Saturday, August 25, 2007

What's with those Imprecatory Prayers

The recent episode involving SBC pastor and VP Wiley Drake's call for imprecatory prayers -- cursings -- of a couple of leaders of the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State has raised a number of issues about how we should pray for those who we might disagree with or those who obstruct what we think is right. I've been tempted on occasion to pray some nasty things about certain people, but never took that step.
In an LA Times article written by Connie Kang, this question of "imprecatory prayers" is addressed. Apparently, as I suspected, he's not gotten a lot of support in his call to prayer or in his interpretation of Scripture.
Drake used Psalm 109 as his guide to prayer, a psalm that asks that God leave certain people fatherless and widowed. But such use of the Psalms is inappropriate -- he was using it in a prescriptive way, but in reality the Psalm is simply an example of a prayer of frustration and anger.
I appreciate what Fuller Seminary's Kurt Fredrickson had to say:

"They are more of a window into the sinfulness of human beings," said Fredrickson, an assistant professor of pastoral ministry at the Pasadena school. "Normally when we think about praying, we're thinking about prayers of adoration, prayers of confession, prayers for someone we're concerned about who is sick or going through a hard time, or those sort of prayers for ourselves -- not the sort of vindictive, revengeful statements. These prayers are contrary to the way of Jesus."

And further:

Scripture, especially the psalms, gives humans "permission," in the worst of times, just to be human, as David is in Psalm 109, he said. That's the wonderful thing about the psalms, he said.

Rabbi Stephen Stein of the Wilshire Temple said:

"We ask God certainly to do justice and to bring those who are errant to justice, but what I would consider an imprecatory prayer is not normative in Judaism," he said. "There is a difference between saying, 'May the wicked be brought to justice,' and 'May John Smith be cursed.' When we start naming names, that takes 'prayer' to an entirely different level."

It is appropriate to pray for justice and it's okay to get angry, but to pray that harm should come to another simply is not appropriate.


Heather said...

**not the sort of vindictive, revengeful statements. These prayers are contrary to the way of Jesus."**

I always liked the prayer where Jesus asked God to smite all those who had nailed him to the cross ... and the puppies, for good measure. :)

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Yes, that is a favorite text isn't it!