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!