Non-Christians Feel Left Out On Day Of Prayer

May 7, 2009

Author: Bob Smietana

Source: The Tennessean

Growing up in South Korea, the Rev. David Choi learned at an early age that prayer was serious business. As a child, he used to get up before dawn for a 4 a.m. prayer service.

Choi and other believers will join elected officials — including Mayor Karl Dean and Gov. Phil Bredesen — for an hourlong prayer service today at the plaza outside of Sommet Center to celebrate the National Day of Prayer. The 11:30 a.m. event is one of dozens statewide and thousands nationwide.

Organizers say it unites believers across denominations and cultures, and celebrates religious freedom. Critics argue that a National Day of Prayer becomes unconstitutional when government leaders endorse it. Other critics say the event should not be for Christians only.

While people of every faith can attend today's ceremony, only Christians can lead the prayers.

"Other people have asked this, but this is not an interfaith event. This is a Christian event,'' said Charles McGowan, president of the Operation Andrew Group, a co-sponsor of today's ceremony along with the YMCA of Middle Tennessee.

That concerns Rabbi Mark Shiftan of the Temple Congregation, Ohabai Sholom.

Shiftan said he has never been invited to the downtown Day of Prayer event. His experience with similar events, like prayer breakfasts, has been disappointing.

"The reality is that most prayer breakfasts are really Christian prayer breakfasts," he said. "It's rare that non-Christians are invited to attend and even rarer are they asked to participate. If there is an attempt at inclusion, it generally stops at the stairway to the stage."

Janel Lacy, press secretary for the mayor, said Dean wasn't aware that today's downtown event was a Christian prayer service, but she said that the mayor often is asked to take part in religious events for specific faiths.