Pastor aims at `God's enemies'

Experts say his call for prayers for foes' misfortune is atypical

August 26, 2007|By K. Connie Kang | K. Connie Kang,Los Angeles Times

Until last week, "imprecatory prayer" was not in many people's vocabularies.

But then the Rev. Wiley S. Drake, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Buena Park, Calif., urged his supporters to use Psalm 109 to focus prayers directed at the "enemies of God" - including the leaders of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Drake was urging the use of imprecatory prayer - prayers for another's misfortune or for vengeance against God's enemies. Now such prayer is the talk of blogs and letters to the editor.

The controversy flared Aug. 14, the day the Washington-based group asked the Internal Revenue Service to probe the tax-exempt status of Drake's congregation.

Churches, as tax-exempt, are prohibited from campaigning for candidates. Drake had earlier issued a statement on a church letterhead endorsing former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican presidential candidate.

Drake told his supporters that he attempted to talk to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State about the issue. He cited a verse from the Gospel of Matthew that says, "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you." Drake said his efforts were rebuffed. "Now that all efforts have been exhausted, we must begin our Imprecatory Prayer, at the key points of the parliamentary role in the earth where we live," Drake wrote.

Under the heading, "HOW TO PRAY," he listed all 31 verses of Psalm 109, in which King David appeals to divine justice. Drake provided his congregation the King James Version of the psalm, including Verse 9, which says: "Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow."

On the advice of his attorneys, Drake has declined to be interviewed.

Experts in Scripture say it's easy to misread David's intentions and the purpose of imprecatory prayer in general.

There must be a distinction between one's personal enemies and the enemies of God, said Sister Thomas Bernard MacConnell, founder of the Spirituality Center at Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles and a veteran teacher of spiritual direction.

"It is very possible that my enemies are not God's enemies," she said.

Referring to Drake's targets, she added, "Who is to say that those people are God's enemies?"

The Rev. Kurt Fredrickson, who directs doctoral programs for 700 working pastors from around the world at Fuller Theological Seminary, says imprecatory prayers are atypical.

"They are more of a window into the sinfulness of human beings," said Fredrickson, an assistant professor of pastoral ministry at the Pasadena, Calif., school. "Normally when we think about praying, we're thinking about prayers of adoration, prayers of confession, prayers for someone we're concerned about who is sick or going through a hard time, or those sort of prayers for ourselves - not the sort of vindictive, revengeful statements."

The Rev. Dickson Yagi, a Southern Baptist pastor, said his denomination has no tradition of using prayer to curse anyone.

"Jesus Christ taught us to forgive our enemies, love our enemies, pray for our enemies," Yagi said. "And he died for his enemies."

K. Connie Kang writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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