Last week my colleague Liz Hayes wrote about a secular invocation that was delivered before the Arizona House of Representatives with no fuss and no outrage. Previous attempts to deliver secular invocations before that legislative body didn’t go off so well, making this one noteworthy for the lack of rancor.
Alas, it doesn’t always work out that way. In Virginia, the House of Delegates was recently subjected to an invocation by a guest pastor that offended some members – and rightly so.
Pastor Randall Snipes of Oak Ridge Baptist Church was invited by House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Chesterfield) to deliver an invocation on April 3. Snipes used his time at the podium to attack non-theists and rant about legal abortion.
Snipes began by looking forward to “a day that you have set aside where every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that ‘Jesus is Lord.’” That’s bad enough because not every member of the House of Delegates is a Christian.
Snipes went on to say, “God, I pray that you would convict us of that day where those who love you will be rewarded, and those who reject you will be sentenced. … God, we ask … for forgiveness. Lord, forgiveness for the millions and millions of innocent lives that have been murdered for the sake of convenience. God, we ask you for forgiveness for the bloodshed that is on our hands as a nation. And Lord, we don’t deserve it. God, we confess before you that we do not deserve it. But Lord, we have nowhere else to turn but to you, and to ask as humbly as we know how, God, that you would forgive us. That you would help us turn from our wicked ways. God, that we would seek your face.”
The site Blue Virginia noted that several members were offended by Snipes’ comments. Del. Mark Levine (D-Arlington), calling the invocation “incredibly offensive,” asserted, “Religion should always be welcome as a shield, but never used as a sword to mistreat others. No one invited into the House of Delegates should be praying to God that any of us go to hell. I’m sure this guy would be happier living in a theocracy, but his comments were un-American and beneath the dignity of Virginia and the House of Delegates.”
Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax), the Democratic leader in the House, called the invocation “very disappointing” and added, “Prayers should be inclusive. The invocation on the floor of the House on the day of the reconvened session was divisive and meant to score political points.”
Five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that government bodies could open their sessions with invocations, even if the majority of them are Christian. But the court also said that since these invocations are intended to solemnize the occasion, the prayers offered should not proselytize nor disparage the beliefs of others.
Snipes’ offensive invocation violated both of these standards. The people of Virginia deserve better.
(Photo: Screenshot from the Virginia House of Delegates)