Stormy Weather: Okla. City’s Prayer Group Puts Clouds Over The Constitution

I’m not terribly fond of the idea of government at any level forming prayer groups for any reason.

City officials in Miami, Okla., have an unusual plan for dealing with severe weather: They call on their official prayer team and ask God to ward it off.

The Tulsa World reports today that a group called Emergency 911 has been given the task of seeking divine intervention when bad weather threatens the city of about 14,000 in northeastern Oklahoma. City officials monitor weather reports, and when they see threats on the horizon, activate the prayer group.

The group swung into action yesterday when a severe thunderstorm threatened.

“'We don’t pray for it to hit anybody else,” said Glenna Longan, Miami's emergency management coordinator. “We just want it to dissipate so nobody is hurt.”

The World reported that Longan came up with the idea for a city-run prayer group after Miami endured spate of wild weather in recent years. City Manager Huey Long backed the idea, even though, as the paper reported, “some have questioned whether the city might be challenged on the issue of church-state separation.”

Longan added, “You need to always be prepared in both the secular and spiritual sense. You don’t know what will happen. The people in this group think God’s got to do something because he’s on the line now.”

Reading this story, I couldn’t help but be reminded of TV preacher Pat Robertson. One of his favorite stunts was claiming the ability to pray away hurricanes. In 1985, he prayed that Hurricane Gloria would spare Virginia Beach. The storm did so – but went up the coast and devastated Long Island, N.Y.

In 1995, Robertson prayed that Hurricane Felix would miss Virginia Beach. He smugly took the credit when the storm reversed course and went out to sea. Two months later, Hurricane Opal slammed into the Gulf Coast of Florida, killing 15 people. Robertson apparently couldn’t be bothered to save them. (Closer to home, where was Robertson in 2003 when Hurricane Isabel struck southeastern Virginia, sparking record power outages and causing $1.8 billion in damage throughout the state?)

It’s unclear from the World story if any tax money is being spent on Miami’s prayer group. I certainly hope not. I also hope the town has an actual plan for storm readiness that goes beyond lining up local churches to pray away storms.

I’m not terribly fond of the idea of government at any level forming prayer groups for any reason. Church leaders and congregants are quite capable of determining what to pray for, how to pray and when to pray. They don’t need direction, guidance or help from the government.

Miami officials should rethink their plan of sponsoring or promoting prayer. If they don’t, the next thing to rain down on them might be a church-state lawsuit.