Southern Baptists plan to pray for Clinton, Gore Some see a mixture of prayer, politics

October 26, 1993|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON -- The Rev. Bo Hammock likes to call Psalm 109:8 "Bill Clinton's Psalm."

"Let his days be few and let another take his office."

Mr. Hammock, pastor of Providence Village Baptist Church in Lake Butler, Fla., is galled that President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, fellow Southern Baptists, support abortion and homosexual rights.

He hoped Southern Baptists would cast out Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore.

Instead, the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, have decided to pray that the president and vice president become stronger in their faith.

Starting Jan. 1, Southern Baptists will pray for 40 days for the president and vice president, guided by a "Pray for the President" booklet that suggests a Scriptural reading for each day and urges the faithful to identify a daily "news event or topic that is a prayer concern."

Copies of the pamphlet are set to go out Nov. 8 to the nation's 40,000 Southern Baptist pastors. And letters from the Southern Baptist leadership will invite them and the nation's 15 million Southern Baptists to join the observance.

"We as Southern Baptists consider them our own. They belong to us. There's a need to support them in prayer," said Michael Day, who developed the prayer plan.

Although Mr. Day denies that the prayers have a political purpose, he allows, "Some will take it on a different level. They want minds to be changed."

However Bob E. Patterson, a professor of religion at Baylor University, believes many will have a political agenda in mind when they pray for the president.

"They are going to pray for him to be anti-abortion and put a cork in Hillary's mouth," Mr. Patterson said.

The simple words of the prayers are open to many interpretations. On Day 1, the faithful will ask that Mr. Clinton be given wisdom and that Mr. Gore might be a "model of Christian leadership." On Day 36, they pray that Mr. Clinton might resist temptation and that Mr. Gore be given self-control. On Day 39, the prayer is to make Mr. Clinton "strong in the face of opposition" and to strengthen Mr. Gore in "love of truth."

One of the booklets was given to Mr. Clinton recently by the Rev. H. Edwin Young, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, in a meeting that came after months of strained relations.

In running for election, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore did not enjoy the support of many Baptist conservatives. Relations seemed to get worse when the conservative leaders of the Southern Baptist convention found themselves left out of a number of religious meetings with the president, including one in August. Rapport seemed to improve when a few of them got their own meeting with Mr. Clinton in September. While the main disagreements remained clear, Mr. Young, pastor of Houston's Second Baptist Church, left the meeting with hopeful words.

"There is a heart there, a spiritual cross-pull in the life of our president," Mr. Young told the Baptist Press. "Who knows what the Lord will do."

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