If you were watching tonight’s Obama speech on broadcast television or a commercial cable network you missed it. After the usual celebratory hugs between the president and vice-presidential candidates and their families, pastor Joel Hunter approached the lectern to close the evening in prayer.
Joel Hunter is the pastor of Northland Community Church (now called “Northland: A Church Distributed”), a 10,000 member evangelical megachurch in Orlando, Florida. He is the former president of the Pat Robertson-founded Christian Coalition. He is a registered Republican.
Hunter’s tenure as president of the Christian Coalition did not last long. In fact, he was gone in about four months. He resigned in November 2006 because the leadership and the base of the Coalition did not like his attempt to expand the mission of the organization to include climate change and the alleviation of poverty. Since then he has been one of the voices pushing for a broader evangelical agenda that goes beyond the issues of gay marriage, abortion, and stem-cell research. (He seems to uphold traditional views on all of these issues). Hunter is now associated with this new cadre of evangelical leaders that includes Rick Warren. He has also participated in events with the old guards of the evangelical left–Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo. He was one of the prominent participants in several faith and politics forums, including “Compassion Forum” at Messiah College last spring.
Here was his prayer:
We are all here to devote ourselves to the improvement of this country we love. In one of the best traditions of our country, would those of you who are people of faith join me in asking for God’s help?
Almighty God, let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us a reverence for all life. Give us a compassion for the most vulnerable among us – the babies, the children, the poor, the sick, the enslaved, the persecuted. For all of those who have been left out of the advantaged world. Give us a zeal to clean the environment we have polluted while we create an economy where everyone who can work can have a job. Help us to honor those who defend our country by working harder and smarter for peace. Help us to counter those that incite fear and hatred by becoming people who are informed and respectful and are known for principles and projects that aim higher than our own group’s benefit. Guide Barack Obama and all of our leaders to be agents of your will and recipients of your wisdom. And grant that all of us citizens will continually do our part to contribute to the common good by loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Now, I interrupt this prayer for a closing instruction: Because we are gathered in a country that continues to welcome people of all faiths, let us personalize this prayer by closing according to your own tradition. On the count of three, end your prayer as you would usually do. Amen! Let’s go out and change the world for good!
His invitation to everyone to end the prayer according to their own faith tradition showed this new evangelical commitment to religious pluralism and, I am certain, will irritate and anger many on the Christian Right who will not understand how an evangelical minister could encourage people to pray to Buddha or Allah. (Hunter prayed in the name of Jesus). Hunter’s appearance tonight reminds us that some evangelicals are changing and Barack Obama wants to win their votes.