Warren: How about a non-Mormon prayer?
Picture this: After New Mexico's opening-day legislative session, an LDS stake president finds himself chatting with the state's House speaker that evening at an upscale restaurant.
Why, asks the stake president, does New Mexico invite only Roman Catholics to offer invocations in the festive Day One sessions?
Because, responds the speaker, New Mexico was settled primarily by Catholics, and Catholicism remains the religion of choice in the state, "so we pay homage to that." Besides, he adds, we let other faiths pray in later sessions.
But, responds the stake president, it's the opening sessions that are highly publicized and well-attended. "It's like one religion gets the main course, and the rest of us get table scraps."
The above story is fiction. In fact, New Mexico's legislators over the years have invited representatives from a variety of faiths to pray on Day One. In Utah, however, it's a different story.
Here, only leaders of The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints are invited to pray on opening day. A review of the Legislature's Web site, which contains journals for the past 16 years, shows that all 32 House and Senate invocations were offered by LDS authorities.
On Nov. 20, I emailed Utah Senate President Michael Waddoups and House Speaker Becky Lockhart asking whether other faiths should be invited to pray on opening days.
Waddoups responded by observing that many prayers throughout the session are given by non-Mormons. He did not address the opening-day issue.
Lockhart did not respond. Perhaps my question was too weak. Maybe I should have asked: How would you feel if the other 49 states decided that, because they were primarily or entirely settled by non-Mormons, they will never invite a Mormon to pray in their prominent opening-day legislative sessions?
Thankfully, our country and the state of Virginia do not take the absurd view that because the original settlement of both was Jamestown, only religious leaders associated with the Church of England (the faith of the Jamestown settlers) should be invited to pray at the beginning of each Congress or of the Virginia General Assembly.
Because of the Virginia connection, I contacted the Rev. Gene Willis, who offered the opening-day invocation last January in Virginia's House of Delegates. I wanted to get his take on Utah's approach to legislative prayer. Rev. Willis, of the Spotswood Baptist Church in Fredericksburg, said he would definitely like to see non-Mormons of a Judeo-Christian bent invited to pray on opening days in Utah.
Virginia's Christians are so inclusive on Day One that they have even invited the chaplain for the Washington Redskins to pray.
Let's hope that the two LDS general authorities who are invited to pray on opening day this year will take to heart Rev. Willis' suggestion by saying, "Thanks for the invitation, but we've been doing this since 1896. It's time non-Mormons got a chance."
Personally, I wish Utah's Legislature would follow the example of the Founding Fathers, who, at the Constitutional Convention, briefly discussed whether prayers should be offered. Their decision was nearly unanimous: No prayers. These, of course, were wise and inspired men, and they produced a document for the ages.
Moreover, I believe that putting a religious exercise (prayer) on the legislative agenda disrespects many citizens and displeases God. In urging diversity in opening-day prayers, I do so only because I recognize that politicians in Utah and elsewhere will not stop engaging anytime soon in this government-sponsored practice.
In the meantime, therefore, let's pray that Utah's 2013 Legislature becomes more inclusive on Day One.
Steve Warren wrote "Drat! Mythed Again" and "Beyond the Finish Line." He lives with his family in West Valley City.
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