A Religious Right pastor who called on followers to pray for the demise of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and its employees has stopped talking to the media.
The Rev. Wiley Drake of the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, Calif., urged supporters to offer “imprecatory prayers” (curses) against Americans United and specific staff members in August.
Drake was angry after Americans United reported his church to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for violating the federal tax law ban on electioneering by tax-exempt groups. In a formal complaint, AU alleged that Drake used church resources to endorse Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
When he got word of the AU action, Drake issued an e-mail appeal to his supporters blasting the organization. In a section titled “How to Pray,” he urged his followers to petition God to make bad things happen to AU. Drake cited Psalm 109 in calling for God to harm AU staff members, their spouses and offspring. The passage declares in part: “Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.”
Drake struck a defiant stance in the news media. He told one reporter that he doesn’t “give a rip” about the IRS and its rules. But attorneys who advise Drake apparently must give a rip, because he has now clammed up.
Rarely one to turn away a press opportunity, Drake told the Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times in late August that he’s been advised by his lawyers not to speak on the subject.
Meanwhile, Drake isn’t finding much support for his prayer style from his co-religionists. The Bee quoted several religious leaders from various faiths who panned Drake’s suggestion.
Asking people to pray against a specific person or organization is “destructive and a contradiction to everything the Christian faith stands for,” Walter Brueggemann, professor emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga., told the newspaper.
Merilyn Copland, professor of Bible, theology and archaeology at William Jessup University in Rocklin, told the paper, “Jesus never prayed imprecatory prayers aimed at those who had slandered, tortured and crucified him. He urged loving your enemies.”
Rabbi Mona Alfi of Congregation B’nai Israel in Sacramento told the Bee that it is permissible for Jews to pray for their enemies to mend their ways but not to bring curses down on them.
“But mostly we pray for the sad things to end,” she said.
Mohammad Azeez of the Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims, echoed that point of view.
“You pray for your enemy to be guided,” he said. “You don’t treat your enemy as evil, more as someone with a different point of view.”
The story attracted attention nationwide. In Alabama, Pastor James Evans of the Auburn First Baptist Church wrote a column for the Montgomery Advertiser suggesting that Drake was on the wrong road.
“Obviously there are ‘imprecatory’ prayers in the Psalms and in other places, but it just doesn’t sound like something Jesus would say,” Evans wrote.