Mar  2018 06
Clergy Should Boycott the Oklahoma House Chaplaincy Program

Dear Clergy Colleagues in Oklahoma:

I acknowledge there are persons among the clergy, persons of conscience and good will, who will disagree with the following call.

I also acknowledge there are clergy who will adamantly oppose my pluralist reading of U.S. history. If someone holds the point of view that the United States is supposed to be, constitutionally, a Christian nation, you will fundamentally disagree with my opinion.

I call on all clergy in Oklahoma to withdraw their participation in and support for the chaplaincy program in the Oklahoma House. Boycott it, at least until the discrimination and un-American gaming of religion by the state is stopped and the program fixed. But maybe it is better to let the program die.

The current program is being used to favor one religion (Christian) and silence others. When Dr. Imad Enchassi, an Imam in the Muslim community, who is one of the most impressive human beings I know in any religion, was excluded from authorization to lead prayer for the legislators, it is hard to see the act of exclusion as anything other than religious discrimination.

Gaming the system to declare that the appointed chaplain will be the leader of a House member’s religious community or that the chaplain shall be selected from a previously approved cohort excludes non-Christian religions because the Oklahoma House, unlike many states or the federal House, does not include Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, or adherents of other non-Christian faiths.

Until clergy such as Dr. Enchassi are allowed to serve as chaplain, all clergy should boycott this un-American program and, in my way of thinking, un-Christian program. Better to stand with Dr. Enchassi outside than participate in a program that discriminates against religious minorities in Oklahoma.

Furthermore, I wonder if it is time for the chaplaincy program to die.

I call to mind the scene from the Oklahoma House last year when the Rev. Lori Walke (disclosure: a Phillips graduate) offered a prayer, as chaplain, that included Jesus’ care for the poor.

In response to what they heard, a very notable number of lawmakers walked out. Walked out of a prayer that mentioned Jesus, the poor, and what our obligation as residents of this state is to each other. If legislators cannot tolerate that Jesus reminder during a time when they were contemplating budget cuts, then what are the chaplains for?

What that walkout says to me, and what the gamed chaplaincy program says to me, is that the lawmakers making decisions about the chaplaincy program want Christian, court-owned chaplains to say an encouraging word and give them comfort to do what they want to do.

I don’t know any clergyperson who thinks this is their calling: speak words of comfort to give cover and justification to whatever the hearer wants to do. You all may remember that court prophets, telling the kings what the kings wanted to hear, were lambasted by God through the voices of Jeremiah, Isaiah, and other legitimate prophets.

I am becoming jaded in the matter of thinking elected officials, of my affinity or not, can accept religious leaders into government space without discrimination or without requiring unacceptable compromises on the part of religious leaders.

The separation of church and state in the U.S. derived from several real-world problems to avoid. One perspective was practical: it is stupid, unfair, and counterproductive to invite immigrants to American shores and saddle them with a second-class status because of their religion (yes, the U.S. is still not “there” on this matter).

Another perspective is that religion must be protected from the state. In the founding years of the American republic, Baptists of the Roger Williams and Isaac Backus sort promoted the separation of church and state because, in the state’s hands, religion is corrupted.

A third perspective is that the state must be protected from religion because the cause of pure religion, backed by the sword of the state (law and punishment), devastated Europe for centuries. Christians used the state to create and persecute minorities.

I hope we all still see Christian state-sponsored persecution of non-Christians as both un-Christian and un-American. I hope…

In my opinion, clergy should boycott the chaplaincy program until the un-American and un-Christian discrimination against non-Christian Oklahomans ends. If the only clergy who are left in the program are Christian America First-ers, and if this Christian program is okay with the majority of lawmakers, then it will be revealed to the public what has been the character of the program all along.

Maybe the chaplaincy program needs to end and the legislature will have one less distraction to keep them from accomplishing the work for which the voters of Oklahoma elected them.


New chaplain rules for Oklahoma House called discriminatory against minority religions – Tulsa World

Interfaith leaders say legislature’s chaplain program excludes non-Christians -NEWSOK

Non-Christian Denominations Could Be Shut Out of House Chaplain Program – Oklahoma Watch


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