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08/17/2003: "White House Prayer Meetings as a Substitute for Ethical Behavior"

It is reported that there are very well-attended prayer meetings at the White House. I have to say that Iím not terribly enthusiastic about that idea. Itís not that I have any issue at all with prayer, considering how important a part it played in the services I attended just this morning. My reservations concern highly visible pray-acting in workplaces. In the business world, it is unthinkable that a CEO would set up prayer meetings that most of his office staff attend. Itís not that CEOs are atheists, itís that over the centuries businesses have reached a consensus, through experience, that introducing overt religious practice to a work setting threatens respect for diversity and opens the door to conflict and division. Just look at international relations! I have an additional concern that I believe is even more important. I think that supervisors who indulge in public workplace prayer sessions gain a false aura of the ethical superiority of their endeavors, that these public prayers are ďinoculatingĒ them against the chance that anything they do that day could be advancing an unethical position. A case in point Ė the White House prayer meetings. As a lifelong churchgoer who has given the entire New Testament a thorough reading, I donít recall ever seeing or hearing religious guidance that stealing from future generations is any kind of moral position. Yet for years White House staff have been fervently praying in public every morning and then going out and equally fervently ramming through extreme economic policies guaranteed to produce enormous debt. I thus have to wonder what kind of moral reflection is really going on during these prayer meetings. Could it be that White House staffers are attending these sessions not in the cause of moral reflection, but because itís good for continued employment to be seen there? If this is the case, Jesus definitely had something to say about that practice!

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