To Whom It May Concern

When he was appointed chaplain of the Kansas state house last year, the Reverend Cecil Washington strode up to the podium and prayed the way he had all his life: He invoked the name of Jesus. For that crime against inclusiveness, this African American Baptist has been asked to resign his position. And the controversy that erupted over Washington's prayers illustrates how thoroughly Christianity is being pushed to the margins of our culture. It all began when Washington was appointed house chaplain last year by Kansas speaker of the house Tim Shellenberger. But after his very first prayer, in which Washington invoked the name of Jesus, the legislative fur began to fly—and it's been flying ever since. "This man needs to learn to pray in an inclusive manner," huffed state representative Sheila Hochhauser, who is Jewish. Representative Nancy Kirk, a member of the Unitarian church, was outraged as well. "It never dawned on me that anybody would be so insensitive . . . [and] non-inclusive," she told reporters. Both Kirk and Hochhauser have called on Speaker Shellenberger to dismiss Washington if he persists in praying in Jesus' name. And the Kansas City Star demanded that if the lawmakers couldn't find someone to deliver an "inoffensive, uplifting" invocation, then the office of the chaplain ought to be banished. Of course, inoffensiveness was the last thing our Founding Fathers had in mind when they hired the first federal House and Senate chaplains. The chaplains and their prayers were intended as a tacit acknowledgement that all of us are ultimately dependent upon God. That's why the first Congress wrapped up the constitutional convention with a call for a national day of prayer and thanksgiving to acknowledge, as they put it, "the many signal favors of Almighty God." But acknowledging our dependence on God is the last thing some contemporary congressmen want to do. By insisting that chaplains delete any reference to Jesus, they're demanding the dismissal of the very Person around whom Christianity is built. It's an attempt to reduce the living God to a sort of spiritual garnish on the legislative platter. The whole controversy illustrates the increasing marginalization of Christianity in public life. Once, Americans saw Christianity as a faith that acted as a moral compass to the culture. Today, Christianity is being pushed into a purely ceremonial role. And when Christians like Cecil Washington forget their place—when they refuse to practice what the apostle Paul called "a form of godliness" that denies Christ—they risk being driven from public life. Like Cecil Washington, you and I may find that our participation in public life is conditional upon not taking our faith too seriously. But Washington is a courageous reminder that the role of the Christian is to bear witness to the "truth which is in Jesus," as Ephesians puts it—not to pander to politically-correct demands of "sensitivity" and "inclusiveness." So I say three cheers for Cecil Washington, who says he has no intention of praying "To Whom It May Concern" instead of to Jesus—even if it costs him his job. If Kansas legislators want comforting, empty rituals instead of the robust power of the Cross, they'll have to look for them someplace else.


Chuck Colson


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