A once popular phrase to express one’s political views in a nutshell was to begin a sentence with the words “Don’t blame me I voted for…” and then insert the name of whatever previously defeated politician you might have supported, especially if the current political situation isn’t headed in the right direction. I first heard it when I was still in college, during the time when inflation was creating economic havoc during the Carter administration, when someone said, “Don’t blame me, I voted for Ford.” It’s pretty much been a standard ever since then.
Southern Baptists may now have to resort to a modified version of this statement to distance themselves from the antics of Southern California pastor Wiley Drake, who has made the news in recent months with his declarations of “imprecatory prayer.” As Drake defines it, this is the practice of praying to God for certain government officials, mainly those who disagree with Drake’s position, to die. Drake cites a few Old Testament passages, and a few words of Jesus from the New Testament, all taken out of context, to justify his practice. Clearly, if the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament are taken as a whole, in their context, and considered along with the interpretations of Paul, John and other New Testament writers, and his declaration that he fulfilled the Old Testament prophets and the law in Matthew 5:17, there is no biblical support whatsoever for the practice of imprecatory prayer. It doesn’t appear that God has answered any of them, though that point might be difficult to argue, considering that we are all eventually going to die, though I would think that the object of an imprecatory prayer would be a more immediate, and somehow more punitive death. Then there are the instructions from Paul about being subject to the governing authorities because they were put in place by God (Romans 13), and Peter about suffering for righteousness sake, and honoring Christ by being prepared to give a defense of your faith with gentleness and respect so that those who are causing your suffering may be ashamed of their slander (I Peter 3), which are completely contradictory to the idea of imprecatory prayer.
Drake, who pastors a tiny, out of the way Baptist church in Buena Park, an obscure suburb of Los Angeles known mainly as the home of Knott’s Berry Farm, would probably go unnoticed as just one of a myriad of West Coast religious extremists if it were not for the fact that he was nominated and elected Second Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention several years back. Drake attends the convention annual meeting frequently, and has a reputation for repeatedly speaking to motions. You can hear the moans and groans from messengers when his face appears on the jumbotron in the convention hall, and his voice announces his status as a messenger from his church. His nomination was allegedly intended to be a joke. Second Vice Presidents of the SBC have no real power, and the position itself is one of those ceremonial recognitions usually handed out to someone who has used their influence, or pulled strings for someone in the backward, quirky, provincial way that Southern Baptists have of choosing leadership and conducting business. I would be willing to wager that, of the handful of messengers left in the hall when Drake was elected, not a single one ever imagined what difficulties might present themselves as a result later on.
What has happened is that Drake, who does political commentary on the side in addition to serving as pastor of his church, has been given a much larger national platform than he would have had otherwise, and when he makes statements like this, it is noted (at his own prompting most of the time) that he is a past Second VP of the SBC. And that is having a negative effect on a denomination that has already had a lot of help toward a negative public perception from similar actions and antics.
There may be a number of people who attend Southern Baptist churches who, on occasion, utter what might be interpreted as an imprecatory prayer, or who at least, in a moment of anger or passion, are willing to give it some thought. But I would venture to guess that there are few Southern Baptists, relatively speaking, who would admit to a belief in it, and that the vast majority are apalled at the very thought of it, with the small church in Buena Park being a notable exception. It is a cherished Baptist principle that no one Baptist can speak on behalf of any other Baptist, but of course, outside of the Baptist bubble, that is not something that people understand.
This creates a huge credibility problem for the SBC, and for many of its churches. I have been asked on more than one occasion if I believe in imprecatory prayer and whether or not I support Drake’s perspective. I haven’t really looked into everything Drake makes comments about, or preaches about, so I don’t know about agreeing or disagreeing with everything he says or does, but I strongly disagree with his perspective on imprecatory prayer. And I don’t see anything in this health care bill that is inherently “evil.” Making insurance companies cover people with pre-existing conditions, preventing them from dropping policy holders because of an illness, extending their coverage and helping those who can’t afford it obtain it, and giving time for health insurers and health care providers to adjust to the provisions by delaying the more costly portions of the reform might be something Drake disagrees with doing, but that’s his perspective. Mine is differerent. There is also no more of a likelihood that federal funds will be used to pay for abortions with this bill than there was in the previous administration. Misinformation about it by sources such as Drake are designed to fan the flames of opposition, but it is also damaging the credibility of those who spread it. It is actually less likely that federal funds will pay for abortions under this legislation because of the executive order issued by the President, but truth and facts seem to evade commentators like Drake.
At any rate, don’t blame me, I wasn’t at the SBC meeting when Drake was elected. He doesn’t speak for me. He doesn’t speak for the vast majority of Southern Baptists either. A resolution stating the convention’s clear position on imprecatory prayer, and putting some distance between it and Drake would certainly help.