The 2021 Interfaith #Prayer Service

Phantom Landscapes rarely covers topics related to politics – and certainly no plans for posts on politics are planned. This post makes reference to political events, but only in relation to an important issue of theology. The post at hand, one week or so after the inauguration of Joe Biden as President of the United States and Kamala Harris as Vice President, is on the interfaith prayer service held January 21st, 2021, the day after the inauguration.

Image from Religion News Service (accessed 31 January 2021)

I am including a link to a few stories about and a recording of the interfaith prayer service

1.1 Religion News Service article (21 January 2021) 

1.2 Same article from the Wayback Machine (saved 24 January 2021 if the original link dies). 

2.1 Washington Post article (19 January 2021). 

2.2 Same article from the Wayback Machine (saved 24 January 2021 if the original link dies. 

3.1 YouTube recording of the event. 

3.2 IF the video on YouTube is able to be indexed and archived, then, that link will be here (saved 31 January 2021)

4.1 Religion Unplugged article (21 January 2021). 

4.1 Same article from the Wayback Machine (saved 24 January 2021 if the original link dies. 

The Religion Unplugged article linked above opens with this general summary of the event and who was there at the National Cathedral and those represented virtually: “WASHINGTON— Faith leaders from many different religions — including a variety of Christians, a female rabbi, an imam, a Sikh activist and a Native American representative— prayed for the unity of the country and President Joseph Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in a virtual prayer service broadcast from the Washington National Cathedral Jan. 21.” The Religious News Service article says Biden and Harris attended it virtually – watching the event on screens from the White House (as seen in the image above). 

There were a lot of faiths and groups represented, some overtly religious and some not-so overt. Within the religious groups was a fairly wide spectrum of people who attach themselves to different kinds of Christian denominations. There is no need in this article to analyze every contributor or their respective denomination’s statements of faith. What I will do, however, is note some of the religions represented at the event just to simply make a few of them known to the readers (if you want to watch the recording of the event, the YouTube recording is linked above): 

Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington 

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, representing a Jewish congregation 

Anuttama Dasa, a ISKCON representative 

Emma Petty Addams, a Mormon (LDS) representative 

And even people from various seminaries around the United States…

Upon seeing the array of diverse religions and denominations that took part in the event, I feel a bit like Paul who walked around in Athens at Mars Hill, waiting to meet up with Silas and Timothy (Acts 17).  In that section, Paul continues his regular efforts of preaching and teaching in the synagogues with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles (Acts 17:17). When he walks about and sees all the many statues and idols to all their ‘gods,’ when talking to the people in the Areopagus, he says, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. / For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17: 22-23). We always like to see a ‘therefore’ in Paul’s words (even if in this case, it is written by Luke) because it usually means he is about to prove or state something important.  

Paul says,  

“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation” (Acts 17: 24-26) 

God is sovereign over every nation and determines when they rise and fall – even the United States has an appointed time and boundary – these things are all part of God’s decree. Paul goes on to say, 

“God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17: 30-31). 

What I mean by the inclusion of these verses is that the God who created the universe, has called all men everywhere to repent and turn in faith to Jesus, who was crucified, dead, buried, resurrected, and ascended to heaven. Jesus says He is the way, the truth, and the life, that no one comes to the Father but through Him (John 14:6). So, to go back to Paul, talking about God, the creator of the universe, God who calls all men everywhere to repent, has told us in His word that only in Jesus can we know God – no other way.  

Yet, no such message was preached or stated by ANY person involved in the interfaith prayer session. No call to true repentance and turn to the only God was preached. No statement about human sin, sin that requires a Savior to be reconciled to God, was made. Yet, this is exactly what every person in the United States needs the most, to repent and turn in faith to Christ. Without this repentance, this true repentance, there is no hope. There can be no hope in changing social orders or political administrations. This ‘show’ of the interfaith prayer seemed to suggest the exact opposite of what Paul is preaching in Acts – I might even say they were mocking God. 

The structural climax of the event was when Reverend William J. Barber, (the 2nd), preached. FYI, I actually saw Barber speak a few years ago in North Carolina where he is based. His preaching took on a very social justice tone, criticizing injustice, citing Isaiah 58. The Religion Unplugged article quotes Barber with these words, “’every person…Jewish, Muslim, Christians, Hindu… every person created by God, gay, straight or trans, young or old’ saying God called every person to repair divisions.” It is not immediately obvious what these words mean, and I won’t spend too much time talking about them. I mean, is Barber simply making an observation that all these folks are citizens of the United States, or is he saying that all such sexual desires are righteous before God? Is he suggesting that the above-named religions are represented in the nation, or is he saying that all these religions mentioned are all and equally true? I can’t know the intentions of his heart from these words alone, so I will not try to intuit them. 

An hour into the event, according to the YouTube time-markers, Barber says these words,  

“Until the stones that the builders rejected become the chief cornerstones of a new social reality.” 

Wow, this is what happens when someone twists the words of the Bible into social justice nonsense. It gets worse. Barber’s sermon is about ‘unity’ and ‘repairing the breaches.’ This is great rhetoric. However Barber meant these phrases, they are not clearly defined by scripture. But in this sermon, his reference to the stones the builders rejected are referring to people of color, the poor, the marginalized, those who are victims of injustice, etc. In other words, Barber took the singular ‘stone’ referenced in Psalm 118:22, “A stone which the builders rejected, Has become the chief cornerstone,” and changed its meaning. That entire Psalm is about the hope in Salvation brought about by the LORD, the hope that everyone who trusts the only God for their ultimate salvation. 

To make the matter more clear: this same verse is quoted in Matthew (21:42), Mark (12:10), and Luke (20:17) and then in 1 Peter 2:7. In this quoted verse, Jesus is called the capstone. This verse applies to Jesus. That is, He is called the, singular, capstone – not the multiple ‘stones’ or multiple ‘cornerstones.’ Just on the surface, Barber’s usage of this verse is theologically absurd and factually inaccurate. 

More importantly, Jesus says He came to fulfill the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17). Think about all the prophecies and types that pointed to the Messiah. Think about all the prophecies that were realized in Christ. He who created all things fulfilled the prophecies about His perfect life, perfect sacrificial death, and resurrection. This is God the Son Himself in the flesh. He tabernacled among us (John 1). So, for Barber to flip the fulfillment of all time and space into a commentary on poor, marginalized oppressed people is not only wrong, I would suggest it is even blasphemy.  

Injustice is still injustice, and be not confused, God is the God of justice. And, Jesus will judge each human for even every secret (Romans 2:16). God will not be mocked, nothing is hidden from God. But, Barber’s sermon reveals what happens when one replaces the true gospel of salvation with social commentary. The interfaith prayer on January 21, 2021, was supposed to be something, what…unifying? But if this nation is looking for its unity to be built on lies and confused statements of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, what do we think the future can be?  

To loop back to the section in Acts and Paul talking in the Areopagus, he declares what is recorded in the Scriptures as inspired by the Holy Spirit, what John the Baptist stated, and what Jesus preached, when he says, “God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). This means that whether one is the perpetrator of injustice, evil, or oppression, or the victim of injustice, evil, or injustice, that we all are sinners before a Holy God (Romans 3:23) and must repent and turn to Christ the King in faith. Any message that is not that, is not the gospel and can neither bring hope nor unity. Any ‘faith’ that does not preach that message is not the true faith.

My prayer is that people who read this, think about it, read the scriptures to understand, and then put their trust in Christ alone for salvation.

All scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB). Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by THE LOCKMAN FOUNDATION.