It has been interesting to watch the role of faith at the Democratic Convention. Their have been examples that I hope others will look to as a guide, and others that completely missed the mark. Joe Biden’s acceptance speech showed that it is possible to talk about faith as part of your biography without suggesting that you want to impose it on others. On the other hand, as my colleague William Blake blogged about earlier this week, the Donald Miller offered a benediction on Monday night in the name of “your son Jesus, who gave his own life against the forces of injustice.”

On Thursday night following Senator Obama’s acceptance speech, Pastor Joel Hunter, an evangelical minister offered a benediction unlike anything I have seen before. He started by saying that “we are all here to devote ourselves to the improvement of this country we love,” and then went on to invite “those who are people of faith to join me in asking for God’s help.” It was an interesting and well meaning way to acknowledge that everyone shared a common belief, but not necessarily the same belief system.

Before he ended his benediction he paused to give the audience an instruction. He said, “I want to personalize this. I want this to be a participatory prayer. Therefore, because we are in a country that is welcoming of all faiths, I would like all of us to close this prayer in the way your faith tradition would close your prayer. So on the count of three, I would like all of you to end this prayer, your prayer, the way you usually end prayer.”

Here you have an evangelical minister that at the beginning of his benediction acknowledged that not everyone will find meaning in the prayer and at the end goes a step further and acknowledges that even for those who do find meaning in it, it may not be in the same way he does.

He then ended the benediction by saying “in Jesus’ name” as thousands of people around him closed the prayer according to their own beliefs and traditions. Unlike Rev. Miller’s benediction On Monday, Pastor Hunter did not make any assumptions about his audience. What makes it more interesting is that Joel Hunter was at one point a few years back chosen to lead the Christian Coalition, a post he ultimately did not take.

Watch the entire benediction here and share your thoughts on how you think Pastor Hunter did.

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  • Rev. M. Lucie Thomas

    I don’t usually write responses to things like this, but I must admit I felt uncomfortable with the way the Democrats closed their convention with a benediction. Pastor Joel Hunter did try to make his prayer an interfaith one, but started out with a very Christian reference to God in heaven and earth. The requests he included in his prayer were ones that I think most religious traditions would support. However the ending was very awkward as he broke into the prayer with instructions for people to end the prayer according to their various faith traditions. He gave people no time to prepare for this; the instructions should have been given before he began the prayer. And then right after the count of three he gave people no time to end their prayer before saying very loudly into the microphone his own ending of “In Jesus’ name, Amen.” which drowned out everything else.

    Perhaps someone more experienced in Interfaith prayer should have been asked to do it, or perhaps people of various faith traditions could have offerered blessings, as it is my understanding that a benediction is a blessing. Then again, a few minutes for silent prayer, or reflection for those who are not part of a faith tradition, might have been best.

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