Spanish Prayer Not Welcome in Utah Town

Pastors who cannot offer their prayers in English will be barred from praying at public events in the Utah town of Hyrum.  Town officials, who invited a local pastor to pray at a city-sponsored Independence Day event this past July 4th, have been inundated with calls to City Hall demanding their resignations.  Even though the pastor’s Spanish-language prayer was simultaneously translated into English, some of the good citizens of Hyrum apparently think that God only hears us when we pray in English.  Good grief!

As an Anglo, English-only speaking pastor in New Mexico, where I am in the minority, I have perhaps become more sensitive to cross-cultural issues, particularly when these issues intersect with the faith community.  While the congregation I serve is predominantly white, non-Hispanic,  our church has an ethnically diverse staff and membership.  The community where I live, Alamogordo–home to Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands National Monument –is an ethnic melting pot, with Hispanic (Mexican), Anglo, Native American (Apache), and German residents working and living side-by-side.  

As a Southern Baptist pastor in the state, I have been able to meet and get to know several of the Spanish-language pastors who serve churches throughout the Land of Enchantment.  I appreciate their love for the Lord and their love for New Mexico and the United States.

On multiple occasions, I have attended meetings where a Spanish-language pastor was called on to offer the opening or closing prayer.  Even though most in attendance spoke only English or very limited Spanish (I wish I could say my Spanish was limited, but that would be a gross exaggeration), no one was (or is) offended when the Spanish-speaking brother prays in his native language.  

When I hear someone pray in a tongue other than English, I am reminded that we serve a God who is not limited to hearing our prayers in only one language.  God, who is the Creator of all, will one day hear the singing of a new song:

You are worthy to take the  scroll, And to open it seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.   Revelation 5:9-10

For those residents of Hyrum, Utah who were offended by a Spanish prayer and who have made it clear that English is the official prayer language of their town, I would simply remind them that God welcomes prayer in any language where He lives.  And the sooner they realize this truth, the better!

5 comments for “Spanish Prayer Not Welcome in Utah Town

  1. Denise P.
    July 22, 2010 at 7:07 AM

    Then they can pray in their native tongue when in company of spanish speaking folks. But when in the company of English speaking folks, speak English! If you live in the U.S.A. learn English!!!!!

    • July 22, 2010 at 9:18 AM

      I certainly understand your point, but if the town officials asked a Spanish language pastor to pray, and he prays in Spanish with an English interpreter, I think the reaction to the prayer, and especially what was said by some of the citizens, is sad. Should folks learn English? Absolutely. But, I am simply not offended when I hear a prayer in another language. I was trying to interact with this story more from a faith perspective, but this issue is obviously intertwined with the political, as your comment indicates. I think if someone prayed in a non-English language other than Spanish, that folks would not have had as much of a problem. If someone prayed in sign language with an interpreter, I don’t think people would have had a problem. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Glad to know that I can still get you riled up, even if you are a conservative republican now! Hope you, John and the kids have a wonderful day and week. God bless,

      Howell

      • Marty
        July 29, 2010 at 8:29 PM

        I have a couple questions. Was the preacher’s only language was Spanish? If it was, one wonders why this particular preacher was chosen. I mean, we’re talking about Utah here. Not New Mexico. If it wasn’t, why did he choose another language for a predominantly white audience? It raises suspicion of imposing ideals on others by their government, which I can completely get behind. I resent it greatly when my government tells me that it is National Gay and Lesbian Month and I have to have rainbow posters around my office because someone ELSE thinks I don’t give them enough attention. And it’s inflammatory. It’s rubbing it in someone’s face.

        I do not contest that God hears prayer in all languages, tongues and hearts. But there was a reason the Holy Spirit conferred the gift of tongues on the apostles at Pentecost.

        I have no issues with Hispanic pastors. I have no issues with Spanish prayer.

        Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I help you unless I speak to you with a revelation or with knowledge or prophecy or teaching? It is similar for lifeless things that make a sound, like a flute or harp. Unless they make a distinction in the notes, how can what is played on the flute or harp be understood? If, for example, the trumpet makes an unclear sound, who will get ready for battle? It is the same for you. If you do not speak clearly with your tongue, how will anyone know what is being said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are probably many kinds of languages in the world, and none is without meaning. If then I do not know the meaning of a language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. – 1 Cor 14:6-11 (NET) [emphasis added]

        My point, ultimately, Howell, was the language was a thoughtless distraction, if not intentionally inflammatory. If the true motive of the prayer was to reach the hearts and minds of those listening, then greater attention should have been paid to the fact the majority of the people listening didn’t speak Spanish. There’s something to be said for “being all things to all men.” (1 Cor 9:22)

        • July 29, 2010 at 8:59 PM

          Marty,

          The articles that I have read do not state whether the Spanish-speaking pastor could also speak English. I do not know the motivation behind the town council inviting this particular pastor. I suppose that the town officials, knowing that a prayer in Spanish on the 4th of July would be inflammatory, could have used this as an opportunity to make a political point. There was an English interpretor, which may or may not make a difference for you, but at least this was not done without benefit of translation. I would hope that the pastor’s prayer was sincere, regardless of the language it was spoken in. If the pastor used it as a cynical attempt to inflame or distract, then certainly shame on that pastor. But the evidence is not there to support that as far as I can tell. In any event, I don’t think they’ll have a pastor back next year unless he prays in English. God bless,

          Howell

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