By Joseph L. Conn
Should Americans pray for the death of the president?
Two Topeka pastors don’t think so, and they are scheduled to deliver a petition with 30,000 names today to House Speaker Mike O’Neal of Kansas calling on the state legislative leader to resign.
O’Neal, as you may have heard, recently forwarded a memo to Republicans in the Kansas House that singled out Psalm 109:8, which says "let his days be few; let another take his office." The Hutchinson Republican reportedly added the personal note, "At last, I can honestly voice a biblical prayer for our president."
Progressive clergy were outraged with O’Neal’s action. They note that Psalm 109 is an imprecatory prayer that calls for the death of its target. The very next verse in Psalm 109 says “Let his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.”
Today the Rev. Tobias Schlingensiepen of First Congregational Church and the Rev. Jim McCollough of Topeka Center for Peace and Justice will present a petition demanding that O’Neal step down as speaker.
According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, the petition says, "As people of faith, we believe that Scripture should never be used to justify praying for the death of anyone. Speaker O'Neal's hateful abuse of Scripture is unacceptable and a disgrace to his office, and he should immediately resign."
O’Neal says he only meant that he was praying for Obama to soon be out of office, not for his death. He issued a half-hearted apology that said he was sorry “to the extent anyone misconstrued my intent or was otherwise offended.”
That’s pretty lame. Why couldn’t he just say he did a really, really dumb thing and apologize outright?
Yes, right-wing zealots have been circulating bumper stickers that say “Pray for Obama. Psalm 109:8.” But it’s a bit of sick “humor” that ought to have no place in American public life, let alone be repeated by a top state legislator.
The prospect of a presidential assassination is not funny.
I’ve been the target of imprecatory prayers myself. After Americans United filed an IRS complaint about a California ministry’s election intervention in 2007, Pastor Wiley Drakeurged his followers to pray for my death. (My name was on the AU press release, so I guess the good reverend thought I deserved to be specially targeted for the divine lightning bolt.) Like House Speaker O’Neal, Drake cited Psalm 109.
It was a hateful action, but I didn’t take it too seriously. I doubt that Drake has that much influence Upstairs, and God probably has more important things to do than serve as Brother Wiley’s celestial hit man. Plus, Baptists, Episcopalians, Wiccans and other progressive people of faith told me they were offering some prayers on my behalf – the theological equivalent of Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” missile defense shield.
Something must have worked. I’m still here.
At any rate, vicious religious-political antics ought to be condemned by all Americans. We don’t want to wind up like other countries with Catholics and Protestants shooting at each other or Sunnis and Shiites lobbing bombs.
I hope Speaker O’Neal resigns – or at least repents.