Readers will know I am not the biggest fan (to put it oh so gently) of Sarah Palin, but she did (imo) get some unfair treatment re: her prayer–erroneously interpreted/reported as saying that the Iraq War was clearly ordained by God.
Here is the full quotation of Palin’s (h/t Poulos):
Pray for our military. He’s [her son] going to be deployed in September to Iraq. Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right also for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending them out on a task that is from God; that is what we have to make sure that we are praying for.
I also agree with James that Palin’s later invocation of Lincoln’s quotation that we should not proclaim that God is on our side but hope that we are on God’s side is definitely a rationalization/justification after the fact (even if it is not totally without some grounding in the quotation.
She was unfairly characterized by saying that she invoked the Iraq War as a divinely ordained task. Rather she was praying that it hopefully was.
And here is where theologically I have some serious problems–even with what she did mean. I haven’t yet seen this point explored, but I think it is worth examination.
Namely why is the thing we must be praying for that they are being sent on a task from God? Why not say what we must be praying for (if one must be praying for anything in this or any context) is that the soldiers heading to the front not get killed, maimed, or psychologically wounded for life? Why not pray that they be spared (as much as possible) the horrors of war? Why not pray that civilians and the innocent not be killed?
Why not just simply pray they be safe???–again assuming a worldview in which prayer has an efficacious place.
Why that they have to be sent by their leaders on as task divinely blessed?
It’s all a little too purpose driven prayer for me.
I mean what would be the consequence if we learned that they had been sent by leaders on a task that is not from God? Would our troops become instantaneously evil beings? To dip my toe in the psychological waters (and then quickly remove it), why is it so central to her that this be a divinely ordained mission? If it were, would that assuage the conscience? Would it scrub all the God-awful brutality and violence intrinsic to a war?
To sound a little Feuerbachian for a second–does the prayer say more about our needs than God’s?
In traditional Christian morality, in the case where the army is sent on an “un-godly” mission, the leaders are held more gravely responsible for the sin than those in say an army. [Though of course they always have the option of not fighting, so to the degree they have such a choice AND the war is deemed unethical/contra God's will, then soldiers are held responsible. By the same token though someone like me who is a US citizen is still in part responsible for the sin. Since the government represents me. That I opposed the war is fairly meaningless in this context--I'm still on the hook.]
As an important side point here, the Iraq War was declared by The Catholic Church and the bodies of the malinline Christian Churches to not meet the requirements of the Just War. So if you put any trust in the ability of those bodies to correctly interpret (however much humanly possible) the will of God (assuming of course there is God or a god)–and in this case I think they were obviously right–then her son was sent on a mission not from God. [I believe her church supported and proclaimed divine legitimation for the war, so that claim is not without opposing theological views].
Is there no forgiveness for those who fight in an unjust war? What do we pray for if we come to believe that they aren’t on a leader-led mission marked by divine approval….what then?
Even more radically and perhaps terrifyingly (in the Calvinist sense of the Holy Numinous Other) the prayer Jesus taught was that “God’s will be done.” Maybe she should just pray that God’s will be done and not that our actions be according to God’s will. What if, invoking a tradition out of the Hebrew Prophets, God’s will was judgment upon the nation? [I did say this was a foray into some dark territory].
In the end the question is always what kind of God is one praying to me as much as what one is praying for? I wonder what kind of God Palin has in mind–who/what does she think is on the receiving end?