The Gathering's Puppets: An Analysis of the Immorality of Applying Policy to Responsive Prayers
On April 8th, SMLT hosted an “all worship” Gathering service, during an official prospective student weekend. As many JBU students are aware, Gathering chapel services are typically included on prospective night agendas, and both students and parents are encouraged to attend. Although not perfect, these services typically represent JBU well and come with the understanding that the message and opinions presented belong to the student who speaks. By holding an all worship night, however, the lines become blurred as to which messages are endorsed by whom, creating the appearance that the materials presented are of JBU doctrine.
What were the materials presented?
The first was a variation of the Apostles’ Creed. This creed, however, was infused with modern language, clearly looking to equate Jesus with 21st century refugees. The Gathering presented this debatable content as though it were absolute truth.
The second and more inappropriate part of the service was a responsive prayer. After requesting that the congregation kneel, service leaders began reading a politically charged passage to which everyone gave prompted responses of refusal to comply, repentance of “wrongs,” and allegiance to an earthly image of the Kingdom of God. The prayer called for God’s deliverance from police brutality, while excluding any request for God to provide safety for the good policemen and women who risk their lives daily to protect our communities. It also honored “the thousands of refugees from the middle east to whom we have closed our borders and our hearts” without ever asking God to provide wisdom to our nation’s leaders as they make important security decisions. The prayer requested that audience members state their refusal to comply with the business of militarism but never thanked God for providing us with willing soldiers and capable technology necessary to keep us safe. The list of contemporary policy issues went on, siding God’s word with liberal policies. While turning issues of all shades of gray to black and white, the passage made no mention of abortion, perhaps the most obviously horrific offense of which any society could be guilty. The prayer also never asked God for wisdom to discern right from wrong. By omitting this, the author of this prayer assumed the role as the sole interpreter of the Gospel and of morality.
The purpose of this article, however, is not to correct the theological errors presented, but rather to make an argument that highlights the ignorance and untimeliness of this event. To accomplish this, three main complaints will be addressed: the audience, the method, and the responsibility that should surround the organizers of the Gathering.
The Audience: As noted earlier, this service occurred during a prospective weekend, meaning there were likely hundreds of students and parents in the pews whose only experiences with JBU were a couple short tours, classes, and the Gathering. It would be naïve to assume that these each of these individuals are aware that the service is student-run and does not necessarily solely express the views of JBU. Realistically, it may be safe to assume that many of the families associate more with conservative policies, and it is unlikely that they would change their beliefs upon hearing this, resulting in their disproval of JBU, encouraging their sons and daughters to look to another school.
The Method: The most unacceptable aspect of the service was the method in which the highly controversial opinions were presented. Most of the reading was done through a responsive style, with the leader reciting one of the aforementioned statements and the audience being obligated to respond in agreement. This method is completely inappropriate. Most JBU students would likely hold true to any oaths made to God, and by participating in this prayer, students are vowing to uphold obviously liberal policies.
The Responsibility: Finally, the responsibility held by the hosts of the Gathering ought to be to help students grow spiritually, to represent JBU well, and to promote JBU’s values, which are often broad enough to cover many different views on policy. A Gathering service like the one on April 8th fails in all of these areas. It hinders spiritual growth by forcing questionable beliefs as absolutes. Political dialogue is a wonderful thing and may even be necessary in chapel messages, but not when presented in the manner it was two weeks ago. Furthermore, knowing who would be present in the audience, the organizers should have chosen a less political message in order to prevent the guests from conflating the Gathering’s message with JBU’s doctrine.
While the clear attacks on conservative principles were uncomfortable, the biggest issue is the Gathering’s power to be JBU’s mouthpiece on spiritual issues, and their failure to do so responsibly.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not claim to reflect the opinions or views of The Defendant or its staff members.