For the past seven years Pastor Terry Sartain has ministered to police officers and their families in Charlotte, N.C. Whenever the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Dept. invited him to deliver an invocation, he prayed in “the name of Jesus.”
But not anymore.
Volunteer chaplains in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Dept. will no longer be allowed to invoke the name of Jesus in prayers at public events held on government property.
Major John Diggs, who oversees the chaplain program, told television station WSOC that the policy is a “matter of respecting that people may have different faiths and that it is not aimed at any one religion or denomination.”
Sartain, the pastor of Horizon Christian Fellowship, told Fox News Radio he was scheduled to give an invocation at a promotion ceremony. Before the event, he received a telephone call from his superior major.
“I was told chaplains can no longer invoke the name of Jesus on government property,” Sartain said. “(He said) if I could refrain from that during the invocation he would appreciate that.”
Sartain said he was surprised by the telephone call. The pastor said he’s prayed “consistently” in the name of Jesus at past police department events without any issues.
“I’m very sad about it,” he said. “I’m a pastor and Jesus is the only thing I have to offer to bless people – his life and his person.”
“It brings about a very real concern about where we are heading as a nation,” he said. “I serve a God who loves people unconditionally, who died for their sins on the cross, who wants to reconcile himself to them and love them where they are at – and now I’m told I can’t bless people as a result of that.”
The police department said he could still pray – just not to Jesus.
So to whom was the Christian minister supposed to pray?
“That was my question,” Sartain said. “If I’m going to pray – what should I pray?”
He said the police department wanted him to deliver a “secular prayer.”
“Even when I wasn’t a Christian – in my past – I didn’t even know what a secular prayer was,” he said. “Why even pray if it’s to the one who’s in the room? That could be anybody.”
Sartain said the new policy has put him in a difficult spot.
“You don’t want to compromise your faith,” he said. ‘At the same time you want to honor those who are in charge over you.”
So Sartain asked the police department to withdraw his name from consideration for future public prayers.
“I didn’t really need to do that as a chaplain,” he said of the public prayers. “I still wanted to have the influence with the police officers and their families.”
At least some people in the Charlotte area support the decision to remove the “Jesus-centric” prayers.
“It’s past time when they should’ve made a policy,” ACLU member Jim Gronquist told WSOC. “It’s improper to mix up religion with the function of state agents, and as long as they’re state agents, they should not be able to do that.”
Sartain said it’s apparent that “Christians for the most part are targeted in these days that we exist in.”
“As Christians in the United States of America – what we are saying as believers – is we want the same rights and privileges as everybody else,” he said. “Let the playing field remain level.”
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