Palin, Prayer, Politics and Prophecy

When I saw the media coverage of Sarah Palin’s speech in her church (shown in full here,part 1 and  here part 2) had some observations and questions relevant to this blog.

It has struck me with my limited experience with Evangelical prayer that they generally pray for different things and pray in different ways.

1. Evangelical prayer is more informal, Mormon prayer seems more solemn and formal, very often using old-style english and very formal forms.

2. Praise is a much bigger theme in Evangelical prayers.  Mormons generally don’t have many hymns or prayers of praise like I have seen in evangelical churches, i.e. Mormons don’t really talk a lot about how God is great and awesome and powerful.  Mormons are generally thankful and

3.  It seems that Palin is much more open in praying for certain things to happen in the world, i.e. pipelines, economic development, etc.  Mormons are more subdued in that sort of thing, I generally feel embarrased when people pray for such “political” things (I don’t really know if most mormons are that way or not).  Is this typical of evangelical prayers?

4. I think for many mormons it is an uncomfortable thing to pray for one particular person to obtain public office or that some political event to take place.  Mormons and the Mormon church do tend to be more right-wing than the average person in the U.S.  (not really true outside the US) and socially “conservative” across the board but politics is most often carefully kept out of public worship.   At least in the case of Palin’s pastor, he seems very open about putting Palin in office.    I am sure he believes his prayers had a part in getting her on the Republican ticket.   Despite the claims of prophetic guidance, Mormon leaders are now extremely conservative in making any sort of political prophecy. I think there is a lot of irony here, i.e. that Mormons, in my opinion, are more uncomfortable about such bold prophecy than evangelicals, and generally more skeptical unless the prophecy is very clearly delivered as such from the head of the church.

5. I thought the older pastor’s prayer seemed much more Mormon-like, i.e. it focused on love, gospel, and left out politics.

The questions that remain are:

Are Mormons comfortable (or even excited) about having a national leader who prays like Palin? are Evangelicals?

If you are comfortable or excited about having a national leader make decisions based on prayer, does it make a difference that the leader prays in a “Mormon” or “Evangelical” (or some other) way?

Is there something Mormons can learn from evangelicals prayers and vice versa?  such as: Could Mormons get closer to God by praising more and could Evangelicals get closer by focusing less on political areas and more on interpersonal issues?

Could the fact that evangelicals seem to be very bold in their prophecy on a local level, help them develop more understanding of Mormon’s belief in modern prophecy as authoritative?

16 thoughts on “Palin, Prayer, Politics and Prophecy

  1. Yeah, I can’t help but wince at the idea of someone praying “that so-and-so may be elected” or that a political agenda may succeed.

    Seems almost sacrilegious to me. Like you’ve forgotten where Zion begins and where Babylon ends.

    But yeah, Mormon prayers are sometimes a bit thin on the praise department. At least, they are in the Intermountain West. But then, we Westerners tend to be a bit on the reserved and self-conscious side…

  2. I think the observations in the original post are generally accurate, with the exception that (based on my experience) evangelicals are probably no more political in their prayers than Mormons are. The prayer for the pipeline was probably an aberration (maybe not for Palin, but for mainstream evangelicalism). The exception would be in churches where the pastor encourages that sort of thing; the ones I have been personally familiar with haven’t been.

    I agree that evangelical prayers do tend to be more praise-focused. I see nothing in our scriptures to indicate that praise shouldn’t be part of prayer, so that seems to be more a matter of what people are used to than anything else.

    I couldn’t care less about the prayer style of our national leaders, although I do wish they’d pray a bit more for humility.

  3. Jared, I’d be interested to hear why you think that one shouldn’t pray for a certain political outcome. If God is involved in our personal lives, do you think He cares about who is elected? And if you feel very strongly that one person or another should be elected, I think it’s natural to assume that God would feel the same way as you (because everyone thinks that they’re right).

    I don’t know how praying for a specific person to be in office is any different than praying for a certain regulation to pass (Prop 8 anyone?), or very strongly encouraging people in the church to donate money, etc, to help assist.

    Now, as for me, I think that that kind of prayer would make me uncomfortable. Not the praise part–I really enjoy that. I feel like remembering our smallness in comparison to God is humbling. Like, wading into the ocean and being struck by how it’s so darned big. Awe-inspiring, I guess. But praying for specific political things… I would be uncomfortable because what if everyone there didn’t agree with the statements? Then are they praying that someone else’s prayers aren’t answered? Are they saying ‘lalala’ in their heads over that part? Are they silently echoing the prayer, but when it gets to that part saying, ‘Uh, God, not so much that stuff from me, though, k?’

    Luckily, I’ve been fortunate to mainly go to churches where politics are handled sensitively.

  4. Katyjane,

    I don’t have anything against praying for politics. I think its as good a thing to pray for as my career, for example, I am just observing that its not really a something that Mormons do but Evangelicals appear to be more comfortable with.

    Prop 8 is exceptional, as was the opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, and I don’t really like when the church gets involved in politics. Of course my politics are much different than Palin’s and a lot of my fellow Mormons, so maybe it just turns me off more. Maybe I don’t have the faith that my prayer is going to affect the outcome (but I don’t have a lot of faith my vote will either). Maybe its a similar type of lack of faith.

    So in principle I don’t think its “wrong” to do, it just doesn’t suit me, just like praise is something I haven’t done a lot of. I am open to think that I might have a more spiritual life if I included some of these practices in mine, but I don’t yet have the faith in that possibility to test them out.

  5. Katy asked:

    I’d be interested to hear why you think that one shouldn’t pray for a certain political outcome.

    I find it a bit presumptuous. And, actually, you did a good, although indirect, job of saying why:

    And if you feel very strongly that one person or another should be elected, I think it’s natural to assume that God would feel the same way as you (because everyone thinks that they’re right).

    To me it makes more sense to pray that we see what is the right thing to do rather than pray for a particular political outcome.

    Thus, I think it’s fine to pray that our national leaders can come up with ways to reduce or eliminate the tragedies or war, or that ways can be found to better provide for the needs of the poor among us — or, better yet, to pray that God will show us what role we should play iin meeting human needs.

    But I find it arrogant to assume that God has the same way of approaching those issues as I do.

  6. Jared, I’m glad you posted this. Even though I was raised RLDS, all your points are accurate for us as well. Being a convert to Evangelicalism, I was very uncomfortable with some of the aspects of Evangelical prayer. While I think it’s great to praise God in prayer, and He definitely deserves it, (actually, if we praised Him night and day continuously, we still wouldn’t be giving Him his due.) it’s something I’ve never felt comfortable with. I’ve tried, but I usually end up thanking God for everything He’s done for me and the blessings He has given me in my life. As far as praying for “political” events, I think a little bit of Evangelicalism may have rubbed off on me here. While I won’t be praying for any specific person this time around, there are times in the distant past when I have. I got what I wanted, now I question the wisdom of my request. (Not that I think my prayer really influenced the outcome.) I have prayed for Mrs. Palin however, that God give her wisdom and strength to withstand the hateful attacks that have been made against her, but I don’t consider that praying for someone to win. I am comfortable with Mrs. Palin being on the ticket. My opinion is, the way she prays is her business. I believe that God hears the prayers of all who come to him in humility and sincerity of heart.

  7. For myself, I’d be very comfortable with her presentation and the prayers if I was just observing some random Assembly of God service in Alaska. I get uncomfortable when they get put in the political spectrum because I know that they may not be what everyone is use to.

    (where as the tent meeting in “Borat” bothered me a ton regardless of the context)

    Two things about prayer: 1) I believe prayer changes things, for what ever reason God will not do things because his people fail to get involved with them. He expects us to play a part and we can change his mind. (check out King Josiah) 2) I think it’s totally fine to pray for political agendas in fact I think to some degree it’s required. If you know a specific political action will bring justice and the relief of suffering to people you absolutely SHOULD be praying for it. This requires humility and discernment. For example, why would you not pray for the abolition of slavery, as many Christians did 160 years ago(in a church setting or not)?

    Nice job everyone not getting too political on this one.

  8. The reality is, I have, on occasion prayed for political results that I believed strongly in.

    But I would never dare to do this in a Sacrament Meeting prayer, or even just a prayer before Sunday School or individual Priesthood meetings.


    Because when you pray before a group, you represent the group before God. You should attempt to pray for things agreeable and desired by the whole group. If I were to pray for a particular amendment to go through, or for a particular political candidate, I would risk that someone in the audience is not going to feel like the prayer represents her. I have no business turning communion with God into a cause for resentment among some of my fellow worshipers.

    That said, the pipeline for that community may have meant the difference between being employed or not for many of that community’s citizens and possibly many of the worshipers in that room. That’s possibly something everyone could have gotten on board with in that community. So I’m not willing to condemn Palin for the prayer. Tim is right that small community prayers have a different premise than broader, more national prayers. It’s not really right that this particular prayer is being made into a national prayer when it was clearly intended as a localized community concern.

  9. Job,

    Its really hard to take you seriously. Your approach sort-of embodies the Mormon stereotype of Evangelicals, i.e. very shallow reading of scripture coupled with a single-minded devotion to a particular interpretation of a few scriptures, as well as a astonishingly close-minded view of other interpretations. This may be a caricature of the average evangelical, but the more I hear your approach, I am not so sure.

    I think if you stepped outside of your narrow worldview spent some time talking to Mormons about what they believe you may be able to understand what God the Mormons praise and pray to.

    So, if you think that it is a “serious inquiry” I would give up the mantra of those who are simply afraid of anything disrupting their neat picture of God and religion.

    To any other Evangelical:

    Is Job’s approach representative of Evangelicals as a group? or is he a in the minority?

  10. I see no reason to debate this topic when the Bible clearly tells us how we should vote: “The heart of the wise inclines to the right but the heart of a fool to the left.” Ecclesiastes 10:2

    Yes, I’m kidding.

    Anyways, when I lived in Provo I attended Rock Canyon Assembly of God, and one of the things Pastor Dean said one time is that he prays that the best possible leader will be elected to office and that our leaders, regardless of party affiliation, would listen to God. That’s something that I pray for regularly.

    Praying for specific political platforms to dominate and specific candidates to win is really a matter of judgment. Preaching to pray for that from the pulpit calls for even more judgment, but isn’t necessarily the wrong thing to do.

    BTW, I don’t see why this topic should only focus on Sarah Palin. I seem to recall, quite recently, some very well-known Democrats expressing their belief that God had sent Hurricane Gustav to steal attention from the Republican National Conventions and thus aid the Democrats. Republicans aren’t the only ones capable of extreme religious presumption.

    As for Job, I don’t think he’s representative of evangelicals. I do think he’s representative of evangelicals who have taken a special interest in Mormonism, but most evangelicals are of the don’t-know-don’t-care variety. I regularly mention to members of my current evangelical church that my husband is Mormon and my degree comes from BYU. Haven’t heard a single remotely negative thing about Mormons yet.

    Will have to post further thoughts on Mormon prayer v. evangelical prayer later, this comment has run on long enough.

  11. Seth R. said:

    [T]he pipeline for that community may have meant the difference between being employed or not for many of that community’s citizens and possibly many of the worshipers in that room. That’s possibly something everyone could have gotten on board with in that community. So I’m not willing to condemn Palin for the prayer.

    I hadn’t thought about it that way before. If it’s something that the entire group agrees with, it’s probably not all that much different than when I pray that I get a particular job I’ve applied for or something along that line.

    Job asked:

    I mean, which God would Mormons be praising? It is a serious enquiry.

    The God of the Bible. And that’s a serious answer.

    But this topic isn’t the place to discuss it.

  12. Clobbergirl,

    The reason I focused on Sarah Palin’s call-to-prayer is because it was the subject of criticism or ridicule. I think the solidly secular have a real problem with religious people thinking that they are “on a mission from God”. People who believe like Palin scare the hell out of the very non-religious types. (perhaps justifiably so after living under G.W. Bush for 8 years, who has also, to a lesser extent, put his religion on his sleeve)

    My curiosity is how Mormons and Evangelicals react to intertwining political causes with prayer by those with differing religious views.

    I seem to recall a some criticism of Romney for his religious bent from Evangelicals and secular-types. If we had video of Romney saying similar things would Evangelicals join the secular Democrats in thinking he was somehow off-base or not to be trusted with power?

  13. My Answer to your question at the end of point #3 -On a personal level, I honestly don’t agree with asking God for certain things to be as I think they should be. Now, I do share my hearts desires with Him but I don’t “Tell” Him to make things just so (ie. political or social issues etc). I believe (as many other “Evangelicals” do) that when we pray to God we should pray that His will be done. Just as Jesus prayed to His Heavenly Father in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42) “…not my will but Thine be done.” Ultimately, it is God’s will that is best in our lives even if it doesn’t match what we may want or think is best for us at the time. I think the old cliche, “(Heavenly) Father know best” would apply well on this point from one “Evangelical” standpoint.

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