During my years as a pastor in the Columbia area, I was blessed to serve a term as president of what was then called the Greater Columbia Interfaith Clergy Association. I’m a committed Christian, but I also have an appreciation and respect for the diversity of faith in our communities, state and nation. That commitment leads me to support 30 religious and community leaders who wrote a letter to Gov. Nikki Haley regarding her involvement in “The Response,” a prayer event to be held Saturday in North Charleston.
Those who wrote that letter commended the governor for her track record of openness to celebrating the diversity of faith in our state, but also encouraged her to attend “The Response” not as the governor, but as a private citizen. I think they’re right, and I share in their request.
The event’s website indicates that Gov. Haley will be recognized as “the person calling for the prayer meeting” and will “welcome us and then begin the prayer.” Her doing so in her capacity as governor of all South Carolinians clouds the constitutional principle that suggests a separation of church and state, and it implicitly gives gubernatorial approval of an event that on the one hand is billed as “an interdenominational gathering … open to all” but also proclaims itself “unashamedly Christian.”
My Googling of other events with the same planners in New Orleans and Houston left me with the impression that the rally is as much a political event as it is a Christian event — and an event that, by inference, interweaves Christianity with conservative politics.
Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Rick Perry of Texas played similar roles as the one planned for Gov. Haley in their states’ prayer events, which were primarily attended by those who shared a view of Christianity and its role in government that isn’t compatible with my view. The news that Gov. Jindal plans to appear at Saturday’s rally while on a trip to South Carolina related to his presidential candidacy underscores that concern.
I agree with Gov. Haley that our nation needs prayer, but I’ve learned through history and experience that when prayer is tied to politics, the result can be far less than holy. I won’t be attending “The Response,” and I hope that if our governor attends, she’ll do so as Citizen Haley — not Gov. Haley.
Rev. Joseph A. Darby
Presiding Elder, Beaufort District
African Methodist Episcopal Church