I mentioned a couple of days ago the silliness with which Rep. Cleaver ended his prayer for the opening of congress on Sunday, and I certainly wasn’t alone in observing the nonsense of it. But that little detail has gotten more attention than the fact that the prayer was problematic in more significant ways. How we end our prayers matters, but may not matter as much as the basic question of who we are praying to.
I am no connoisseur of congressional prayers, and would be unsurprised if they were blasphemous as a matter of course; I make no claim that Cleaver’s prayer stands out from the pack (though it might, for all I know). But the ending has claimed so much attention that we might as well draw people’s eyes up a few lines from “amen and awoman.”
You can view the whole prayer on C-Span (there’s also a transcript, but it is both incomplete and unreliable). And the prayer is not all bad, as concerns its content: there is humility, and an expressed desire for unity (if rendered somewhat incredible by the prayer’s conclusion). But the question of great concern is, to whom is he praying?
Towards the beginning, he invokes, “Eternal God,” which is an acceptable, if not explicit, Christian address. He says, “The members of this august body acknowledge your sacred supremacy,” which seems to me unlikely, but we shall return to that. Various phrases biblical and Christian phrases suggest that it is the one true God whom Cleaver addresses—without ever bringing in any of the key terms, such as “Jesus,” “Holy Spirit,” or “Trinity,” that might really seal the deal. Nonetheless, one is left with the impression that he might actually be praying to the actual God—and making the audacious claim that the U.S. congress operates in submission to the Holy One.
But, at the end, he concludes, “We ask it in the name of the monotheistic god, Brahma, and god known by many names, by many different faiths.”
It would appear that Cleaver has been praying to a hypothetical shared god of the world’s religions. He conflates “the monotheistic god”—an inadequate catchall that could conceivably have reference to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, “Brahma”—the Hindu creator god, and a general reference to the gods of other religions. In this secularized, pluralistic prayer, Cleaver seems to be trying to include everyone—thus effectively excluding most people.
This notion, that all religions (or at least certain religions) really worship the same god under different names is not at all unique. It is unsurprising to see it on the religious left, and perhaps the only safe course on the political left. It is also blasphemous.
When we read the Scriptures, we do not find God regarding worship of other gods as really being worship of Himself. We find God profoundly distinguishing Himself from the gods of the pagans, “For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens” (Ps. 96:5, ESV). God declares the idols worthless (Jer. 10:15), and the worship of such idols futile (Isa. 42:17). We find not that God may be sought by any name, but that there is one name we must confess, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
To whom, then, was Representative Cleaver praying? Whose “sacred supremacy” does he (and, he presumes, the rest of congress) acknowledge? Not, apparently, the one true God.
And that is the real problem behind all the other problems. If our leaders submitted to the true God, our nation would not advance legislation that defies God and denigrates, devastates, and destroys people made in His image. Idolatry is the problem, and as long as we worship idols we will harm image-bearers. All hopes grounded in idolatry are vain.
But there is a light in the darkness, and hope for any who will have it. When we acknowledge the one true God, when we confess the name of our Savior, then we find the path of life. “Because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). He is the true hope, light, and life eternal.