Residents’ responses to invocation at county commissioner meeting

Published 10:55 pm Monday, February 24, 2014

Editor’s Note: following are the full responses emailed or called into the Bulletin this week to Pastor Thomas Olson’s invocation delivered at the Feb. 17 Polk County Board of Commissioner meeting. The Bulletin was unable to fit every response in its entirety in an article printed in the Tuesday, Feb. 25 edition. 

In favor:

David Michael Toney: If you ask someone to say a prayer to open a meeting,then expect a prayer people.And since it is not you saying the prayer,expect the prayer to be from the heart of the person saying that prayer.Not every word will agree with your beliefs.Big deal,suck it up and stop all the political correctness crap.Thats the real shame here,the religion of political correctness where everyone must act and think the same.We don’t want to offend ol Bill sitting over there because his nephew is gay or offend Mary over there because in her absolute refusal to obey the Creator’s rules of life she has decided there is no God to pray to.Let the preachers pray and if you don’t want to listen,or bow your head and close your eyes,don’t.The majority of us are Christians in this area and even if we are offended by your lifestyles,we respect your choice to choose your fate,respect ours!

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Kelli Duncan: As a follower of Jesus Christ I believe the Word of God is true. Jesus died to cover us from our sinful nature and redeem us back into relationship with God the Father. I am here to say that all sin is wrong and I have committed a lot of them. But, Jesus Christ covered my sin by His blood when I asked Him to be my Lord and turned from my ways. He gives unconditional love and grace to us who do not deserve it. He calls us to do the same. He says to love one another as He has loved us…He laid down His life for us. We must be willing to do the same. Sin does not define who we are…and all sin is equal. We must still love each other and pray for those who have not found freedom in Christ. I am not offended by anything in this prayer because I know who I am without Jesus and it is not a pretty picture. I am thankful someone is willing to pray boldly for our community.

Lori Lookadoo: I believe in the power of prayer. I am thankful to live in a place that is blanketed by prayer and for those that still stand for the transforming grace, mercy and love of Jesus. Because of this, our county will abound with blessings from God. “I stand on the side of Jesus Christ. He is the balance of love, grace and mercy, as well as the standard of righteousness and holiness. Because of my belief in Jesus, I have been extended grace and that has covered my sinful state. The standards found within the Bible are set for those seeking to be Christ-like and not to condemn sinners but instead, our sinful desires and nature.



Doug Arbogast: Apparently this fine prayer…is it legal to open a meeting of the county commissioners with a prayer?…throws Polk County back to the 19th century (might be a good time to research a bit more about Abe Lincoln and his homosexual behavior)…a gentle ease back to the 20th century would not have surprised me given the make up of the board of commissioners, but the giant slap in the face to so many local residents makes me want to move away from this county as soon as possible…if all the gay and single moms and creative people moved from this region it would be a very bland place to live, those holier than thous wouldn’t have their high hair-dos for Sunday mornin’ Bible class, “High hair means you’re closer to God,” remember (cuz so many hair dressers aren’t straight you know?)…and many music programs would fall silent (cuz so many musicians and organists are gay you know,) art classes would pale…and Thank God my mom believed in the sancity of marriage, so believed in it so much she married 7 times…I am really surprised the good reverand or father or uneducated idiot who recited this prayer didn’t admonish the Catholic Priests for their behavior and want to run them out of town…cuz if one priest is guilty, then they all must be. I think we live in a pretty fair minded county and until I read this, I actually thought we had made some headway. I am usually fair and open minded but this kind of hatred and bigotry cannot be tolerated in an educated community like ours, if the county needs to be rid of anyone, it’s this moron.

Dana Mayer: I would like to think of Christianity, or any  religion for that matter,  as something that does not involve judging others.
My opinion is that religion should be about acceptance,  and should embrace all people and all races, etc.
I also find it very disturbing that this was said at a county commissioners meeting,  which in my opinion is not the time or place for this pastor’s opinion.

Susan McNabb: Unlike like many local governments, our county commissioners continually choose to open their meetings with a Christian prayer. By doing so, they’re exposing the county to the same kinds of lawsuits fought in Rowan and Forsyth Counties. According to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals which ruled on Joyner v. Forsyth County North Carolina and the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina which ruled on Lund, et al. v. Rowan County, sectarian prayer is not allowed at board of commissioners meetings. In 2011, the Forsyth County case ruling made it clear that if local boards decide to open meetings with invocations, the prayers may not indicate a preference for any specific faith.It’s a hot topic, and we can argue who’s right and who’s wrong until the cows come home, but for now, it’s illegal, so shouldn’t be done. If these commissioners refuse to follow the rules, then let’s get some who will. They should be focusing on county business, not stirring up a religious hornet’s nest.

Margaret Curtis: Too often in life people use religion to justify and disguise their obvious personal shortcomings. Reverend Olsen’s invocation at the last commissioner’s meeting is a sad example of  hatefulness paraded as “Christianity” and all the more shameful at a government meeting.Polk County is too diverse to tolerate such ugliness directed towards our neighbors, whether they are gay or single mothers or members of any other group Mr Olsen feels superior to. (Ironically.  Mr Olsen rants against both abortion and single mothers…..which shows how well thought out his opinions are.)Sadly there have always been churches that rally for hate: those that justified slavery with carefully selected passages from the bible; those that railed against interracial marriage  using many of the same arguments we hear today about gay marriage; Christian Identity churches which promote white supremacy; and of course Westboro Baptist. These “christians in name only” are an unpleasant fact of life. Occasionally, we are even forced to listen to their thinly veiled self loathing. But we don’t have to accept it and luckily we are able to vote out the politicians that condone such chauvinism, especially those who invite them to speak.

Stuart Evans: “To use a public forum to give a sermon in the form of prayer by Pastor Olsen was very presumptuous and inappropriate.  I am glad my God is not so vindictive”.  Stuart Evans

Jane Oakes:  am appalled and deeply frightened by the “prayer” that was spoken at the Feb. 17 commissioner’ meeting. It is the most intolerant, hateful, unjust statement of religious fanaticism that I have ever heard. Inclusion of prayer, especially such an anti-human one, has no place at any government congregation and is a blatant violation of the first amendment. It frightens me that some people in a country that calls itself “free” would tolerate words that clearly violate human beingness – people who claim to be on the side of “justice, equality, and liberty” (for whom we wonder- white, christian, never-divorced, heterosexual men, I assume).  If we are ever to become a nation based on the love that Jesus Christ tried to teach us, we need to accept each other they way God made us.

Renee McDermott:

Creating a New Low in Local Government

Just when you think some people can’t stoop any lower, they find a way to do it.

Once again, the majority on the Polk County Board of Commissioners, led by Ted Owens, is attempting blasphemously to use the Lord as a political weapon.

Many of you have heard by now about the invocation offered at a recent Commissioners meeting by Pastor Thomas Olson, of the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church.  It was no accident that Mr. Olson was chosen for that task at this time.

Stepping out of the set schedule for giving the invocation or for choosing someone else to do so, Commissioner Owens directed that Mr. Olson be the person to give the invocation at this recent meeting, where Mr. Owens knew many people would be present.  The seed for doing this was sown shortly before the last election.

Two years ago, Commissioners Ted Owens and Tom Pack listed the North Carolina constitutional amendment prohibiting marriage equality on the Commissioners’ meeting agenda.  The Polk County Republicans’ Facebook page proudly proclaimed Commissioner Pack did it to “divide the Democrats”.  They congratulated Mr. Pack for having done so.  And Mr. Pack basked in the glory of all the praise.

The constitutional amendment was to be used as a weapon against the Democrats to win the election, even if Owens, Pack and their supporters had to lie about the Democrats’ positions about the amendment to win, which they abundantly did.

During that meeting two years ago, Mr. Olson spoke prominently, raising some of the same topics he again raised in his recent invocation.  Having heard his positions then, Ted, Tom and the BOC majority knew they would be inflammatory, would stir debate and divisiveness, and they fully intended that.

Their goal: to use the Lord and citizens’ heartfelt religious beliefs to divide and separate our community, to build hatred against those whom they’ll claim disagree with Mr. Olson’s beliefs, and to create a platform plank on which to win this next election.

Ted, Tom, Keith Holbert and Michael Gage know exactly what they’re doing.  They figure they used this terrible method before and it helped them, so they’ve marched it out again to use in the upcoming election.

Ted, Tom and the BOC majority are in a bad situation right now in the eyes of the public:  spending over $1 million of taxpayers’ hard earned money taking a waterline to a political supporter and crony; buying a brand new SUV for the interim county manager, when the real county manager had made do with hand-me-down cars from the Sheriff’s office; using secret meetings to create a new, unneeded position of “assistant county manager” at compensation of nearly $100,000 a year to give to a political friend, without any competition for the job.    And on and on.

So, what do cynical politicians (our BOC majority) do when they’re in trouble like this?  Cause a ruckus!  And they surely have caused another ruckus this time.

It’s not a matter of whether a person agrees with Mr. Olson or not.  Some people do, and some do not.  But no one should approve of politicians using people’s deep religious beliefs to divide a community, simply for crass political gain.  That’s wrong.  But that’s what they’re trying to do.

Our local governments should be places where people can come together to solve their problems and to work together to make life better for everyone in the community.  They should be places where all citizens, of whatever faiths or races or creeds, are made welcome and feel welcome to participate in the community.   They must not be a place where “certain people” are made unwelcome by the creation of a hostile atmosphere, intentionally created by the government’s “leaders” to accomplish their base, political goals.

As someone who has spent her life reading the Bible and meditating on religion and religious belief, I am offended at the depths the BOC majority are willing to go to win elections and have control over our local government, to have control over our hard-earned tax dollars to be able to fill the pockets of cronies.

They’ve gone way too far this time.

Emmy Summers: I was appalled and distressed  to read the “invocation” by Pastor Olson at the Polk County Commissioners’ meeting last week.  Not only did I find it it divisive, political, and profoundly offensive, I note it spoke only to a Christian God (and certainly not the One most Christians are familiar with).

Despite what many people believe, our nation was specifically founded to ensure the freedom of each individual to worship and believe in the manner of his or her own choosing.  Additionally, our forefathers, in their great wisdom, determined that the separation of church and state would be critical to the maintenance of this religious freedom.

Although Pastor Olson’s beliefs may be distasteful and disagreeable to many, our country’s servicemen and women have sacrificed and died to preserve his right to believe what he wants and to worship and pray in the manner of his choosing, in his home and in his church.

But the Polk County Commissioners (or the majority thereof) have suborned, supported, invited, and encouraged only those whose social, political, and religious beliefs mirror their own.  The rest of the county finds themselves discouraged, ignored, and disenfranchised.  It was the Commissioners who invited Pastor Olson to deliver the invocation and the Commissioners who did not put a stop his highly inappropriate rant.  And so as much as some would like to blame Pastor Olson, the true fault lies at the feet of the Commissioner majority.

It is against everything our country stands for to open a public, governmental meeting with a Christian-specific prayer, while an inclusive, ecumenical prayer that asks for God’s blessing on the assembly would be very appropriate and would follow the spirit as well as the letter of the law.  The Commissioners know this but seem to enjoy a blatant disregard for any opinion other than their own.  They are the ones at fault, and it is they who should be censured and held accountable for their actions.

Greg “Moose” Penfold: Tom Olson’s “prayer” is simply put, disgusting and disturbing.
It’s not possible for me to understand a commissioner not interrupting in the middle of this hate filled diatribe and saying “that’s enough, take your seat now or leave”.  Had I been present I assure you I would have spoken up and prevented him from continuing.
As a resident of Polk county my expectation is for commissioners and elected officials to be leaders and not purveyors of hatred.
I do not object to prayer, however, in a public setting if the prayer asks for the blessing of grace it should be done with grace.  If the prayer asks for wisdom the speaker should use wisdom, when the gift of health and safety is sought it should not exclude anyone.
Tom Olson did none of this, no grace, no wisdom and certainly he excluded many.  His words in a public meeting for all who live in Polk county are not even close to appropriate.
Would you please explain to me why, at a public meeting (public, meaning open to all of us living in Polk county) you allowed this commentary (“prayer”) to continue unchallenged, or at the very least, why you have not made comments stating that the “prayer” does not represent the views of the commissioners and Polk county as a whole.

Russ Woods: The prayer that was offered at the County Commissioner Meeting is a specific political agenda masquerading as a spiritual benediction.  It’s injection into local government is reprehensible and a direct affront to the principles our country was founded on.  Please register my most strident objection.

Dr. Frederick M. Tesche: Regarding the “prayer” used by Thomas Olson at the opening of the recent Polk County Board of Commissioner meeting, the preacher, his followers and the Commissioners do have the right to express these dogmatic religious beliefs. These statements, however, should have been made in the proper setting (in the church, where one can choose to attend). Such statements in a county meeting should not be imposed upon others who may take a more enlightened view of what constitutes family values.

The Commissioners should strive to serve all residents of Polk County, not just the those that believe the values espoused by Olson. Opening governmental meetings with such non-inclusive and offensive statements, which are couched as a prayer, should cease immediately. County business is not conducted in any particular church; prayers should not be conducted in county offices.

This is my belief.

Virgil Stucker:

While the words “good”, “love”, and “peace” in this prayer generally lift the human spirit and unify us, the words of hatred and misunderstanding that surround them appear meant to divide us.

Since one of the responsibilities of our County Commissioners is to help us build a strong and enduring County and community fabric, I am puzzled why they invited such an inflammatory prayer into a public meeting.

My hope is that they did not intend to hurt the community and may consider apologizing for the pain they have inadvertently created.

Chet Chavez: It started out very in a normal fashion but then suddenly he got into issues that were, I thought, less religious in nature and more political. I was disturbed by the way he spoke about homosexuals, by the way he spoke of abortion and the evil men who created it and…he coupled it with a prayer about Jesus Christ. It was disturbing to a lot of people.

I was quite disturbed by what he said and it didn’t seem like the right forum. I would defend his right to speak to the death. I believe in it. But I also believe there’s a time and a place for something.

We could have walked out of the meeting, we could have turned out back but we were stunned. The commissioners, Ted Owens in particular, were not going to tolerate anyone talking outside the agenda.

My position is I’m signing up for non-agenda items every single time.

That was not a prayer in my opinion; it was a political diatribe.

Should we as citizens be forced to stand there and take whatever diatribe from whatever sect is going to be forced on us for five minutes?

Sharon Tesche: I must say I was taken aback when reading this rambling, hateful and bigoted “prayer.”  Who would want to move to our beautiful county if they thought that we all felt this way?
A recent review of this Bulletin article by an Asheville paper reports that “Regarding  prayer in general, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 2011 Forsyth County, N.C., case that if local boards decided to open meetings with prayer, said prayer may not indicate a preference for one faith. Following that ruling, more than 20 local governments across N.C. changed their invocations to comply.”  Do our Commissioners have their head in the sand?

Mary Wells Prioleau: An invocation can be secular to prayer and fully inclusive. An invocational prayer, is by definition, a prayer for blessings or guidance from a higher deity. What Pastor Olson delivered at that meeting was neither an invocation or a prayer. It was instead, in my opinion, a rant seeking to demonize those in the community he sees as unworthy and to summon God’s wrath upon them.

As a Christian who deeply values invocations and believes strongly in the power of prayer I am appalled by his attempt to marginalize and strip the dignity from so many: Couples who’ve been unable or chosen not to have children, those who are divorced, gays, single mothers, co-habitating adults, pro-choice advocates, etc.

I am not certain exactly what century Pastor Olson inhabits but I am certain that the Polk County I am devoted to today is filled with responsible, good and productive citizens who fall in to these categories.

Without doubt Pastor Olson and I have distinctly different understandings of Christianity and that is precisely why Invocations, at public meetings, should be spoken with the utmost sensitivity ensuring all present know that their dignity is valued equally.

Pastor Olson is free to spew his uncharitable views within the confines of his own church to his fellow travelers. Albeit, there is no excuse for him, or anyone, being allowed to say such things at a government meeting, which ostensibly serves the entire constituency of this county.

I am saddened by the Commissioners’ apparent support of his ramblings and their seeming disregard for the feelings of the citizenry or the overall image of Polk County.

Why did no one speak up and stop this? What is being done to ensure this never happens again?

Commissioner Ray Gasperson: In my opinion, Rev. Olson’s (minister of the local Missouri Synod Lutheran Church) invocation at the last BOC meeting was inappropriate. However, I support having invocations at the beginning of BOC meetings.  Approximately six times a year, according to the invocation schedule, I have the option to either deliver the invocation or ask a guest to do so.  I always deliver my own innovation, in which I start by praying “Lord, we ask for your blessings upon our meeting”. I continue by asking for wisdom in our decisions, respect for others and their opinions, and conclude by praying “We thank you most of all that we have the great privilege to live in our beautiful county of Polk, Amen.”

I support having our county attorney drafting an “invocation guideline policy” for the Polk BOC.