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Perry’s prayer fest non-denom but still exclusively Christian

June 7, 2011

My old colleague Ken Herman writes about Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s faith fest plans in today’s Statesman. Perry is inviting all the country’s governors to Houston for a “nondenominal, apolitical Christian prayer meeting” to help our nation get back on track. Herman rightly points out some of the potential problems with this kind of event. But he also seems to misunderstand a term, and I just couldn’t let it slide. Herman writes:

As a non-Christian, I may be being a little picky here, but are “Christian” and “nondenominational” mutually exclusive? Isn’t something billed as Christian kind of denominational by definition?

Well, no. To say an event is nondenominational Christian is to say that it’s not affiliated with, say, the Presbyterian Church. It means that Lutherans, Baptists and free range evangelicals can all show up and mingle. Christianity is not a denomination. Methodism is a denomination.

Herman continues:

I find nothing wrong with the spirit of the event. I’m happy when people of sincere faith seek sincere guidance and help from whatever deity in which they sincerely believe. But I do have a little problem with the whole nondenominational thing when it seems to brand my denomination as something other than a denomination.

Yeah. Same thing. Judaism is not a denomination. It’s a religion. You can call Reform Judaism or Conservative Judaism a denomination, though more often I hear Jews refer to Reform and Conservative as movements. Then again, I know some Jews identify as “post-denominational.” But I digress. The point is, the terms nondenominational and Christian are certainly not mutually exclusive.

But there’s no question this is an exclusively Christian event, the premise of which suggests that only Jesus and his followers can fix our country’s problems. Herman makes note of that nicely without sounding like a defensive non-Christian.

As an aside, I  imagine this part of the column would make a lot of atheists (and a great many theists) bristle. Herman stresses that he’s not opposed to politicians’ religious inspiration, per se:

As I’ve written in the past, I do not have a problem with folks whose politics are guided by their religion. It is a legitimate place for people to look for answers to the kind of questions that come up in our democracy.

That can get pretty dangerous. Some of the “answers” people find in religion aren’t always conducive to freedom.

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