Editorial: Divisive prayer alienated citizens

Published 9:08 am Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Everyone deserves the right to free speech.

Few will argue this point more staunchly than those who work in the newspaper industry.  Even we have pondered though, if the delivery of a prayer at a county commissioner meeting is worth the political and social hornet’s nest (as Susan McNabb said) it has caused?

Pastor Thomas Olson’s invocation delivered at the commissioners’ Feb. 17 meeting was composed of his own powerful opinions and he has every right to those beliefs.

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Problems ensue, however, when such an opinion is delivered in a government meeting where fellow taxpayers of varying beliefs sit side-by-side attempting to take advantage of another of their inalienable rights being a part of the governmental process.

Pastor Olson’s prayer was given on President’s Day and started out by honoring our country’s great forefathers, as well as honoring our servicemen and women.

Then, about a minute in, the tone changed.

“Save us from rampant no-fault divorce, illicit sexuality by live-in partners, the public promotion of homosexual lifestyles which endangers our young and leads directly to the corruption of our boys especially; the proliferation of children of single moms fueled by economic encouragement and worst of all the indefensible slaughter of the unborn in our beloved homeland based on the deceitful and dishonest judgments of a few evil men over 40 years ago,” Olson said.

If Olson prayed that prayer in his church, at his home or even on the street corner, it wouldn’t make headlines. In those forums, people can make their own choice whether or not to listen and participate. The commissioners’ meeting was a much different podium. The audience was asked to stand for the approximate 4-minute prayer and in essence, participate in his opinion. County government should govern all people, not just ones with similar religious beliefs.

Those residents who are divorced, gay, single mothers, live with their significant others or are pro-choice, whether some think they are living in sin or not, pay county taxes at the same rate as people who live as husband and wives and are pro-life.

Sin is part of human nature, yet somehow as we grow older we start justifying our sins and ostracizing others whose sins we feel are greater than ours. Isn’t a sin, a sin? Aren’t we all sinners and, in the grand scheme of things, all in the same boat?

What about Matthew 6:5-8 of the King James Version of the Bible?

“5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”

What would the commissioners say if someone of other denominations, say a Buddhist or a Muslim were to offer their opinions at a county commissioner meeting in the form of prayer? Do they not have the same right as residents of this county to speak their opinions at meetings?

Issues such as these divide this beautiful county, which is what many people consider the “greatest place to live” because of its residents’ values and diversity.

We feel the commissioners knew full well the likely content of Pastor Olson’s prayer as his opinions on such matters were made well-known in a past meeting. Commissioners should have given more forethought to the divisiveness such a prayer would have created and thought better of the invitation. Was such a radical prayer worth the divisiveness?

Is it worth a potential lawsuit as many other counties have faced in the wake of much milder comments made in prayer? Did our commissioners really intend to alienate so many of the citizens they were elected to serve? We hope the ensuing citizen responses from across this county have given the commissioners pause. It certainly has stirred the hornets’ nest and inflicted more damage than we may know.

 – Editorial staff, Tryon Daily Bulletin