Hang on to your pews, flock. I'm about to preach some.
Turn in your Bibles to the Book of Matthew, Chapter 6. Now sit tight while I explain my sudden interest in exegesis.
This morning I opened my Washington Times to find an article about President Barack Obama's decision not to schedule a formal prayer service at the White House on the occasion of the National Day of Prayer tomorrow.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs explained Obama's decision.
"Prayer is something the president does every day," said Gibbs. "We're doing a proclamation, which I know that many administrations in the past have done."
After more questions from reporters, Gibbs added, "That's the way the president will publicly observe National Prayer Day -- privately, he'll pray as he does every day."
This simple decision sent the Religious Right into a rage.
"For those of us who have our doubts about Obama's faith, no, we did not expect him to have the service," Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, told The Times. "But as president, he should put his own lack of faith aside and live up to the office."
Recalling Obama's recent assertion that America is not a "Christian nation," she added: "That was projecting his own beliefs, but not reflecting what the majority of Americans feel. It's almost like Obama is trying to remake America into his own image. This is not a rejection of [National Day of Prayer Task Force leader] Shirley Dobson; it's a rejection of the concept that America is a spiritual nation and its foundation is Judeo-Christian."
What gall! Wright is wrong on so many constitutional and religious grounds, it's hard to know where to start.
In the first place (and most importantly), Wright is wrong about America. We are not a "Christian nation" or a "Judeo-Christian nation" – whatever that is. The Constitution forbids all governmental meddling in religious matters. The First Amendment expressly bars Congress – and by implication all other branches of government – from any action "respecting an establishment of religion."
So Congress never should have passed a National Day of Prayer law in the first place, and presidents should not take it upon themselves to serve as national pastors and proclaim such religious observances.
Wright's idea that Obama needs to somehow "live up to the office" by serving as America's spiritual leader is breath-takingly wrong-headed. He needs to live up to his office by obeying the Constitution.
And, not coincidentally, Wright wrenched Obama's "Christian nation" remark from context to make him seem anti-Christian. The president actually was upholding pluralism and the Constitution when he said, "We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation, or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation." He added, "We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values."
It's also shocking that Wright would question the president's personal religious commitment. Who is she to pass judgment on Obama? It's especially appalling that she does so in part because he has failed to engage in a public prayer.
The Christian scriptures seem to take the opposite view. (You can break out those Bibles now. I prefer the King James Version, but you can use any translation you like.)
In Matthew 6:5-7, Jesus says: "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."
So Wright seems to have a problem with Jesus, not Obama. This scripture seems to state clearly that Obama is on the right course religiously when he decides to pray privately instead of in front of the TV cameras to show how pious he is.
Does Wright have a problem with Jesus?
Wright is in the same boat with James and Shirley Dobson. When George W. Bush was in the White House, these Religious Right leaders were invited for public prayer services at the White House and private phone calls to help set public policy. Obama listens to the views of religious conservatives, but they are no longer the Established Church. Let all the people say "Amen" to that!
Obama is clearly a devout Christian. What galls Wright and other Religious Right leaders is that he is not their kind of Christian.
In Wright's America, only those who share her fundamentalist religious – and political – beliefs qualifies as a first-class American and a first-class Christian.
Fortunately, Wright's America is not the real one; it's a nightmarish alternative-universe America that must never become real.