Well, we ate, listened and they prayed. An exercise in passivity. Ho Hum! Now what?
The Colorado Prayer Luncheon on March 4, 1994 was promoted as "a coming together of schools, churches, agencies, state and municipal leaders to reverse family disintegration and moral decline." What was accomplished? Was there an outcome? It looked exactly like the preacher preaching to the choir. Everyone was well-dressed (at $22.00 per ticket, who else could afford to attend?), probably 85-90 percent white and obviously on their best behavior. There was no interaction, no questions or comments, because there was absolutely no provision for anything of that sort. There was nothing particularly friendly in the atmosphere and everyone seemed to converse only with those who came as their partners or in a group.
The crowd was dismissed at 2:00 pm at which time vague "Breakout" sessions were announced. Out of 900 attendees (as reported by the Post and probably plumped up) there were 25-30 bodies at the breakout. Maybe I should have stayed to see what transpired (or didn't) between these few more dedicated individuals but my "spirit" had waned.
Now for some program highlights and comments. First you will be happy to know that we got their attention. Every speaker opened with some comment about the hearing of the Freedom From Religion Foundation's lawsuit.
Gov. Roy Romer was in Florida on a business trip, so his younger son, Chris, stood in for him. He told a story of "borrowed" gum and a 120-mile trip to make restitution, demonstrating how his father taught morals and values.
Next, Denver Mayor Wellington Webb started by mentioning the hearing and also referred to the previous lawsuit forcing the city to distance itself from a Day of Prayer, without acknowledging his chastisement and subsequent court-ordered apology. He called himself "a Baptist before he was Mayor" and said those in office should not have to give up freedom of expression and personal beliefs. He then stated that he had placed his left hand on a bible when he was first sworn into office as mayor and "if there was no conﬂict there [church and state] there shouldn't be here."
Then there was U.S. Rep. Joel Heﬂey who said he "fully expected to be in jail this afternoon" and that the "founding fathers didn't expect us to pack into a bag who we are as we approach the gold dome." He also poured forth about the "frightening experience" of going to congressional sessions where everyone is Democrat or Republican and how opening with a prayer breakfast means so much to conveying a sense of camaraderie. He went on to say that these are enjoyed by representatives from around the world regardless of their religious beliefs and how these prayer breakfasts are being imitated by other countries all over the world.
Chuck Berry, Speaker of the House of Representatives, gave a short Old Testament reading. Read for yourselves, if you like, Psalm 102:1-2 and Proverbs 3:5-7. Chuck gave his parents the credit for teaching him bible reading. I think the Proverbs reading says, in effect, "Don't think."
Don Reeverts of the Denver Leadership Foundation then led a prayer for Colorado and its leaders: Bill Clinton, Congress, Gov. Roy Romer, the Legislature, Mayor Wellington Webb, all mayors across our state and other local officials, judges and law enforcement, educators, business and professional leaders and civic leaders. He ended with "those caught in crime and the fatherless and motherless." Were we or most of the population included in that prayer? Maybe if we consider freethinkers as educators.
A former gang member from Los Angeles, Eddie García, gave a personal testimonial about his life of crime before finding God. He now has a wife, four children and metal supports for his spinal column since having a lift truck fall on him. He said he "wouldn't know right from wrong" without his "confrontation with God."
Reeverts introduced Bill Ritter, Denver District Attorney, with a wonderful testimonial to Ritter as "hard to beat" and glowing references to his beautiful wife and children and how they had been lay missionaries in Zambia from 1987 to 1990. Was Ritter the token Catholic? Maybe there was a token Muslim, Jew or Hindu in the crowd also. I know there were a couple of atheists there.
Ritter was the best thing on the menu because he didn't sound like a preacher, he sounded like a sociologist. However, the information he presented was probably already known to that audience. More preaching to the choir.
By the time a closing prayer was offered by Jill Armstrong, a student at C.U. Boulder, I had tuned out. We were dismissed.
Some final thoughts. The purpose of this function supposedly was to implement a plan and start something rolling but all I heard was rhetoric. The question still remains, what did the prayer luncheon do? Did it serve a practical purpose? Who benefited from it?
The most obvious answer to the last question, in my perception, is the politicians who participated. The Prayer Luncheon gives them a platform on which to be perceived as Good Guys. Moral men, espousing values, willing to help and in a position of power that is capable of producing results. The voters will remember the good vibrations at the ballot box.
This feel-good image that the politician leaves with the audience is the same effect of prayer. Who benefits from prayer? The one who prays. What do they get? They get the perception of being good, having done good, having made an effort. It's a bargain. It doesn't take much effort and very little time is necessary. You can do it anywhere: in the bathroom, during commercial breaks or at lunch with your Big Mac. It's a wonder Americans don't do more of it since we love bargains, something for nothing or the perception of something for nothing.
The problem of course is that we feel so good that we do nothing else. Everything is taken care of and is out of our hands, at least until next prayer time. We have done our part and now it's up to God. Nothing fails like prayer.
Lora Attwood is a Foundation member from Colorado who left the Jehovah's Witnesses at age 17, married a freethinker 43 years ago, and raised two daughters, "All of whom have done well without the benefit of religious teaching. A family can have values without being coerced by threats of hell or rewards of heaven."