A moment of silence please

by Jim Longworth

Last week, the Forsyth County Commissioners turned back the clock, and turned the Constitution on its head by voting to appeal the court’s ban on sectarian prayer. Forgetting that we are a pluralistic society founded on the separation of church and state, a majority of commissioners decided to force Christianity on everyone within earshot of their meetings. Chairman Dave Plyler cast the swing vote in favor of pursuing an appeal, knowing that his decision was buttressed by the NC Partnership for Religious Liberty, who pledged up to $300,000 toward the county’s legal fees. But no guarantee was made to cover any legal costs exceeding that amount, so should the appeal drag out, commissioners may have to ask taxpayers to foot the bill for the difference.

All of this could have been avoided a long time ago had Plyler and company simply offered a moment of silence prior to each meeting. It’s good enough for schools and athletic venues, so why not county government gatherings? Spilled milk now. The die has been cast, and the commissioners have sent a clear message that they do not represent Jews, Muslims, agnostics, atheists or many Christians who are offended and embarrassed by this wrongheaded appeal on their behalf. However, the prayer ban remains in effect until a final ruling is made on appeal, so perhaps county commissioners will re-think a moment of silence in the interim.

While we’re on the subject of prayer and appeals, I’d like to propose a moment of silence on behalf of some other governing bodies.

For starters, let’s pray for the city of Greensboro who refused to refund taxes paid by residents of McLeansville while having been temporarily (and wrongly) annexed. City officials say the annexed citizens received municipal services during their brief captivity.

But those residents didn’t ask for any services. The services were forced upon them. The case is under appeal, but I’m not sure the city has a prayer of winning.

And if anyone needed our silent prayer recently, it was President Obama, who held a healthcare summit last Thursday in hopes that citizens would appreciate (and learn from) a transparent debate. Unfortunately, the summit was nothing more than political and hypocritical theater. The moderator-in-chief himself walked into the summit with unclean hands, having previously cut a private deal with Big Pharma to keep cheaper, import drugs out of the country and to obstruct donut-hole relief for seniors. Speaking of obstruction, GOP participants at the summit complained that we just can’t afford to offer every citizen affordable healthcare. These are the same right-wingers who enjoy excellent group coverage and huge pensions, and can always manage to find billions of dollars for waging war, which they then justify as God’s work. I guess that’s why they begin every session of Congress with a prayer to the Almighty. But, as is the case with most local and national politicians, their actions seldom square with the deity whose name they invoke.

Jesus preached tolerance and compassion, and he didn’t force his views on anyone. He butted heads with government tax collectors and money changers long before the days of annexation and obscenely high insurance premiums. And he only invoked God’s name on behalf of others, not to the exclusion of them.

I’m just speculating, but I don’t think God wants us to deny Americans affordable healthcare, or kill innocent Iraqis, or screw people in McLeansville out of tax money, or spend $300,000 in legal fees over public prayer, when that money could be better spent on food banks and homeless shelters.

In his book The Politics of Jesus, Obery Hendricks observes that Jesus professed a message of justice and steadfast love in his quest to challenge the status quo, including taking care of the sick and giving a voice to the voiceless. Today’s elected officials who use God to justify their own political agendas would do well to remember that. Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).