Oct  2016 11
First Dubious Public Theology Award Presented

For some time now, I’ve thought the seminary should invent a recognition award in Oklahoma akin to what Stephen Colbert used to do with This Week in God, or like Rowan and Martin did with the Flying Fickle Finger of Fate Award on Laugh In.

This award would be for dubious achievement in a public theological statement. If Abraham Lincoln was a master in using the Christian religion to interpret American public life (which he was, as exemplified in the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address), the Dubious Public Theology Award would be given to recognize particularly misshapen public theology.

Well, after reading the impending proclamation for Oilfield Prayer Day in Oklahoma signed by Gov. Mary Fallin, I may have to move up the timing for launching the award.

Newspaper columnists and Facebook posters noticed this year’s Oilfield Prayer Day Proclamation, which brought it to my attention. Fallin has issued the Oilfield Prayer Proclamation annually since 2011. Significant changes were made in the wording in 2015. The text for this year is nearly identical to the previous year (with another change pending; see below).

The reader will see these important changes (I've included the detail of the changes at the end of this blog):
  • In the earlier version, the state acknowledges that all “natural resources” are created by God and implores God “for wisdom, guidance, and protection.” The newer version limits resources to oil and gas and takes the State of Oklahoma out of the worshipful position—while also limiting the worshipers to Christians who are asked to praise the abundance of oil and gas in Oklahoma.
  • In the earlier version, the state notes the “Christian principles” by which the companies do business. The newer version acknowledges “impacts” but does not identify the business ethics of the companies.

So, in attempting to move the State of Oklahoma per se out of worshiping God (a commendable move), the 2015/16 state proclamation limits the audience to Christians. On Monday, Oct. 10, 2016, after public commentators noted the Christian-only wording, Fallin announced she would change the proclamation to include “all faiths.”

“All faiths” is an improvement on “Christians,” but not a sufficient improvement for the whole proclamation.

There is a change that lies behind the change which is actually the bigger change and, for me, the more important story.

The first Oilfield Prayer Day proclamation was issued in 2011. Up until that time, there was an annual proclamation that went back to at least 1993, first called “Soil and Water Conservation Week” and two years later named “Soil and Water Stewardship Week.”

Here is that proclamation:

Whereas, human beings are dependent on fertile soil and clean water to provide our food and fiber; and

Whereas, we are ethically bound to care for the natural resources that sustain our lives; and

Whereas, effective conservation practices have helped provide us a richer standard of living and protect us from the recurrence of disasters such as the Dust Bowl; and

Whereas, our health and happiness, and safety and security depend on healthy soil and clean water; and

Whereas, soil and water stewardship calls for each person to appreciate and conserve these precious resources;

Now, therefore, I, Mary Fallin, Governor of the State of Oklahoma, do hereby proclaim April 24th through May 1st, 2011, as “Soil and Water Stewardship Week.”

I would judge that proclamation as a fitting use of a theological term, such as stewardship, publicly in a way persons of any faith or no faith could embrace.

The last year the Soil and Water proclamation was made (2011) was the first year the Oilfield Prayer Day was pronounced. Coincidence?

In 2011, Fallin became Oklahoma’s chief executive. As governor, she signed the last stewardship proclamation and the first oilfield prayer proclamation.

Did the energy behind the stewardship proclamation dissipate? Or do the proclamations, rather than being symbolic (as state proclamations often are) embed different practices, theologies and ethics?

I think it is good and right for the state to work in every way possible to encourage, legislate, regulate, and protect the health and safety of workers in the often dangerous work of fossil fuel extraction and processing, as well as to lobby and legislate for the well-being of families when economically critical industries are depressed.

It is good and right for the state to tax corporations and citizens sufficiently to provide essential protections, infrastructure, and services. But the state is now asking its citizens who adhere to any faith group to pray for a better economy. Encouraging Christians or “all faiths” to pray is not part of the state’s work.

The difference in proclamations between Soil and Water Stewardship and Oilfield Prayer Day is the deeper story here. Annually rededicating ourselves to the stewardship of Oklahoma’s soil and water—for the sake of health, happiness, and life itself—has given way to the oil-and-gas equivalent of praying for rain. And the changes in theology from the Stewardship to the Oilfield proclamations deserve the inaugural Dubious Public Theology Award.

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Detail of the changes from 2011 to 2015/16:

2011

“We acknowledge that all natural resources are created by God”

2015/16

“Christians acknowledge such (referring to oil and gas) natural resources are created by God”

2011

“The state of Oklahoma recognizes the value of these companies, employees, and their commitment to conducting business based on Christian principles”

2015/16

“Oklahoma recognizes the incredible economic, community, and faith-based impacts demonstrated across the state by oil and natural gas companies”

2011

“United in prayer, we implore Almighty God to give us wisdom and guidance and protection in exploring and developing these natural resources for the betterment of all citizens

2015/16

“Christians are invited to thank God for the blessings created by the oil and gas industries and to seek his wisdom and ask for his protection.”

Browse more posts by: Gary Peluso-Verdend, Phillips President
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