Monday, February 6, 2012

Should Government Officials Tell Us What to Pray For?

Big government has come to Howell, government so big that its leader thinks it should tell people what they should pray for, and what they shouldn't. And it's being brought to us by people who think ... government is too big.

We're talking about Phil Campbell, Howell mayor, who last week on his "official blog" announced a "personal, non-city-affiliated prayer chain." Claiming that he was acting as a "private citizen," Campbell asked that people sign up for his email list and once a month he would send them instructions of what to pray for.

That's right. A government official is now going to be telling people what they should pray for. And presumably, what not to pray for. But, of course, he would be doing it not as mayor but as a "private citizen" who just happens to be mayor.

The mayor-who-is-really-just-a-private-citizen took a little criticism for this and may have had a little change of heart. His blog no longer is described as his "official blog" but merely "the musings of some guy blogging about his hometown." As if that wording change means he is still not an elected official telling people what they should pray for.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with people praying for their neighbors and community, but do we really want -- or need -- a government official telling us what to pray for? And isn't it possible to imbed a political agenda into those prayer requests? Will Campbell ask people to pray that gays be treated equally by everyone in Howell, for example? I doubt it. Will he ask people to pray that a measure backed by other council members be defeated? Will he ask people to pray that his political opponents lose their elections? Will he use the emails on his prayer chain to solicit support in a future campaign of his own?

If Campbell wants to ask people to pray for him in his job as mayor, that's fine. But things get dicey when a government official decides to tell people exactly what it is they should be praying for. That's what religious leaders are for, not government officials, even those who insist they are merely private citizens.

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