George Mason has been the senior pastor of Wilshire Baptist for more than 30 years. In May, Mayor Eric Johnson asked him for help in assembling an interfaith group to serve in an advisory capacity to the mayor’s office. That’s what Mason thought he was doing, anyway. He got about 15 people together. They had one conference call with the mayor. Mason describes it as less than productive.
The mayor didn’t consult with this group before issuing a proclamation that today is Pray Dallas Day. Instead, when it came to asking the citizens of Dallas to pray away a pandemic, he listened to a home improvement contractor from The Colony who claims God spoke to him in a dream. I explained this bizarre situation yesterday. I have repeatedly sought comment from Tristan Hallman, the mayor’s chief of policy and communications. No response. I texted the mayor himself. No response.
So I asked George Mason what he makes of Pray Dallas Day. Here’s what he wrote:
After 229 years since the ratification of the Bill of Rights, you would think we have had long enough to learn that the powers of government are not to be used to advance religion, and especially not to favor one religion over another. The mayor’s proclamation of a day of prayer for Dallas to eradicate the plague of COVID-19 was a thinly veiled excuse by certain Christians to exploit the authority of government to achieve their spiritual ends of promoting the reign of Jesus over our city. The mayor, whatever his intentions, allowed his office to be used in a way that flouted religious liberty, excluded vast numbers of sincere believers of other faiths, and undermined the role of science in public health.
Prayer is a powerful good in our personal lives and is welcome in our public lives as well, so long as it brings people together rather than driving them apart. Prayer for the health and welfare of Dallas during coronavirus should not succumb to magical thinking, however, as this Christian effort did. It should call together all segments of society, including medicine, religion, politics, business, and education, to be agents of healing.
If Dallas wants to be a welcoming city, as it claims, it can start by making sure that we do not operate with majority thinking in religion that only tolerates others. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and all other faiths are equal in the eyes of the law, regardless of their number. Unless and until we demonstrate that truth at every level of government, we will not live up to our ideals as a nation.