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The Illegal Name of Jesus, Part 3: My “Legal” City Council Prayer

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THUMPA-THUMPA! THUMPA-THUMPA!

That was the sound of my heart beating in my throat before last night’s City Council meeting where I was scheduled to give my “non-sectarian invocation” before the city fathers and all those gathered to do government business in the City of Torrance. My dilemma? Getting the message out to all those assembled that I was there to pray to the One True God, through His Son Jesus Christ.

One problem: It was illegal to name the name of Jesus. Apparently.

In this post-Christian age government institutions are deathly afraid of being sued, therefore, timidity is the rule of thumb when it comes to individuals expressing their religious faith when official business is being conducted. Through a ridiculous interpretation of the Law, city governments have taken the inane position that it is unlawful to pray in a sectarian fashion.

Last year, I refused to obey this gross misinterpretation of the ruling, choosing rather, to obey God and not man—and suffered the consequences: I was put at the bottom of the praying pastor list and wasn’t asked back for nearly a year and a half. (Read “The Illegal Name of Jesus”)

Now here I was again with the same dilemma, only this time the message was spelled out even more clearly, the number two item on the Council Meeting Agenda:

#1 CALL MEETING TO ORDER, ROLL CALL

#2 FLAG SALUTE

And there it was, plain as day:

NON SECTARIAN INVOCATION:
Pastor Steve Sanchez, Hope Chapel
The courts have concluded that sectarian prayer as part of
City Council meetings is not permitted under the Constitution.

God wasn’t first on the agenda, but He was a darn close second.

As part of my Pastorly duties I had the great responsibility of beseeching God in prayer to give wisdom, protection, and guidance to this august body.  But I had to appeal to a nondescript, nameless, non-judgmental god, the kind of god that would make everyone happy, especially the city’s lawyers. Last year I was reminded not to pray in Jesus’ name by the City Clerk, and this year by an assistant. I got the hint. I was no prayer scofflaw. I would obey, no funny business.

Well, maybe a little….

THUMP-THUMPA! THUMPA-THUMPA!

I walked into Council Chambers and down the aisle in my too-tight suit, grabbing a seat in the front so I could make a quick get-away if needed. I was there on the Lord’s business. I was going to pray, and by golly, I was going to be a witness for Jesus, one way or another. In a couple of minutes I would step to the podium and face the Mayor, the City Council, and… and… the close circuit televisions! Oh no! There on the screen for all to see—on two screens, no less,—were these words:

NON SECTARIAN INVOCATION:
Pastor Steve Sanchez, Hope Chapel
The courts have concluded that sectarian prayer as part of
City Council meetings is not permitted under the Constitution.

It was a good thing I wasn’t going to pray in a sectarian way. I was going to abide by the LAW, no matter how stupid and ridiculous and lame it was. I was reminded of those ancient words from a prophet of old, Tom Petty: I fought the Law and the Law won.

The Mayor spoke into his mic, “And now, Pastor Steve Sanchez will give the invocation.”

THUMPA-THUMPA! THUMPA-THUMPA!

I got out of my seat, stepped up to the podium and faced the men and women on the dais. “I want to thank you for the honor of being able to give the invocation at this Council meeting. I understand that it is aganst the Law to pray in the name of Jesus, but I want to let you know that I will be praying to the Lord Jesus Christ, the One Who died for my sins; I just won’t be mentioning Him by name. Please feel free to join in with me or not.”

I glanced up to notice that the Mayor, a staunch Catholic, smiled knowingly, eyes twinkling, as did a man on his left and to his right. I then prayed a simple prayer of blessing concluding with, “In the name that is above all names, the King of Kings and Lord of lords, the One Who rose from the dead, amen.”

There were no screams from the back row. No sirens. No dog barked far off in the distance. I heard absolutely nothing. The room swirled in underwater tableau, faces attentive to the business at hand. Squaring my shoulders, I walked out of the room. A policeman, not privy to the recent goings-on, smiled warmly.

THUMPA-THUMPA! THUMPA-THUMPA!

I sang softly to myself as I walked back to my car:

Praise the name of Je-sus.
Praise the name of Je-sus.
You’re my rock; you’re my fortress;
you’re my deliverer; in you will I trust.
Praise the name of Je-e-e-sus! 

And I reflected on the fact that salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under Heaven given to men by which we must be saved.

Read what happened when I actually prayed in Jesus’ name a year prior.

17 Comments

  1. What an example of Matthew 10:16-20!

    16 Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

    17 But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues;

    18 And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles.

    19 But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak.

    20 For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.

    Praise and Glory be to God.

    God Bless you Steve.

    Rob

  2. Psalm 81: 10

    I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt: open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.

    Mission accomplished =D.

  3. In Jesus’ name, amen.

  4. I had a great big smile while reading “My Legal” City Council Prayer. Your courage and boldness blesses me. How great that you found a way to stay within the law.

  5. What a great testimony!! A great public stand for Jesus in the face of a ridiculous ruling that outlaws His name in the public square!!

    With all others, in the name of Jesus, I thank the Lord for sending His Spirit upon you this evening with power to do what you did. All the glory remains on whom it belongs, whether Council know it or not…to GOD!!

  6. In your face Awsome God!

  7. Steve,

    God bless you!

    That overwelming feeling of praise to Jesus
    in my heart, brought a tear to my eye while
    reading this.

    We have an Awesome God!

  8. Wow! way to Go for the Lord, Pastor Sanchez! You continue to be my witnessing mentor!

  9. I know of another “Pastor Steve”, who recently when faced with a similar situation, was told he could not say the “J”-word (not that is was illegal as this was not a government meeting), but an annual nation-wide prayer day event , simply ended his prayer, “amen”.

    Bravo, brother for your courage to stand and proclaim the truth. You go to the top of the list in my book. Preach on!

  10. Praise the Lord! All Smiles, Bold as a lion!

  11. I serve as a chaplain in the great state if Alabama for a local sheriffs department. I was asked to do the opening prayer for district court by the judge preceding over the cases. We are still allowed to say Christ name down here, thank God.
    Praise God for your courage to speak His name. I could not help but laugh, thinking of you walking into that court room scared stiff.
    Have a great and blessed day and thanks for all that you do for the Lord!

  12. Praise Jesus! Sounds like there were others praising Him in that room that day too. 🙂

    Shalom! 🙂

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    “Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert?” ~Isaiah 43:19

  13. Thump, Thump, Thump…in the name of the most high God..That is coming to judge the world in rightousness, in the name of the one who considers hatetread as murder and in the name of the one who looks at lusting as adultery… Great job Brother Steve

  14. Awsome testimony and cool to see a comment posted by Righteous Richard. Does he have a blog or something.

  15. Bless you, Pastor Steve! Praise the Lord for your cleverness and boldness! I bet somebody was grinding his teeth after that prayer and wondering how to reword the non-sectarian policy!

  16. I agree that the judicial proceedings leading to non-sectarian prayer are wrong, but for a very different reason. Non-sectarian prayer is not a means of making Jesus illegal—he isn’t—it’s an attempt to ensure government is accessible to all citizens, regardless of belief. People of differing belief or non-belief may have the option to not participate in public prayer, but the sect represented is taking an automatic privileged status, if only psychologically, at that city meeting. Non-sectarian prayer is an attempt to address that issue.

    But let’s be frank: just because you omit a word or two doesn’t blind you to who the speaker is talking about. A prayer that still includes “Amen” and key words like “praise” or “blessings” is clearly representing some sect of Christianity, so the whole non-sectarian prayer thing is usually just a parlor trick to continue having Christian-only prayers in council meetings… without technically having Christian-only prayers in council meetings.

    I personally support an all-or-nothing approach. Either a city council should free up the language and make an effort to represent all faiths in their constituency, or they should exclude prayer altogether from government business. I lean towards the latter option, because it seems to be the most clearcut path to allowing local government to focus on it’s main job — helping everyone in the municipality to live together in a harmonious-enough way that people won’t wring each other’s necks in the streets.

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