An American Airlines gate agent stirred controversy this week by offering a Christian prayer over the loudspeaker at a boarding gate at Washington National Airport. What should we make of this prayergate incident?
The Prayer…In Full.
In situations like this it is impossible to write objectively, beyond describing what happened. We all carry our biases into discussions over religion because we are all, deep-down, religious creatures (that itself is a biased truth claim…).
So let’s start with the prayer itself. Since even summarizing it may invoke biases, here is the prayer in full (at least the portion of it recorded):
“Teach us to trust You Father God. With the virus, with the economy, with all that is going on, teach us just to trust You, trust You with all our heart, lean not unto thine own understanding, acknowledge You in all our ways, that You would direct our paths. Father God, honestly, Father God, just bless us Father God.
“Bless us in all that we need. Father God, we need love, We need kindness, love they neighbor as thyself. Oh thank you Jesus. Just thank you for all you do for us Father God. Just open up our hearts. If there is anything in there that should not be, take it out Father God. Give us the fruit of the spirits, give us love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, gratefulness, gentleness, and self-control.
“Father God, I just thank you for everyone here. Bless your family Father God. We all stand underneath the suffering. Father, people died and were conquered because of the virus. Father God…”
The recording then cuts off so we do not know how the prayer concluded or what the general reaction of the passengers in the gate area was.
You can also watch the video below if you prefer.
Ummm excuse me, @AmericanAir? Care to explain why your agent at gate 38 at DC’s @Reagan_Airport (DCA) is reciting lengthy Christian prayers over the loudspeaker right now? So inappropriate, not okay. Insulting to ppl of other faiths/no faith at all. #shame #fail #ThursdayThoughts pic.twitter.com/kc1UpcTbhI
— (((John M. Becker))) (@freedom2marry) June 25, 2020
A Beautiful, Unoffensive, But Inappropriate Prayer
The prayer was not offensive. In fact, I found it beautiful. With the exception of one mention of Jesus, it was also a broadly religious prayer rather than a Christian prayer, even though the fruit of the Spirit comes from the New Testament.
I see no evidence to suggest anything but good intentions from the gate agent who recited this prayer. I see humility, gentleness, and love in his decision to pray (though I understand why others see it differently). This is indeed a difficult time in the United States and I concur in his belief that prayer is absolutely essential to help us throughout this time. I’ll go even further. I believe Jesus is the cosmic Christ, i.e. the savior of all mankind. In Him and through Him is found our salvation. The answer to racism, injustice, and division is to embrace Jesus who will bridge heaven and earth in a new creation in which justice will reign.
But Jesus said, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
We don’t need to dive into a deep hermeneutical discussion of this text. Certainly, Jesus was scolding those who deliberately performed righteous acts before men rather than condemning someone for expressing his faith in a genuine manner.
But the principle of civic religion and all its trappings does make me feel uneasy. One reason religion has flourished in the United States is because of the healthy separation between church and state. When religious expression becomes a mouthpiece (literally in this case) to which others are subjected, hostility and resentment grows and religious expression and eventually religious liberty suffers. This is true whether the speaker is the government (especially) but also corporations to captive crowds in public places.
For that reason, and as a business owner myself, I would not have engaged in that prayer in that place. For my platform is simply not the proper platform for this. Ask me about religion and I am happy to share my heart. But I’m not going to force people to hear me pray, even if I think it is beneficial to them. Foremost, because prayer is about talking to God, not talking to others.
The last thing I want to hear at an airport is a political diatribe or religious proselytization from a religion or sect of Christianity that I do not agree with. Putting myself in the shoes of others, I do not think loudspeakers in airport terminals are the appropriate mediums for public prayer.
Therefore, I wish I could give a big hug to the gate agent today and rejoice in his strong faith. But I also think such prayer is not appropriate in the place and manner it was delivered. It’s not about offensiveness or legality, it is about recognition that the strong emotions and outrage many have expressed over this act are counterproductive to American Airlines’ primary mission to transport passengers safely.
Don’t Make The Link To Middle East Airlines
Many have made links to Middle East carriers, noting that carriers like Etihad, Qatar, and Saudia begin flights with prayers for each passengers.
That is comparing apple and oranges. State-run airlines in Islamic theocracies are quite different than American Airlines, a private corporation in a nation with religious plurality and no national church.
Thus, any comparisons to Gulf carriers are wholly inappropriate.
Others have asked what would have happened if an Islamic prayer had been offered instead by the gate agent. Would people have been offended?
No doubt. And probably many of the people offended by the Christian prayer would not be offended by that prayer and vice-versa. Personally, I would not be offended. Prayer, when offered with good intention, is a deeply moving human gesture, no matter its efficacy. I would still think it not appropriate.
I was moved by the gate agent’s prayer. It was beautiful and fitting to the time. But I also do not think it was appropriate. American Airlines has an unwanted diversion now to its survival mission, fueled by intolerant comments like this:
It’s like religious terrorism.
— Michelle (mitsumeeshi) (@muppetgirl74) June 26, 2020
The United States is not a theocracy and no longer a nation with broad religious consensus. God hears our prayer no matter where it is uttered. Therefore, I’ll save my prayer for venues in which unwilling participants are not captive to my words.
What are your thoughts on the prayer? For other views, see View from the Wing and One Mile at a Time.
“Beautiful, Unoffensive, But Inappropriate Prayer”. Couldn’t agree more. Problem is that the “snowflake” generation cannot see that way. The world today is very boring. Everything is inappropriate, offensive, racist, …Anything you do, say, express,… may hurt peoples feelings. BS!!!! People should work harder and they would have less idle time to hide behind a keyboard and screen to complain about the world. Hope people learn from this pandemia that life should be lived so spend time worrying about what really matters than just finding problem in everything.
Santastico- you read my mind
With ya, man. Very well intentioned prayer, but inappropriate as an employee of a commercial airline serving the general public. Although I don’t think it was appropriate, it’s interesting to see all the vitriol (e.g. from Michelle) being directed against the agent and AA over this. If someone offers a well-meaning prayer that everyone would have love, peace, joy, be self-controlled, etc., according to their own belifef/faith, I’ll gladly accept it in the name of my own Lord and Savior. Anyone who thinks all the problems of this world can or will be solved through human means alone is sadly and woefully mistaken.
Personally, I am not religious at all, and I wasn’t offended. The GA had good intentions and has probably learned a lesson, I do hope the GA is not fired. Oh, and btw, Falun Gong is a cult.
Glory be to God. Amen. There is no inappropriate place for prayer in fact this gate area was the perfect place for that prayer. This is not about you and your feelings. If you felt that this prayer was inappropriate you had the free will to walk away from that gate area but you chose to stay the Holy Spirit and God wanted you to stay and hear that prayer. hopefully a mustard seed was planted inside you .Only God knows that. Your salvation is at stake! is your salvation important to you or not?
Absolutely not; and I’m a priest! The intrusive, arbitrary and inappropriate timing of such a prayer cannot be condoned no matter what the reason the gate agent believed it to be. Faith is between the individual and his/her maker ; beliefs are personal and no matter how deeply rooted should not be forced upon others.
Indeed, true faith cannot ever be forced on others.
This could have never happened here, in the EU. And this is what I love so much about America, that people are much more extroverted, social, opened, and I think this prayer is a perfect example of that.
I wish I was there.
I would say the EU is a bit more tolerant, and not so into shoving their point of view onto others when it comes to religion.
Europe is an interesting case. In Germany, there are still established state churches, obligatory church taxes, and holidays that coincide with feasts and festivals on the Christian calendar. There are also obligatory Sunday closing laws which cannot be explained away as simply promoting a common day off.
Lot of folks really chill about this on Twitter or in the comments who would flip out if the GA had said “Assalamu alaikum” (peace be unto you). Snowflake would be on the other foot then…
If someone offered a prayer in a language I don’t understand, I would be confused at best and maybe annoyed as well.
If a Muslim prayed in English, “Peace be unto you” I would have no problems whatsoever.
I think people got so much time in their hand due to covid …its a harmless prayer and I found its graceful thing ..the comments on the AA Twitter and FB about this is just vile and un civilised. If I am not interested i will ignore and move on …calling that guy a terrorist for a prayer is nasty. When you are travelling with QR or EK they always start their flight with Muslim prayer . Doesn’t matter what ever their pax religion on that flight . Just try next time asking for non halal food on board on flights departing from Doha….. They will lock you up and probably will cut your tounge if you challenge them . People really need to relax and stay positive .. it’s a trend now to criticise anything and everything.
This “Michelle” whose tweet you feature is completely out of control. Comparing the so-called “terrorism” of a prayer with the extremist Islamics who put planes into buildings shows she is a total moron with her head in the sand. Using the same word is an offense. She is probably also at this time one of the ones who thinks that George Floyd, however tragic his death, was a good person despite choking and shoving a gun into the stomach of a pregnant woman! As the Isaiah wrote thousands of years ago, Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.
So they can force you to wear a mask, but also force you to stop praying? Crazy.
Who is “THEY”?
We are a nation under God. Look on the currency of the U.S. Dollar
it says on the currency of the United States in God we trust.
The “God we trust” phrase was added to our currency during the 1950’s communist scare period. We are a SECULAR country. Read the Constitution.
“One reason religion has flourished in the United States is because of the healthy separation between church and state.”
It’s interesting to see that, really, the only people who believe in the farcical separation of church and state are, in fact, christians.
Do elaborate, please, because I find your statement quite curious (in the negative sense).
When Eisenhower had “In God We Trust” put on currency, that didn’t do much to separate church and state. When the courts consistently find in favor of religion over equality or societal norms, that undermines belief that there is an actual separation. If you don’t believe me, ask your wife about the possibility of being refused birth control, Hobby Lobby refusing to offer birth control in their insurance, or a gay couple trying to buy a wedding cake. Then there’s the absolute clear cut situations like The Ten Commandments outside a courthouse and school vouchers for religious schools. I think these separations are a lot more theoretical than actual.
I’m talking less about civic religion and the broader Christian worldview that the deists who founded America felt was a pivotal part of the public square. Rather, I’m talking about the Establishment clause of the First Amendment.
In some ways, “gwayrav” is correct in that every law, every platform, every regulation is an expression of morality and therefore linked to worldview. With Christianity still a majority opinion in the USA, sometimes that worldview naturally works its way into laws that are not overtly religious in nature…like the cases you cite.
Bonus points for the use of “hermeneutical”; a word that’s just not used often enough.
There are no “White people” in the Bible !!!!
Take all the time you need with that …
Since AA has received a monetary amount from and is thus “owned” by US Govt – this should fall under the separation of church and state. Religion should only be found on airplane when something catastrophic is happening.
“The prayer was not offensive.”
No, but the act itself was, in this context.
I more or less agree with the rest of what you said, except for…
“I’ll go even further. I believe Jesus is the cosmic Christ, i.e. the savior of all mankind. In Him and through Him is found our salvation. The answer to racism, injustice, and division is to embrace Jesus who will bridge heaven and earth in a new creation in which justice will reign.”
Ridiculous, and kind of offensive to atheists, Jews, Muslims, Hinuds, Buddists, Sikhs, etc. The implications of what you said are just…so wrong. Eradicating racism, injustice, etc, can come from a common humanistic background, not solely through the acceptance of Christ. As if none of the evils of society can be dealt with by anyone who doesn’t follow Christ.
“That is comparing apple and oranges.”
I never claimed that “none of the evils in society can be dealt with by anyone who doesn’t follow Christ.” Nor would I argue that eradicating racism and injustice is linked solely to Jesus. There are atheists that I know who are “better people” than Christians I know (like Lucky/Ben, for example…one of the greatest people I have ever known on a personal level whose generosity and kindness is unparalleled) and who have done far more to encourage reconciliation and equality (and other practices of Jesus). That wasn’t my point at all.
I simply expressed my belief that Jesus provides us every answer we need to deal with the present conflicts of this world. I also distinguish salvation from justice and its other fruit.
When you make statements like “The answer to racism, injustice, and division is to embrace Jesus”, you are implying that that is the only answer.
Jesus provides answers for some, sure, but so can a whole bunch of philosophical and self-help books as well.
I would say the ultimate answer to racism, injustice, and division is to embrace Jesus and what does that mean? Recognize that we are sinners, embrace Him as the antidote, then live like we actually embrace Him; live like He taught us to live, which fundamentally is to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Every sinful example of racism and injustice we see in this world is a failure of that maxim. So often “justice” to counteract injustice becomes injustice itself because of the depravity of the human heart.
But to your second point, undergirding my worldview is not that Jesus was a good rabbi or good man, but interwoven in the sovereign plan of a Godhead that was and ever is and shall be evermore. That’s a presuppositional conclusion that I am highly unlikely to argue to your satisfaction, so I won’t even try. I do hope you understand that when I speak of the exclusivity of Christ, I am speaking about far more than a guru who lived in 1st century Palestine. Here’s an article on the subject I found helpful.
One does not need to embrace Jesus to love our neighbors and/or ourselves.
You don’t need to lecture me about Jesus, or Christianity. My church is older than yours and possibly even a more authentic version of Christianity as well.
A truth claim…?
If your church is older and more authentic, then I am certain you can appreciate it is about much more than the Golden Rule, but about the problem of sin and what to do about it.
Are you a mystic of the Rohr variety?
As somebody who is not a christian, I have to disagree strongly on the „not offensive“ part. And before anybody starts with the snowflaking, ask yourself how you would have reacted to a satanic prayer in this situation. A non-offensive satanic prayer, of course. Or if you would have felt offended if people talked loudly through this unwanted proselytising.
If somebody wants to spread their religion, fine. If they don’t in a situation like this, they should be fired.
How would you feel about an AA employee public ally promoting BLM on the PA?
Would you find that unacceptable too?
Historically speaking, and even now, religion does not have a good track record. Too many atrocities committed in “God’s” name. I would have been most uncomfortable in that situation. Believe what you wish, practice whatever you preach but if I wanted to hear it, I would have gone to the church/temple/wiccan festival of my choice. My thoughts are NO belief system can be proven, and they all can’t be right, but they can all be wrong. Peace and love.
Would you also concede that so much good has been done in “God’s name?” How would you reconcile the good with the bad?
Inappropriate, and wrong venue. Also, I agree with ChuckMO.
Being an opportunist, I only want to hear prayers from an airline if the plane is crashing. Or I need an SWU to clear to Hong Kong. At that point I am all in.
I find myself wondering what peoples’ reactions would be had a similar prayer been delivered over the intercom from a flight deck, while cruising at 35,000 feet…
Your question reminds me of the tragic case of the MS990 crash, in the which the pilot apparently prayed instead of taking action when the aircraft was heading to the ground south of Nantucket. Prayer is not a substitute for action.
This is one of your most well-written articles Matthew. Even if I don’t necessarily agree with everything you posited, the piece was well-reasoned and nary a proofreading error to be found too!
“Unoffensive” is an uncommon, obsolete variant of “inoffensive.”
Having grown up in the Christian evangelical community, I still find it offensive. If you choose to go to a church or religious gathering, you can expect to engage in community prayers. But this was a public area and nobody came to hear your broadcast prayers. They are listening for information about their own flights, etc. If the employee just wanted to say his own prayer in an unassisted, appropriate level of voice then I would have no problem with that. But when you take over a PA system in a public setting, you are not really praying TO God, what you are really doing is praying AT everyone else. God doesn’t need to hear your outward voice, and certainly not over a PA system. God can hear inside your head just fine. Back in the day I was often offended by official prayer leaders whose prayers weren’t really about communicating with God from their own hearts. Rather, they were lectures to everyone else in the disguise of prayers and meant solely to badger others into doing what the leaders wanted them to do. God had no part in it.
Right on! Your comments are spot on. Respect and regard for others beliefs is something we need to see more of, not the infliction of Christian correctness. Let the agent keep his/her faith to themselves.
I found the episode to be wildly inappropriate…but you make a powerful case for giving the guy the benefit of the doubt/ a second chance.
This guy may have had good intentions. There’s a street corner doomsday megaphone barker near my apartment that has good intentions. There are Hari Krishna white robed bell ringers that have good intentions. I’m glad I live in a country where each persons voice is protected by free speech. But there’s a time and place for everything. In public I can walk away from speeches I find counter to my personal beliefs. At an airport gate I’m captive to the boarding process. I expect airline employees, on the job, holding a microphone, in front of a captive audience, to respect that passengers all have vastly different, deeply personal, points of view when it comes to religion. They should restrict their speech to business at hand.
4200 religions……what makes you think he picked the correct one
Why is people only want to censor Christians?
That is just not true.
Please elaborate. What other religions do you see attacked and censored in the mainstream media. Islam? Hinduism? Buddhism? Animistic shamanism? Judaism?
What is tacitly acknowledged is that Christianity and Christians are fair game to Attack and criticize, not so any other religion.
Yeah, we all know how much FOX News loves Islam. Do they count as mainstream?
Does the US really have much separation of church and state? Seems every (recent?) president has to at least pretend to be a ‘good christian’ to even have a chance to get elected… Also, I do not think it is true that “we are all, deep-down, religious creatures”, I’m an atheist. That said, I don’t take offence to people being religious, i don’t understand the need they feel but how they deal with the unknown is up to them. If praying for me is well intended and makes them feel better that’s fine (doesn’t matter if it’s a christian prayer, satanic prayer, muslim prayer… etc.). It does nothing for me and doesn’t help me through anything but if that’s how they show they care then so be it. As long as I’m not being told that I should pray too!
Praying is a conversation between you and your god. Proselytizing is something you do over a loudspeaker with a captive audience.
If you go to any historic building in Washington D.C., you will see the deep connection to the Christian Faith. The United States from its inception is a Christian Country under God. That separation of religion/state prevents the establishment of a branch of Christianity to become the national church. Such as Protestant or Catholic versions. There is no doubt we are a Christian Nation. Anyone who denies this is ignorant of the history of America. If you have a problem with public prayer, no one is forcing you to participate. You are free to worship allah or satan or whoever. We are one nation under God. We are a Christian Nation. Others who have come here are able to worship their deity because we are a tolerant Christian Nation. The ones offended by someone praying have a problem in their relationship with God. I see Jews and Moslems in corners of airplanes praying and I think how wonderful they have the freedom to do that. That freedom only exists in Christian Nations. The job of a gate agent is not easy. That man may be stressed and this is his way of coping. Would it really be so offensive to you to bow your head in your own way and thank God for your life? So lets see how the corporate nazis at AA keel haul this agent. Do you deny that our society is based upon Christian Doctrine? This has enabled Americans to create the the best country the world has ever known. 80% of global population would leave their birthplace to come to America.
Wow. You need to get out more. There are too many mistruths in your nationalistic and delusional rant to even address one by one. Your (White, Christian and antiquated) American exceptionalism is showing.
By the way, we are NOT a Christian Nation. Maybe read the Constitution some time.
“I see Jews and Moslems in corners of airplanes praying”
Do any of them get on the plane’s PA system when they do?
Best of intentions, but poor in execution. Announce the prayer will be held at a non-active gate and try AAgain!
I did not find the prayer to be ‘unoffensive’. In fact, I found it to be patronizing and patriarchal. “Father God”??? Please. And to claim it is not really a Christian prayer is, of course, really only a statement that a Christian could make.
While I do not think that the intentions of the gate agent were overtly negative, the condescending sentiment that it is appropriate and even helpful to impose this sermon on an unsuspecting and captive audience was definitely negative. You know what they say about the road to he11.
To be candid, I have preachers/Christian workers on both sides of my family and am no longer OK with people imposing on me their religious drivel of any variety, regardless of the intention.
Inappropriate for many reasons.
What really amazes me is that the gate agent thought this was appropriate. He doesn’t seem to understand that not everyone shares his beliefs. No everyone is Christian, I am not.
Is this person still working at AA? What action has AA taken?
You think he should be fired because of this prayer?
Wow Matthew, I’m impressed on your article and many responses.
God who must desire that we all get along and respect each other should never be Someone who divides and separates. People do!
I’m a Catholic priest and for the last few years have decided to wear my clerics when I fly. It’s who I am. I have the occasional glare but, for the most part, I have found it a very positive experience. Someone on her way to bury her mother (February) just need to sit next to me and talk(Southwest) some times it’s just someone who unburdens their struggles with someone who they might sense has listened to them before. I do not proselytize but I attempt to reflect the godliness in every person whether they believe in Christ as their Lord
Matthew keep up the good work. Blessings on you and your family. And, by the way, St Augustine is one of my favorite saints!
Thanks for reading Fr. Wayne!
As a nonbeliever, I have to say that no matter how well-intentioned the speaker, it was 100% wrong. Matthew’s similarly well-intended proposal that belief in Jesus is the answer to racism, etc, seems -sorry- laughable given the fact that Christians love Trump as much as avowed racists do, and US history with the Bible being used to support slavery and the KKK.
More importantly, controlled studies have shown prayer to be mostly ineffective, slightly negative, or of very limited positive effect. It has never found to be statistically effective, although it probably soothes in a meditative way. But why not do something more positive about your convictions instead to work against racism, injustice, etc? Praying is not going to achieve anything, whether you believe in it or not. (Sorry believers, nothing personal.)
Bob, a few thoughts on your comment.
Not all Christians (ahem…this one) love Trump. Others see him as a means to an end, which is unfortunate, especially if that support is driven by a lust for power.
Second, although Christianity must reckon with several sinister chapters in its history, Christians of conscience have also been on the right side of history, including the Christian leadership which propelled abolition and later the black civil rights movement in the USA.
Third, related to the second point, is that you really misunderstand Christianity if you think it is about prayer to the exclusion of action. James 2:14-17:
Thanks Matthew for your sincere reply. Whilst I may not agree, I accept your points. We will have to agree to disagree, but cordially. I know I was being harsh on the prayer effectiveness point but after every single gun massacre in America, all politicians do is but offer “thoughts & prayers” and zero action. This makes no difference, unfortunately, other than making me angry when news of yet another shooting breaks. Please come join us righteous heathens one day.
And thanks always for your posts.
I’m an Anglican priest who works in the financial services sector.
I think I’m broadly in agreement with you here. I have no personal issues with the prayer *but* I agree it’s not appropriate for the gate agent to have shared it. You’re right that certain cultures do incorporate prayer into everyday life (so you give the example of Islamic states where there is a prayer at the start of the flight – I myself have done business in Nigeria and most meetings there start with prayer – I’ve even led it myself!) but the US isn’t one of them.