Tag Archives: prayer

Nuns say prayer has been nonstop for 137 years at Wisconsin convent

Flooding, snowstorms, a flu outbreak, even a fire — any of those might have slowed a group of Wisconsin nuns who say none of it has kept their order from praying nonstop for hundreds of thousands of people over the last 137 years.

The La Crosse-based Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration claim to have been praying night and day for the ill and the suffering longer than anyone in the United States — since 11 a.m. on Aug. 1, 1878.

When I walk into the chapel I can feel this tangible presence kind of hit (me),” said Sister Sarah Hennessey, who helps coordinate the prayers.

The tradition of perpetual Eucharistic adoration — uninterrupted praying before what is believed to be the body of Christ — ates to 1226 in France, according to Sister Marlene Weisenbeck. Catholic orders around the world have done it since then. It grew in popularity in 19th century and again under Pope John Paul II, said Father Steven Avella, a history professor at Marquette University.

In La Crosse, the nuns estimate they’ve prayed for hundreds of thousands of people, including 150,000 in the last decade.

“Sometimes it’s overwhelming with the pain that people have and the illnesses that they are suffering,” said Donna Benden, who is among 180 lay people known as “prayer partners” who help the 100 sisters. Benden prays from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. every Wednesday before going to work.

The order started asking for community help in 1997, when the number of nuns began dwindling. Nowadays, the sisters usually take night shifts and lay people cover the day, according to Sister Maria Friedman, who schedules two people for every hour. “Even the sisters go away frequently or take on other tasks, it’s the complexity of modern life,” she said.

She said she’s constantly trying to find ways to make it easier, like getting a bed on campus where lay people can sleep. If necessary, the sisters will find more creative solutions. “We will make it work,” she said.

Other U.S. orders also pray 24 hours, seven days a week, like the 16 nuns who take two-hour shifts at Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Cleveland, Ohio. Their order has done so in the U.S. since 1921, a carryover from an effort that began in 1856 in France, according to that order’s Sister Mary Thomas. One or two nuns are there at all times, with no help from lay people. Some orders, though, have scaled back to part-time because of aging nuns or other reasons.

Since the La Crosse nuns began, they’ve prayed through a fire in an adjacent building in 1923, a flood in La Crosse in 1965, the flu and many storms. Sister Hennessey compiles the requests for each day from paper slips people leave in person, phone calls, emails and online forms.

On the list recently was Laura Huber, 52, a principal of two La Crosse-area schools, who was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 months ago. A school board member requested the prayers for her, she said.

“The prayer sustained me in ways I haven’t been able to articulate,” she said, adding, “I felt warm and loved and cared about by strangers and that’s an incredible feeling.”

Sister Friedman says she never has problems finding people to help. She has a list of substitutes, but the prayer partners and nuns often take extra hours.

“If it’s 11 o’clock at night and it’s my hour and another sister doesn’t show up, I can’t just go to bed,” said Sister Hennessey. “You’re like, `It’s 137 years ± I have to stay awake.”’

Reaction as Supreme Court upholds town council prayer

The U.S. Supreme Court on May 5 upheld the practice of starting town meetings with official sectarian prayer.

Residents of Greece, N.Y., sued to challenge the practice, objecting to hearing government prayers, the majority of which were expressly Christian invocations, at public meetings.

In a news release this afternoon, Daniel Mach of the ACLU’s program on freedom of religion and belief, said, “We are disappointed by today’s decision. Official religious favoritism should be off-limits under the Constitution. Town-sponsored sectarian prayer violates the basic rule requiring the government to stay neutral on matters of faith.”

The ACLU had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case that supported Greece residents.

Arthur Eisenberg, with the ACLU of New York, said, “The constitutional requirement that church and state must be separated rests, in part, on the understanding that when government supports one religion over others, people who are not members of the favored religion are made to feel like outsiders by their government,”

The Court, in a 5-4 decision, said that Marsh v. Chambers, a 1983 ruling that permits state legislatures to pay for official chaplains and open sessions with prayers, also authorizes the town’s practice of prayer at meetings.

wrote for the majority: “Respondents argue, in effect, that legislative prayer may be addressed only to a generic God. The law and the Court could not draw this line for each specific prayer or seek to require ministers to set aside their nuanced and deeply personal beliefs for vague and artificial ones.”

The justice also wrote that people were not coerced into participating in the prayer.

“The Supreme Court just relegated millions of Americans — both believers and nonbelievers — to second-class citizenship,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, which sponsored the lawsuit. “Government should not be in the business of forcing faith on anyone, and now all who attend meetings of their local boards could be subjected to the religion of the majority.”

Official records showed that between 1999 and June 2010, about two-thirds of the 120 recorded invocations at the Greece town meetings contained references to “Jesus Christ,” “Jesus,” “Your Son” or the “Holy Spirit.” And almost all of the prayer-givers were Christian clergy.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote a dissent, “I respectfully dissent from the Court’s opinion because I think the Town of Greece’s prayer practices violate that norm of religious equality — the breathtakingly generous constitutional idea that our public institutions belong no less to the Buddhist or Hindu than to the Methodist or Episcopalian.”

Settlement reached, no Jesus portrait in Ohio school

A middle school in Ohio will be forced to permanently remove a portrait of Jesus from its school grounds and pay nearly $100,000 after reaching a settlement with two groups, including the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The settlement requires the Jackson City School District in southern Ohio to pay the ACLU and Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation damages and legal fees totaling $95,000.

The two sides had a tentative agreement months ago that bogged down in more legal filings after the two groups said the school district continued to keep the Jesus portrait, and displayed it on the school lawn during a prayer meeting. Court filings show the portrait was also visible to those entering an art-storage area.

“All of this was unnecessary,” said James Hardiman, legal director for ACLU of Ohio. “The law is pretty clear … the display of this particular kind of religious artifact (in a public school) is unconstitutional.”

He said U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley in Columbus accepted the settlement late last week.

Superintendent Phil Howard said in a statement that the district’s attorneys believed settling was the “best case scenario” at this point because legal fees were “mounting by the day.”

He said the district’s insurance will pay the nearly $95,000 and taxpayers will not be liable for the damages and legal fees.

Third of Americans support Christianity as official religion

Slightly more than a third of U.S. adults favor establishing Christianity as an official religion of their state, according to a new poll from YouGov/Huffington Post.

The survey found that 20 percent of U.S. adults strongly favor establishing Christianity as the official state religion. Another 14 percent said they favored such. The poll found 16 percent opposed, 31 percent strongly opposed and 19 percent “not sure.”

On a related question, 58 percent of those surveyed said the constitution probably prohibits establishing an official state religion.

On other questions, the poll found:

• 37 percent think the country has “gone too far in keeping religion and government separate,” 29 percent think the country has “gone too far in mixing religion and government” and 17 percent think the country has “struck a good balance in terms of the separation of church and state.”

• 18 percent would strongly favor a constitutional amendment making Christianity the official religion of the United States and 14 percent “favor” such an amendment.

About 54 percent of Republicans, 28 percent of independents and 26 percent of Democrats favor Christianity as the official U.S. religion.

The poll, conducted April 3-4 and surveying 1,000 people, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4.

Last week, North Carolina Republicans advanced a state resolution that would allow the state to declare an official religion, which would protect prayer in schools and legislative events. The bill was killed later in the week.

LGBT Catholics invite Cardinal Dolan to talk, break bread

The leaders of Dignity USA, a group of LGBT Catholics, invited Cardinal Timothy Dolan – the archbishop of New York – to meet for prayer, to break bread and to talk.

Dolan, in a series of recent interviews, stressed the importance for the church to continue its stance against marriage equality.

However, Dolan, also said the church must not attack or harm gay people.

Dignity USA leaders Marianne Duddy-Burke, Lourdes Rodríguez-Nogués and Lewis Speaks-Tanner responded with a letter to Dolan in which they said, “In good Catholic tradition, let us gather to break bread and pray together, so that we initiate this dialogue grounded in the faith and sacraments that unite us.”

They also wrote, “We sincerely hope and pray that your recent comments mark the beginning of a new chapter in the relationship between the Bishops and LGBT Catholics, as well as the majority of U.S. Catholics who have shown themselves to be increasingly supportive of LGBT people. To that end, we feel it is important to set a definite date to resume a dialogue that has been suspended for far too long. We suggest a meeting before Pentecost, or at the earliest possible date, in either New York City or Washington, D.C.  If you would let us know your availability, we will make every effort to arrange our schedules to accommodate yours.

“We welcome the opportunity to meet with you and begin the vital work you called for, and look forward to the blessed healing in the Body of Christ that this work could bring about.”

On “This Week” on ABC News, Dolan said church leaders must do their “darnedest to make sure we’re not an anti-anybody.”

Dolan serves as the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which often is where anti-gay campaigns begin in the U.S. church, with dispatches from the conference.

Dolan previously was the archbishop in Milwaukee.

Pastor says prayer team sent Isaac away from RNC

A Tampa Bay pastor told the Christian Broadcasting Network her team prayed Tropical Storm Isaac away from the Republican National Convention.

Forecasts for severe weather associated with the storm forced convention officials, in consultation with local and state emergency management officials, to call off the first day of the convention in Tampa, Fla.

Then Isaac mostly proved to be a non-event in the Tampa Bay area as the storm took a northwesterly track in the Gulf of Mexico.

Tampa Bay saw some strong wind and rain, minor flooding in roads, beach erosion and surfing waves, as Isaac threatened the northern Gulf coast, developing into a hurricane on track for New Orleans.

As the tropical storm warnings were lifted in Tampa on Aug. 27, the Rev. Jesten Peters of Keys of Authority Ministries told the Christian Broadcasting Network, “We have had lots and lots of people praying around the clock that it would move, and after you watch from the very beginning where they were saying it was coming and now where they say it is going, then it has really moved out of the way for us and we appreciate God doing that and moving it for us.”

Right Wing Watch posted the video of Peters, who said she was leading one of the teams praying for the RNC, which concludes Aug. 30 with the nomination of Mitt Romney for president.

The CBN interview posted online didn’t contain any follow up about Isaac’s threat to New Orleans and other U.S. locations.

The RNC opened on Aug. 27 and then was recessed until today (Aug. 28), with a program that begins at 2 p.m. at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

The weather delay allowed delegates plenty of time to get to events outside of the convention on Aug. 27, including a party hosted by the Log Cabin Republicans, a national LGBT group; a prayer rally hosted by Focus on the Family, a national Christian right organization. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann spoke at the Focus rally of a spiritual hurricane and called on people to suit up and pour it out “for Him.”

On the Web: www.rightwingwatch.org

Hawaii to pay $100,000 for Capitol scuffle over prayer

Two people who said they were roughed up at the Capitol during a protest against religious prayer in the Legislature may receive a $100,000 settlement.

The Hawaii Attorney General Office has recommended the amount for Mitchell Kahle and Kevin Hughes.

Kahle is the leader of Hawaii Citizens for Separation of Church and State and Hughes is a cameraman, according to a report from the Courthouse News Service. Both sued the state, a sheriff’s department, the state department of public safety and officers of the Senate.

They claim they were roughed up by officers on the final day of the 2010 legislative session, when Kahle went to the Capitol to protest the prayer ritual and Hughes went to film his demonstration.

The complaint says, when then-Senate President Colleen Hanabusa introduced a reverend, who asked everyone to “bow with me in prayer,” Kahle said, “I object, my name is Mitch Kahle, and I object to this prayer on the grounds that it violates my rights under the Constitution of the United States.”

He sat down, according to the complaint, and then three officers came over to forcibly remove him from the chamber and place him under arrest.

The suit was filed in federal court, and earlier this month the parties involved negotiated a proposed settlement agreement in a judge’s chamber.

The proposed agreement is now before lawmakers in the form of a bill, which describes “some sort of scuffle” and a “melee” that led to Kahle and Hughes suffering injuries.

The complaint claims that one of the officers is a former pro boxer who, along with other officers, took turns giving “body blows” to Kahle outside the Senate.

The complaint says, “Kahle had not committed any violation of law and sheriff deputies did not have probable cause to arrest [him] for any crime.”

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Religious extremists fight for control of government

Are Christian extremists trying to take over government?

In the 1940s, an argument erupted among a group of American Christians far from the mainstream.

Pentecostals, the spirit-filled worshippers known mostly for speaking in tongues, were at a crossroads, divided over the extent of God’s modern-day miracles. If God made apostles and prophets during the New Testament era, did he still create them today?

Most Pentecostals said no, and went on to build the movement’s major denominations.

A minority disagreed – and amazingly, their obscure view is now in the crosshairs of a presidential race. Some critics, fearing that these little-known Christians want to control the U.S. government, suspect that Republican Rick Perry is their candidate.

The Texas governor opened the door to the discussion with a prayer rally he hosted in August, a week before he announced his run for president. Organizers of the Houston event, such as Lou Engle, leader of The Call prayer marathons, and Mike Bickle, founder of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, had for several years been under the watch of mostly liberal writers alarmed by the preachers’ rhetoric.

The end of the world is an intense focus of many of the religious leaders involved in the rally. Engle has said that the tornado that leveled Joplin, Mo., last May was evidence of God’s judgment on the country over abortion. Bickle views acceptance of same-sex marriage as a sign of the end times.

These preachers believe demons have taken hold of specific geographic areas, including the nation’s capital. They also promote a philosophy of public engagement known as the “seven mountains,” which urges Christians to gain influence in business, government, family, church, education, media and the arts as a way to spread righteousness and bring about God’s kingdom on earth. The language seems close to dominionism, the belief that Christians have a God-given mandate to run the world.

Ever since Perry gave these leaders a broader platform, religion scholars and activists have been debating whether these church leaders represent a real threat, an apocalyptic vanguard maneuvering to establish a Christian government. The task of measuring their influence is complicated by the preachers’ wide range of teaching and practice, and by the many different expressions of dominionism under various names.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow warned that dominionists want to prepare the world for Jesus’ return by “infiltration and taking over politics and government.” Michelle Goldberg, author of “Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism,” wrote at The Daily Beast, “We have not seen this sort of thing at the highest levels of the Republican Party before.”

Randall Stephens, a professor at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Mass., who researches Pentecostals and politics, called warnings of a conservative Christian plot an overreaction. “I think this is a rabbit hole people fall down and it has a whiff of conspiracy,” Stephens said.

Anthea Butler, who has written extensively about dominionism with author Sarah Posner on the liberal website ReligionDispatches.org, considers the outlook troubling and worth examining, but cautioned against overstating its strength.

“I don’t know if ‘threat’ is the right word. I think ‘problem’ is the better word,” said Butler, a religion scholar at the University of Pennsylvania.

Perry has never said anything that would directly link him to dominionism. However, he fueled speculation about his views at the rally by quoting from Joel 2, a Bible book the preachers favor, which tells of a prayer assembly of spiritual warriors as the world ends. On stage with the governor was Alice Patterson, author of “Bridging the Racial and Political Divide: How Godly Politics Can Transform A Nation,” who believes there is a “demonic structure behind the Democratic Party.”

Robert Black, a Perry campaign spokesman, said the GOP governor is an evangelical who attends Lake Hills Church in Austin. In a recent appearance at Liberty University, founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, Perry explained that he had turned to God in a time of need – a personal testimony common for born-again Christians.

“Gov. Perry believes that Americans of all faiths should be active in dictating the course of our country,” Black wrote in an e-mail. “He supports our republican form of democracy and trusts the American people to decide who should lead it.”

Critics have also questioned whether Michele Bachmann’s religious and political views have crossed a line into dominionism. In a 2006 appearance in Minnesota, the year she was first elected to Congress, she prayed, “We are in the last days” and called separation of church and state “a myth.” In the 1980s, Bachmann was a law student at Oral Roberts University, a Pentecostal school that emphasized the biblical basis of U.S. law. However, that approach is shared among a range of conservative Christians and is not the definitive marker of someone who thinks only Christians should govern.

Many evangelical leaders are incensed by the discussion. The allegation that Christians are plotting to build a theocracy has dogged Christian conservatives since the 1970s and ’80s, when evangelicals stunned both Democrats and Republicans by emerging from political hibernation to regain their voice in public life.

Chuck Colson, the Watergate figure and founder of the Prison Fellowship ministries, said labels such as “dominionist” are epithets meant to discredit all Christian activists. David French, senior counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson, wrote an article in the National Review with the mocking headline, “I’m a Dominionist? I had no idea.”

However, many religion scholars argue that some watered-down dominionist principles have long influenced conservative Christian activists, who hope to shape society according to a biblical worldview. (A true dominionist not only wants Christians to shape the world, but also run it.)

Bruce Barron, a Christian scholar and author of the 1992 book “Heaven on Earth? The Social & Political Agendas of Dominion Theology,” wrote that many early leaders of the Christian right said they had been influenced by the social analysis of Rousas John Rushdoony, who believed the nation was in a moral and cultural crisis and advocated replacing democracy with biblical law, mostly from the Old Testament. This way of thinking is known as Christian Reconstructionism.

By the late 1980s, many evangelical leaders felt that dominionist ideas had gained so much attention that they could no longer simply dismiss the teaching as fringe, Barron wrote.  Among the critiques was a February 1987 cover story in Christianity Today, the prominent evangelical magazine founded by the Rev. Billy Graham, which quoted scholars saying that ignoring the stream of thinking is no longer an option. “They haven’t been taken seriously enough,” one scholar told the magazine.

More recently, C. Peter Wagner, an expert in church growth, has become a lightning rod for critics of dominionism, largely because of the extensive research of Talk2Action.org, a liberal investigative site, and one of its writers, Rachel Tabachnik.

Wagner is a former professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, a prominent evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif., who had noted the rapid spread of independent Pentecostal churches. In 1974, he dubbed the trend the New Apostolic Reformation, and eventually became a leader among these churches. He is now considered an apostle along with his wife Doris, who specializes in healing.

Wagner sharpened the Pentecostal focus on spiritual warfare, through books with titles such as, “Breaking Strangleholds in Your City (Prayer Warriors).” He trains people to use intense direct prayer and other strategies to fight demonic control of specific cities or regions. In addition, he promotes the “seven mountains” philosophy of placing Christians in positions of influence, but insists it is no stealth plan for a Christian-only government. Wagner said that most of the church leaders he works with believe that both major parties are under demonic influence – not just the Democrats – although some individual politicians are “kingdom-minded.” Church members are deeply frustrated about politicians promising to outlaw abortion and address other social issues, but never fulfilling this pledge, Wagner said.

“There’s nobody that I know – there may be some fringe people – who would even advocate a theocracy,” Wagner said in a phone interview from Colorado Springs, Colo., where his ministries are based. “We honor those who have other kinds of faith.”

Bickle, interviewed in Kansas City, Mo., said he knows Wagner but is not affiliated with him. Bickle called the apostle “a humble guy” who does not know Perry and would not advocate Christian control of society.

“He’s got a team of loosely connected people – maybe 100 ministries – it’s a small number. They are ‘quote’ telling people to go influence society. But some of their guys under them are using these hostile terms, like ‘taking over society,'” said Bickle, who said he is not a dominionist.

“We want to influence things in our own microscopic way,” Bickle said. “I wish we did have influence, but it’s so minute.”

Mel Robeck, a specialist in Pentecostalism at Fuller Theological Seminary, cautioned against concluding too much from the preachers at Perry’s event. Robeck is a minister with the Assemblies of God, one of the largest Pentecostal groups, which posts a 13-page theological statement on its website explaining why the denomination does not believe in contemporary apostles and prophets.

Robeck viewed the prayer rally as standard GOP outreach to religious conservatives who form the core of the Republican Party and sees Wagner as repackaging old, marginal ideas to create a new movement. Days after the Texas governor held the prayer marathon, the American Family Association, which financed the event, e-mailed participants asking for help registering conservative Christians ahead of the 2012 election.

“To see potential political leaders courting these people – what they’re really doing is looking for the votes that they think these folks can deliver,” Robeck said. “I don’t know of any politician that can afford to miss any kind of church vote and they know that church leaders can often influence people.”

It’s healthy to access the swear in prayer

In my family, summer months are the busiest of the year. It’s the season when soccer games and baseball games, recitals and church picnics collide. Carpooling offers one of the only ways to keep some sanity amid it all.

Recently I sent my eldest son off to baseball with another family, rushed my youngest off to karate, and ended up with both kids back at the ball field to catch the last innings of the game. The mom who gave my eldest a ride up to the game came over, a bit sheepish. She was concerned that she’d let the boys listen to music I wouldn’t approve of because of the swears used in some of the songs.

It struck me as an almost old-fashioned concern in an age when congressmen tweet their privates.

I assured her that it was OK with me – it’s the same music I listen to. And as soon as I said that I saw the shock on her face. Her worry was all about me being a pastor and that the pastor’s family wouldn’t know any swears.

I’m married to a former sailor. There’s not a word we haven’t heard.

I thought about this over the last few days – this notion that spiritual people wouldn’t have anything to do with swears, as if to be sacred is to be sanitized. Which is funny, because so many of our swears involve religious terms. Drop a hammer on your foot and you might actually invoke the whole trinity.

The idea of the sacred as the sanitized runs deep. As the saying goes, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” But I believe prayer is not meant to be sanitized or cleaned up. God knows us better than we know ourselves. We can swear. Our conversations with the holy can use honest, vulnerable, raw language. Anything we can feel, we can name to God in prayer.

We carry so much inside of us – stories we have not told, hurts we have not named, hopes we have not pursued. Honest, unsanitized prayers allow us to let go – to name to God, to swear to God if need be, to pour out to God all that we bottle up inside. And when we pour it out, we create room for God’s grace and love and peace.

This week, I hope you will pray passionately to God. Don’t worry about what you say, just say it with honesty. Don’t worry about good, clean words. Just lay it out. In fact, try to use more swears than there are in any of the music you hear. You might want to pray out of earshot of kids. But pray honestly until worry runs out and grace rushes in.

Controversy erupts over anti-gay pastor’s address to Minn. lawmakers

Republican Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Zellers has apologized for inviting an anti-gay religious extremist to deliver the state House’s daily “peace prayer.”

Pastor Bradlee Dean (pictured), whose Christian mission centers on imprisoning gays, was invited to address the legislative body by a member of Minnesota’s new Republican Tea Party majority. But after his “prayer,” the state’s GOP leaders went quickly into crisis-management mode, trying to distance themselves from Dean’s views.

In a rare move, Zellers spoke from the House floor May 20, apologizing to his colleagues and saying he personally denounced Dean.

Dean’s prayer made numerous references to Jesus Christ, in violation of House custom. He also implied that President Barack Obama is not a Christian.

After Dean’s prayer, Zellers asked the regular House chaplain to say another prayer.

Dean’s address came on a day when the House was to take up a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in Minnesota, but the vote was apparently delayed after the pastor’s remarks.

In an interview last year, Dean called homosexuals predators and molesters. He is pastor at an anti-gay ministry known as “You Can Run But You Can’t Hide.”

The two openly gay members of the legislature – Rep. Karen Clark and Sen. Scott Dibble, both of Minneapolis – issued a statement saying they had never seen such a hateful person be allowed to deliver the opening prayer.

“I can only ask you for your forgiveness … That type of person will never, ever be allowed on the House floor again,” Zellers said.

Dean told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that it wasn’t right to call him “anti-gay” and said the idea that he had approved of the death penalty for gays had been debunked. He went on to explain why laws criminalizing sodomy are important for the nation.