It may be one of the most famous prayers of the past quarter century — and the most controversial.
Twenty-two years ago, Rev. Joe Wright placed himself at the center of a firestorm when he was called upon to give the opening prayer before the Kansas state legislature.
Back in January of 1996, one of his congregants asked Wright to do the honors at the state capital in Topeka.
“Normally, Wright doesn’t put his prayers on paper, but since the legislature required a written copy, the minister sat down that evening to jot a few lines,” The Washington Post reported at the time.
And what he wrote wasn’t was both reviled and embraced. It became a national controversy. It was read on Paul Harvey’s radio broadcast. What he said is just as relevant — and just as contentious — today.
“Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask Your forgiveness and to seek Your direction and guidance,” he began. “We know Your Word says, ‘Woe to those who call evil good,’ but that is exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.
“We confess: We have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it pluralism. We have worshipped other gods and called it multiculturalism. We have endorsed perversion and called it alternative lifestyle. We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery. We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.
“We have killed our unborn and called it choice,” he continued.
“We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable. We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem. We have abused power and called it politics. We have coveted our neighbor’s possessions and called it ambition. We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression. We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.
“Search us, oh God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and set us free,” he added.
“Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent to direct us to the center of your will. I ask it in the name of Your Son, the living Savior, Jesus Christ.”
You can bet this didn’t go over too well with some people when it was first recited.
“He didn’t miss anyone,” state Rep. Jim Long said at the time. “He made everyone mad.”
At least one legislator walked out during the prayer, The Post reported. And making people mad, according to Wright, was the point.
“I’m a preacher at an evangelical church,” he said. “What else would they expect from me? I don’t know if they were just looking for platitudes or a ‘To whom it may concern’ kind of prayer. But there are absolutes, and God has called me to preach the truth. Naturally, any time you preach absolutes, you’re going to offend some people.”
You may not agree with everything Wright had to say, but can you see anyone saying this today? Can you see anyone speaking their truth like this in 2018?
We’ve changed a lot in 22 years, all to the point where saying any of this wouldn’t just be considered controversial but hateful.
“I’m known as a loving fellow,” Wright said back in 1996. “I don’t like conflicts.”
Yet say this nowadays and he’d be called a bigot. Even 22 years ago it spurred controversy. Now, he’d be lucky to make it out of the capital building — even though what he had to say is more relevant now than ever.
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