Sunday, December 31, 2006

We Pray for Those who Have Died, Especially... 

Did anyone else's congregation, in the Prayers of the People, include Saddam Hussein's name in the prayers for those who have died? Ours did and received no small amount of reaction, which seemed to have been turned into a teaching moment during coffee hour.

As I was saying to a friend yesterday, there is a part of me that is sad that Hussein was executed. It means, to me at least, that "retributive justice" is still being meted out via execution, which makes it less retributive and more vengeful. As long as executions are still going on, it means to me that we all have still lost. To quote Anglican Divine John Donne, "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind."

And did not Jesus instruct us to pray for our enemies?


[Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2007 - To be clear, lest there be misconceptions, the "no small amount of reaction" involved primarily one individual. Other aspects of the "reaction" involved remarks made by parishioners during the coffee hour, most of which carried no positive or negative connotations, but were more inquisitive in tone. The "teaching moment" was not a public forum, but was the rector listening to the complaints of one individual and then explaining the reasoning behind praying for Saddam. I apologize for any confusion, but I realized how what I wrote could be blown out of proportion if one was not present.]


Hi Fr. Ryan!

(did this make your week?)

By Blogger , at 1:08 PM  

As a retired Navy Captain with friends still in harm's way because of S.H. and as a Christain, I have mixed feelings about praying for him yesterday in church. He was tried, convicted and executed by his own countrymen for crimes against humanity (genocide). Our Lord did instruct us to pray for our enemies, but He also mentioned punishment in other discourses.

Did the New Covenant abolish all the old laws? Moses was given many occasions where the death penalty was to be meted out. Does the Incarnation negate them?

What about praying for S.H.'s many victims and the recovery and healing of the nation of Iraq? That may have prevented the uproar you got at coffee hour. That omission was what saddened me.

Happy New Year... and God's blessings on your first year of ordained ministry!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:30 PM  

Mom P! Welcome to my blog! Welcome also to Sunshine - great to see y'all over here.

Mom P. - you raise very valid and important concerns and points, in a very crucial conversation. I will address your second to last paragraph first, as it will be a shorter answer (I think, but as regular readers will no doubt inform you, I have a tendency to go on...).

The short answer to why we did not pray for Saddam Hussein's many victims and healing of the nation of Iraq is that we were calling the people to prayer in the general context of the Prayers of the People section of the Eucharist, and in the specific context of mentioning the names of those individuals who died during the course of the previous week. Someone this morning noted that we prayed for three people who died, none of whom were parishioners: Ms. Eva G., President Gerald Ford, and Saddam Hussein. They then re-cast that as: the unknown, the renowned, and the notorious.

Saddam Hussein’s victims did not die in the course of the previous week and thus they were not mentioned in that very specific portion of the prayers. However, nothing was to stop individual parishioners from responding to this call to prayer by praying for them. And many did. Hopefully, Saddam’s victims were prayed for in this way when they were murdered. Praying for the healing of the nation of Iraq would have been appropriate in the context of another portion of the prayers of the people, and had we had more time to think through those prayers (the execution was on Saturday morning), we would likely have included all of this in the printed text of the bulletin.

By mentioning someone who has died in the context of the Prayers of the People in no way raises them to some sort of exalted or honored position, though, in most cases, the people we pray for are those who are close to us and thus, this is an easy misconception. It just mentions them as a faithful response to God’s call to us; in this context, both to pray for those who have died and to pray for our enemies. Judgment belongs to God. (See, I knew I would go on longer than I intended.)

Now I will address the concerns you raise in the first paragraph. You mention that he was tried, convicted, and executed by his own countrymen, which is technically true. Though Americans were no where near the actual execution itself, I would not be too quick to dismiss the hand of the United States in all of these proceedings (and by “all of these proceedings”, I am referencing United States’ direct aid and support of Saddam in the 1980’s during the Iran-Iraq crisis, through his execution). He was, in fact, held in US custody until directly prior to the execution.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs his listeners to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Mt. 5:44). This is a hard teaching and one I personally have to constantly work on, but there it is. As for the “punishment” you mention, I am uncertain to where directly you are referring, so will need you to help me by pointing more specifically. What I do know, and you know as well, is that Jesus also played a large role in staying the execution of the woman caught in adultery (Jn. 8: 1-11).

You write, “Did the New Covenant abolish all the old laws,” and I suspect you write that rhetorically, but just in case, I’ll address it as well. :) The short answer is no, it did not abolish all the old laws, it perfected them. Jesus himself said, “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished,” (Mt. 5:18, cf. Lk. 16:17).

In debating the issue of divorce, Jesus says that it was because of the hard-heartedness of the people that he permitted them to divorce under certain circumstances, but that this was not the plan from the beginning (Mt. 19:8). In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul elaborates on this theme more broadly by discussing the point of the law through the Abrahamic covenant (Gal. 3:17-24). He says that if our inheritance in the kingdom of God was dependant on the law then we would have had no need for the grace of the promises of Christ. But since we do need that grace, through that promise, is the law then invalid? Not at all. “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith,” (Gal. 3:23-24).

Moses was indeed given many occasions where the death penalty was to be meted out – Ex. 21:12, 21:20, 22:13-27 as just a few examples. In addition to those one of the offenses also punishable by death was the disobedience to parents by children (Ex. 21:15, 17, cf. Lev. 20:9, 21:18-21). Very few Christian parents are willing to read that law with an inerrant, proof-texting lens.

So, no, the Incarnation does not negate these laws, but brings them to fulfillment in perfection, and in so doing, calls us to a higher mode of being. “Be perfect, even as your father in heaven is perfect,” (Mt. 5:48).

Ironically enough, that command comes at the end of the statements regarding how we are to love and pray for our enemies.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking with me. I feel this is an extremely important conversation, so I wanted to devote some time to a thoughtful response to the important and valid questions and concerns you raised, which I also thank you for doing! Please feel free to fire back! God bless you, Mom P.!


By Blogger Ryan, at 8:32 PM  

I guess, "Welcome also to Sunshine" counts as a shout out..

By Blogger , at 9:05 PM  

From the sidelines, it is easy to say yay or nay to including S.H. in the Prayers of the People.

I have folowed your writing through many a sports event and it is good to know you can participate in a Christian act like this as well as play ball
(not that that is a bad or mundane thing by any means.)

When I was a lad I heard the question given to religious leaders frequently when the subject was heaven and hell: "Father, is (any notorious person) in hell for sure? I think the question was asked because our minds, tutored along the lines of forgiveness, couldn't grasp that that person could be absolutely condemned to hell. Hence, praying for them was almost a duty.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:37 PM  

Great post! I linked you at our blog.


By Anonymous Steve+, at 7:50 PM  

INteresting post. I linked it in the comments to a blog post of mine on Saddam's execution. It's here Light Shines in the Darkness at Irenic Thoughts.


By Blogger King of Peace, at 10:18 AM  

Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?