A minister made headlines a couple of weeks ago when he called for
“imprecatory prayer” against leaders of the the group, Americans United
for Separation of Church and State. The minister
Wiley Drake, got some airtime on the subject, because he has his own
Imprecatory prayer, by the way, is a prayer in which the person praying
expresses malevolent wishes toward others.
an update on the subject. In it, the author (K.
Connie Kang) explains that
such prayer is “atypical.” Mr. Drake did say some nasty
things, which I would hope would be atypical in any belief system:
Under the heading, “HOW TO PRAY,” he
listed all 31 verses of Psalm 109, in which King David appeals to
divine justice. Drake provided his congregation the King James Version
of the psalm, including Verse 9, which says: Let his children be
fatherless, and his wife a widow.
The full King James text of Psalm
109 is available openly at Bartleby.
It opens as follows:
- Hold not thy peace, O God of my praise;
- for the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the
deceitful are opened against me: they have spoken against me with a
- They compassed me about also with words of
hatred; and fought against me without a cause.
- For my love they are my adversaries: but I give
myself unto prayer.
- And they have rewarded me evil for good, and
hatred for my love.
- Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan
stand at his right hand.
- When he shall be judged, let him be condemned:
and let his prayer become sin…
It goes on in spiteful fashion. Kang provides some context,
by interviewing various experts.
Experts in Scripture say it’s easy to
misread David’s intentions and the purpose of imprecatory prayer in
There needs to be a distinction between one’s personal enemies and the
enemies of God, said Sister Thomas Bernard MacConnell, founder of the
Spirituality Center on the campus of Mount St. Mary’s College and a
veteran teacher of spiritual direction.
“It is very possible that my enemies are not God’s enemies,” she said.
Referring to Drake’s targets, she added, “Who is to say that those
people are God’s enemies?”
The Rev. Kurt Fredrickson, who directs doctoral programs for 700
working pastors from around the world at Fuller Theological Seminary,
says imprecatory prayers are atypical.
“They are more of a window into the sinfulness of human beings,” said
Fredrickson, an assistant professor of pastoral ministry at the
Pasadena school. “Normally when we think about praying, we’re thinking
about prayers of adoration, prayers of confession, prayers for someone
we’re concerned about who is sick or going through a hard time, or
those sort of prayers for ourselves — not the sort of vindictive,
revengeful statements. These prayers are contrary to the way of Jesus.”
They go on to say there are some good things about the Psalms.
For one, imprecatory prayer asks a higher power to take
action. Perhaps this is better than becoming a vigilante.
Others point out that there is no equivalent in other popular
religions, Islam and Judaism:
Imam Ali Siddiqui, of the Islamic Society
of Corona/Norco in Corona, said there was no tradition of imprecatory
prayer in Islam. But there is a prayer in which the believer asks Allah
to “liberate me from people who are trying to hurt me,” Siddiqui said.
He told a story about the Prophet Muhammad that embodies the opposite
of imprecatory prayer: A woman used to throw trash at the prophet. Once
she did not come to abuse him, so Muhammad inquired about her. Upon
learning that she was ill, he went to see her and prayed for her
Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein, of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, said the kind
of prayer called for by Drake is not “normative” in Jewish tradition.
Stein makes the point, that there is a difference between asking God to
bring the wicked to justice, and casting specific curses on specific
Drake, of course, crossed another line. His was not a private
prayer. Rather, he called upon others to join him in his
Kang cites a pastor who claim that this sort of thing is not normal in
Christianity. Perhaps not. It might not have been
particularly newsworthy otherwise.
Personally I find it hard to be concerned about what someone chooses to
pray about. Just like the non-incident in which Jimmy Carter
said he had lusted in his heart, a person’s private thoughts are not a
matter for others to judge. The problem comes when asking
others to share these thoughts, as Drake is alleged to have done.