Prayer rebuked by Christian Republicans

By Joni Jenkins - State Representative


Along with other elected officials, I have reflected much on the intersection of faith and politics. As a person of faith, I cannot totally divorce that part of myself when I walk into the governmental/political arena.

While my Christianity influences every personal and political decision I make, I have been hesitant to publicly reference my faith in performing my governmental duties.

As an adult, I joined the United Church of Christ, a denomination noted for its many firsts—the first to ordain women, persons of color and persons of diverse sexual orientation—and because it spoke to my beliefs of social justice and God’s abundant love.

The UCC is just one of the many mainstream protestant Christian churches that share these doctrines.

In my 22 years serving as State Representative for the 44th House District, I have witnessed an increasing trend of legislators referencing their religious beliefs in discussions on the floor of the House. Those beliefs tend to be nearly always couched as “Christian” and arc predominately conservative.

After much soul searching, it became important to me to give voice to other Christian stances of equality, not to lay claim to being more correct but to share another world view with my colleagues.

One of my dearest friends, who happens to be Jewish, sums it up beautifully: “There are many paths to righteousness.”

Last week, I invited my pastor, the Reverend Lauren Jones Mayfield of Lynnhurst United Church of Christ in Louisville, to open the House of Representative’s day with prayer.

I found her prayer to be beautiful in its call to put aside our political differences and work on the issues that affect all Kentuckians, understanding that it was not a traditional prayer encountered in many of the state representatives’ places of worship. And yes, Rev. Mayfield mentioned those issues that differ among our diverse Christian traditions:

“May these legislators work toward preserving the dignity of women in the quest for reproductive justice; may they honor the needs of those who are wrongly imprisoned. May they demand equality for all Kentucky residents regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. May they believe that black lives matter. May our work be for those who are unable to be here to lobby and speak for themselves.”

I was grateful to so many colleagues, staff and guests in attendance who expressed their appreciation for the prayer. But I was shocked at the response of a number of my colleagues, who walked out mid prayer and one in particular who emailed Rev. Mayfield a disrespectful and ugly message which included “you are an embarrassment to my Christ.”

To make matters worse, the entire House Minority Caucus boycotted the next day’s prayer in protest.

Beyond their rudeness to my pastor, I am very concerned about the message the House Republicans are sending to all Kentuckians which translates to “we believe in religious freedom, as long as it is constant with our religious beliefs.”

I am saddened by the apparent double standard the Republicans constantly employ, especially as they purport to be fierce defenders of the United States Constitution which guarantees freedom from religious oppression.

Every person, regardless of their religion, should be welcomed to the House chamber and shown dignity and respect.

I will continue to treat all chamber guests in this manner in spite of my wonderful pastor’s boorish reception and ill-mannered actions of the Christian House Republicans.


By Joni Jenkins

State Representative

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