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Making a mockery of the blessing

What a strange prayer it is to ask God to seal the lips of your political opponents.

Not that plenty of politicans haven't silently voiced that sentiment out of simple frustration during a harried campaign moment. But to say it out loud, in earnest, is different.

Especially when a Christian minister says it at a public campaign rally for a vice presidential candidate.

There is no salvation when either political side heads down that slippery slope, heedless to the fall.

Seal their lips

The invocation at Sarah Palin's rally in Greenville, N.C., called on God to close the mouths of Democrats who are “lying” about GOP presidential nominee John McCain and Palin, reports the News and Observer.

A local pastor, the Rev. Walter Leake, prayed this prayer: “Father, you said the truth will set us free. We know the truth is out there, and the truth is that the other side is lying, unbelievably lying. … God, we ask you to close their mouths.”

Is anybody uncomfortable? We ought to be.

What would make anyone think it's OK to ask the Almighty to squash political debate?

To be fair, Leake's prayer reflected a theme Palin hits hard, and did so in her North Carolina visit.

“This election is important because it is about truthfulness and judgment,” Palin told the crowd. “I can tell you John McCain has it and Barack Obama does not.”

Yet it's one thing for a candidate to hammer that nail. It's another for a minister to make a public plea for an act of God to shush the opposition. That's zealotry, not partisanship. And it's dangerous.

An extreme time

Zealotry drove airplanes into buildings on a beautiful September morning. Zealotry herded 6 million Jews to the ovens in Europe in the 20th century. Zealotry sets off bombs in abortion clinics.

Is there a difference between that and thinking you have a right to ask God to silence the other side in a political race?

I'm not saying Leake is a terrorist because he prayed out loud for God to shut Barack Obama's mouth. I am saying it's not a reasonable thing to do, and we need to think about that.

When you live in times that are extreme, you no longer recognize the boundaries between what is reasonable and what is not – or where it can take us.

The truth is, Leake's prayer is as disrespectful as it is extreme.

It takes a lot of nerve to ask God to see it your way in a political campaign and intervene on your behalf.

It takes a lot of nerve to invoke the Lord in order to call the other side names.

That is not the sort of assistance most of us were taught in Sunday School to seek.

Did Palin's campaign pick a man to say the blessing it knew would make a mockery of that blessing? She seems serious about her faith. But if she is, she ought to denounce the use of prayer as a campaign tool and faith as an instrument for zealotry. She hasn't.

We as Americans ought to reject it, too, along with the notion that God would close anyone's mouth at our bidding. That's why she gave us intellect, isn't it?

Mary Schulken is an associate editor at the Observer. E-mail mschulken@charlotteobserver.com.

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