Before I landed awesome student jobs working in L. Tom Perry Special Collections and as a research assistant for the BYU Religion Department, I worked early morning custodial at one of the buildings on campus. My boss would hold staff meetings on Fridays in which he would go over safety procedures, important stuff like not licking electric outlets and whatnot, and he would always ask someone to open these meetings with a prayer. This boss knew I was Protestant, but one day he asked me to say the opening prayer anyways.
Okay. No big deal, I’d been asked to say prayers at LDS meetings before by people who knew I was Protestant, and they’d always gone off without a hitch. Today would be different though. After the meeting, my boss pulled me aside to discuss my prayer with me. He had several complaints about the way I had prayed:
- I had not used King James English in my prayer; I used “You” and “Your” instead of “Thee” and “Thy.”
- I prayed to Jesus instead of praying to the Father in Jesus’s name.
- I didn’t fold my arms. I either prayed with clasped hands or palms open and turned up, I can’t remember which.
I’ll let you use your imagination on how well I reacted to having my prayer critiqued. I think most of my LDS readers would agree that my boss was appallingly out of line in attempting to teach someone not of his faith the “correct” way to pray, so let’s not dwell on that.1
I also don’t want to rehash what has already been covered on this subject by other LDS and evangelical bloggers. These posts on the issue are worth checking out:
- Of Thee’s and Thou’s by KC Kern at Mormon Matters
- Thee, Thou, Thine and Thus in Prayer? by Darrell at Tough Questions Answered
- John 14:14 in your KJV by Todd Wood at Heart Issues For LDS
As I see it, the lines are drawn and the two camps aren’t going to get any closer on these issues anytime soon. Latter-day Saints prefer to pray in King James English and only pray to the Father in Jesus’s name, Protestants (and plenty of other traditional Christians) are okay with praying to both the Father and to Jesus but prefer to use colloquial English. Since it can be shown pretty clearly that the LDS mode of prayer is a directive from modern-day revelation that applies to English-speakers only, Protestants have little reason to make the switch, and while I myself may not want to pray that way, who am I to tell my LDS friends that they pray wrong?
My boss’s complaint about me not folding my arms was some of the most idiotic xenophobia I’d encountered at BYU. I had always thought that the fold-your-arms thing was a method of keeping fidgety 2-year-olds from squirming too much when they pray. I’m not 2 and I’m not all that much of a Pentecostal, so I don’t squirm when I pray. Who cares what you do with your hands while praying, so long as you feel comfortable talking to God while doing it?
So us Mormons and evangelicals do things differently, and that’s all well and good, but there is the fact that I have an interfaith marriage, and I have to confess that it bothers me that my husband and I can’t even pray the same way. I’m willing to only pray to the Father in my prayers with him for the sake of family unity, and in fact it’s what I prefer these days, but the “thee” and “thou” stuff is still awkward. There’s also the question of how to teach our 2-year-old daughter to pray, and I don’t see an easy solution to the problem. Teaching her to pray one way at her father’s church and another way at her mother’s church seems rather unfair on her, especially since Harley is bound to have further speech problems stemming from her VCFS.
I think that if it comes down to me teaching her my way to pray and him teacher her his, I’m gonna win. The girl already shows strong signs of wanting to be like Mommy in every way. /flex
1 In fact Dallin Oaks would probably say my boss was out of line; in his 1993 talk “The Language of Prayer,” he stated: “We should also remember that our position on special prayer language in English is based on modern revelations and the teachings and examples of modern prophets. It is not part of the teachings known and accepted by our brothers and sisters of other Christian and Jewish faiths. When leaders or members of other churches or synagogues phrase their prayers in the familiar forms of you or your, this does not signify a lack of reverence or respect in their belief and practice but only a preference for the more modern language. Significantly, this modern language is frequently the language used in the scriptural translations with which they are most familiar.”
UPDATE: Welcome T&S readers!
UPDATE II 5-21-09: Another great post on the subject by Wilfried Decoo at T&S here.