UUs support inclusive public prayer service
by Donald E. Skinner
In the beginning, only Christians were invited to speak at the National Day of Prayer service in Muncie, Indiana. In the end there were two services––one a narrow Christian-only service, the other an inclusive service with Hindus, Bahá’ís, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Unitarian Universalists, atheists, pagans, and Christians.
The Rev. Thomas Perchlik, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Muncie, was instrumental in helping to organize the second service after the leader of the first one, the Rev. William Keller of the Full Gospel Temple, refused to allow anyone other than Christians to speak. Keller’s service was at noon May 1 on City Hall steps. The second service was at 4 p.m. inside City Hall because of rain. About 140 attended the first service and 180 the second.
Perchlik and others were unsuccessful in getting Keller to include non-Christians in his service. Keller told the news media that he wouldn’t be comfortable having people pray to Allah or to any non-Christian god during the service he conducted. At the service itself, he said that other people could choose to “follow the devil and Judaism and all that,” but he felt that Christians would compromise their faith in Jesus if they let prayers of other faiths share equal footing.
“We want to have our Christian meeting where we pray to God,” said Keller, quoted in the Muncie Star Press. He is head of the Delaware County Evangelistic Association. “It was just these liberal pastors that wanted to muscle in on our celebration. If the Jews and Muslims came to our meeting that’s all right. But they wanted to come and use the microphone and pray at our service.”
The controversy generated much publicity, including many letters to the local newspaper. Much of the response to the controversy was along the lines of “Let’s all work together so that prayer can unify us,” Perchlik said. Keller would not agree. “Rev. Keller and I are talking about two different things,” said Perchlik. “He thinks people are telling him to not worship Jesus. He talks about religious integrity. My approach has to do with the integrity of democracy and working together despite our differences. He seems to be afraid that by acknowledging the presence of other faiths he’ll be watering down his own.”
At the second Day of Prayer service several Christians joined members of other faith groups in offering prayers. “It was a wonderful testament to the Christian identity, placing it within the reality of diversity and in a way that honors minority religions,” Perchlik said. Lutheran and Church of Christ ministers were the first to suggest there be one inclusive service, he added.
Many from Perchlik’s congregation attended the service and were part of a singing group that participated. Muncie Mayor Dan Canan showed up for both services and read a proclamation that emphasized religious diversity.
The National Day of Prayer was started in 1952 by President Harry Truman and set as the first Thursday in May by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. It was meant to be a day to bring religious groups together.