidence on that subject at all.
    But, you don’t need to respond, after all, everyone who disagrees with you is a troll.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      He’s using “Troll” in the technical, internet sense of the term, which should be clear. Obviously he’s pointing to a tension between affirming the Bible and taking your oath upon the Bible but simultaneously rejecting for the benediction someone who believes what the Bible teaches on homosexuality. I don’t think John Mark seriously supposes that Obama would tell him not to pray for him.

      • Joshua Lyman

        He’s using “Troll” in the technical, internet sense of the term, which should be clear

        No. He isn’t. He labels everyone who disagrees with him as a troll.

        I don’t think John Mark seriously supposes that Obama would tell him not to pray for him.

        Lets see what he SAYS shall we?

        ” Evidently, my prayers offend him”

        “If President Obama doesn’t want the prayers of good men like Lou Giglio, then he doesn’t want my prayers?”

        This was a blog where I could happily disagree, but still respect the fact that our disagreements were based on good faith arguments between people who respect one another. If this guy keeps posting here, that will no longer be the case.

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          I know what he said, but I think you have to read things in the spirit in which they were written. And yes, he’s clearly using “troll” in the internet sense. At least, that would be clear to anyone who knows John Mark. I hope you get to know him and his way of writing a bit better before casting a judgment. Thanks, Joshua.

  • http://www.JohnMarkReynolds.com John Mark Reynolds

    Joshua:

    First, I am sure President Obama has never had one thought about me. Second, I am sure that (in fact) from what I can see that he would (literally) want me to pray for him. I am sorry if my puckishness did not communicate well.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Puckishness is a good word for it. Where has all the humor gone…long time passing…where has all the humor gone…long time ago…

    • Josh Lyman

      Oh. OK. So when you are dishonest, inaccurate and argue in bad faith it is all just “puckishness”. That will save e from reading any more of your vile writings.

  • Crœsos

    Historical note: Not “every President of the United States” has used the Bible during his inauguration. John Quincy Adams used a law book. Franklin Pierce bears the distinction of being the only president to “affirm” rather than “swear” and probably didn’t use a Bible (although the records don’t specifically say one way or the other). Due to the hurried nature of the ceremony, neither Theodore Roosevelt nor Lyndon Johnson took the oath on a Bible during their first inaugural. Roosevelt was empty-handed when he took the oath and Johnson used a Catholic missal that happened to be handy on Air Force One during that flight back from Dallas. Both used a Bible during their second, more thoroughly planned inaugurations though.

  • John Haas

    “Our Constitution, signed by the Founders “in the year of our Lord,” remains incomprehensible apart from the classical and Christian tradition.”

    Wow.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Actually, John, I can hardly think of any scholars who would disagree that an essential context for our Constitution is the classical and Christian tradition.

      • John Haas

        The very notion that any real “scholars”–I’m not counting the Glenn Becks and David Bartons of the world in that company (do we truly need to talk about that?)–even think for a moment that there’s a unitary (as in “the”) “classical and Christian tradition” (as if Christians all agreed on a common program of some kind, let alone Christians and pagans agreeing . . . well, I don’t know where to begin; hence my response.)

        But, even more, the idea that this non-existent, supposedly unitary “classical and Christian tradition” needs understanding in order to “comprehend” the Constitution is, frankly, pretty bizarre. Anyone who’s ever read the Constitution can comprehend, eg, a statement to the effect that “No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.” Knowing the ins and outs of, say, Plotinus, eg, isn’t really required.

        Though I’m not at all against that.

        But my “wow” was more at the audacity of merely proclaiming that as a truth, essential to getting the SSM debate right (an issue I don’t really care much about frankly, but, if you want to press me, I’m agin’ it). This assertion is simply a sleight of hand–there’s no argument at all being made here–designed to lazily claim the Constituional high-ground with regard to a document that says absolutely nothing about “marriage.”

        But, sure, I’m happy to agree the Framers knew the classics pretty well, in all their complexity, and they knew the Bible too, probably better than most contemporary, supposedly “conservative,” legislators do.

        But that they intended that their appending “in the year of our Lord” in their submission of the document to Congress and the people was somehow meant to communicate some deep truth about what they really wanted this Republic to look like? Are you serious?

        That their failure to mention God, Jesus, or the Bible in the document somehow means nothing?

        Please. Are you assuming we’re infants? Go peddle that at Wallbuilders. You’ll find a very receptive audience, there.

        Not very intelligent, but receptive.

        You can’t have it all, you know.

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          I think you’re exaggerating what’s being claimed here. This is not Beck or Barton territory. This is not suggesting that the Constitution was some kind of pseudo-biblical document, or the charter of a theocracy, or that there was no attempt to differentiate the state and the church. Nor was there a suggestion (you’re being absurd with your rhetoric here) that one must understand Plotinus in order to understand every line of the Constitution. There’s no suggestion here that the tradition is unitary, undifferentiated, or univocal. By “tradition” we’re referring to, in essence, the classical western and Christian canon(s), the whole world of (often conflicting) discourse emerging from classical philosophy and Christian thought over the centuries. The Constitution did not emerge from a vacuum, and it’s best understood in light of the individuals and the texts and the streams of thought that inspired and informed it.

          Seriously, I don’t see why you’re having a conniption fit over such a small, and frankly obvious, point. I think you wildly you over-interpreted his reference to “in the year of our Lord.” I took that reference simply to mean that the framers of the Constitution still lived in a largely classical/Christian thought-world.

          Please extend a little charity in your interpretation, for goodness sake. John Mark is one of the founders of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola, which focuses on classical texts. We’re both just as educated as you are, and would not slide-tackle you for a foolish point before we’re sure we’ve understood you correctly. I assume you would not mark your students well for this kind of rush to interpretive judgment.

          • Jon

            This is completely accurate but elides the main point. Intelligent secularists don’t pretend that they owe no debt to Christian thinkers or moralists. They merely would like to abandon the theology, and some parts of the morality, while retaining what seems most enduring. And the precedent for such a move is, ironically, that very same Christian intellectual tradition, which tossed the theology of the classical tradition, and some of the moral prescriptions, while retaining what seems most enduring. Modern secular humanism is to Christianity as the Christian intellectual tradition was to the Greeks. Of course, you can (and I am sure would) argue that secularists are throwing out good parts of their heritage, not bad ones, but I hardly see how any Christian intellectual can say with a straight face that cherry picking from our intellectual heritage is somehow verboten.

  • John Haas

    Well, if all you’ve said above is correct, then you’re right I’m not entirely understanding the argument here, specifically how the reference to the Constitution functions in the argument that is mostly talking about the Bible. If we’re not being told that the Constitution is a political instrument for establishing Biblical morality in society, what is being said?

  • Stephen

    Did we have to await the twenty-first century atheist to find out our folly?

    It’s like they’ve never heard of this one guy called Marcion…


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