Saturday, October 5, 2013

Are We Being Out-Prayed?

UPDATE: 3/2/14--When I originally wrote this blog post I was just describing my impressions after stopping by to visit International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Grandview, MO..  Although it certainly didn't appeal to me, there wasn't anything on the surface that alarmed me--at least not to any greater degree than most conservative evangelical megachurches usually alarm me.  However, after reading further press accounts about the death of Bethany Deaton along with a blog post from an ex-IHOP member who knew those involved, I think there's a lot to be alarmed about when it comes to IHOP and its leadership.  Furthermore, now there are connections between IHOP"S founding pastor and other IHOP people to the terrible anti-gay laws in Uganda which is pretty freaking horrific.  It appears there's a lot to be concerned about below the surface at the International House of Prayer--dangerous theology that is not evident from a cursory visit..

ORIGINAL POST: 10/5/14            

     This morning I found myself around the Red Bridge area so I decided to drive by the International House of Prayer. I grew up in Grandview, so it's pretty weird to drive around my old stomping grounds and see that the main economic engine in that town now is a church which continues to buy up more and more of the town's real estate. I've read a lot of stuff in the press about IHOPKC (including that they were sued by the International House of Pancakes for using the acronym IHOP, hence the KC added to it). It's difficult as an outsider to separate truth from fiction about the group. When I drove up to the strip mall on Red Bridge Road that they have converted into their headquarters, I was surprised by two things: how many cars were in the parking lot on a Friday morning and how normal it looked.
            In the strip mall, I found the church's bookstore (over half of its stock consisted of books and recordings of its pastor's teachings), the church's coffee and sandwich shop (fancy enough to rival any similar retail operation), the church's realty office (for the hundreds of people from around the country moving to Grandview to be near the church) and the church's 24/7 prayer center which claims to have had a continuous prayer service operating since 1999. Oh yeah, the folks milling around buying DVD's, drinking coffee and of course, praying, were largely young and hipster-ish. Despite all of the talk I've heard about it being a cult, it all looked pretty normal.
            I'm well aware of the controversies surrounding the church, such as the murder of IHOPKC intern Bethany Deaton and the violent apocalyptic language used by some speakers at IHOPKC conferences. Also, to the extent that I can make sense of IHOPKC's theology, there's plenty I disagree with, such as its interpretations of biblical prophecy regarding things like the Rapture and other end-time scenarios. I feel sure the church is overly dependent upon its pastor's charisma and that I wouldn't find much common ground with them in terms of hot-button social issues like sexuality, reproductive rights, feminism, etc. In sum, you don't have to worry that I'm a fan of IHOPKC-I'm not.
            I could pretty much say similar things, however, about hundreds of other Pentecostal and evangelical megachurches. Many of them, like IHOPKC, own plenty of real estate and seek to create their own empires of Bible colleges, coffee shops and ministries. Many of them also have scandals associated with them, just as pretty much every group of religious people does.  I didn't see anything at IHOPKC that was scarier than what I've seen at other megachurches around the country. In fact, IHOPKC seemed less scary in some ways, because (at least to this outsider) it lacked many of the trappings of the Religious Right so common in earlier generations of megachurches. I didn't see stacks of anti-gay literature or sign-up sheets for picketing clinics that provide abortions. Maybe they have that stuff, but it wasn't laying out for somebody like me to stumble upon.
            I went into the 24/7 prayer chapel and found rows of chairs like plenty of other bland worship spaces so common these days. Plenty of people were scattered around; some were praying and others were staring intently at their phones (prayer apps?). Onstage was a band playing ambient music with a drum machine pounding out a beat-they were quite good. A speaker praying and the band vocalists alternated between spoken word prayers and choruses. I had a seat, and I have to admit I could see the appeal. It was meditative-if you liked the music and agreed with the theology of the folks praying. During the 15 minutes I was there, I didn't hear anything I disagreed with; in fact, I heard a lot I did agree with. (Of course, two minutes after I left they could have prayed for all kinds of stuff I would abhor for all I know.) The people praying offered prayers for area high schools and the Kansas City area and asked God to provide guidance to teens without fathers and to those facing temptation. They asked God to stop sex traffickers and prevent violence. I found myself joining in and praying those same things, because I do pray for those same things all the time.
            As I said, I have no idea what other stuff IHOPKC prays for and I assume given their theological beliefs, especially about the end times, there are plenty of things they might pray for that I wouldn't agree with. But I was pleasantly surprised that they were praying for our community and asking for God's help with the violence that plagues us. It just so happens that our church has been asked to pray this weekend for our city and for solutions to the violent crime in it that seemingly has no end. All of the congregations in MORE2 (Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity) have been asked to pray this weekend and to remember Myeisha Turner and her daughter Damiah White. (I was proud to be a part of a press conference this week promoting this weekend's prayer.)
            Myeisha and her 3 year-old daughter Damiah were gunned down in their home this past August. Myeisha's 11 month-old was left alive and found crawling through the crime scene. As of today, the murders remain unsolved like so many in Kansas City. We've been asked to remember these murders especially, because many in our community believe that if this had been a Caucasian young mother and child murdered that the story would have remained in the news longer and the community outrage would be greater. Instead, their deaths have thus far largely been viewed as two more dead African Americans in a string of murdered African Americans in Kansas City. Just this past week, two more children were hit by gunfire. One of them was in Overland Park which goes to show that the gun violence in our city affects us all; moving to the suburbs does not offer us any way to hide from it. This summer a man was gunned down two blocks from where my kids go to school-as of today that homicide remains unsolved.
            During worship Sunday morning we will read together a prayer for our city that remembers Myeisha and Damiah. I have included it below, and I hope if you read this e-mail you will pause at least once this weekend and pray it as well. Prayer changes our indifferent minds and calloused hearts to feel the pain of those around us. It can also prepare us to act and work to improve our communities. Prayer is more than mere words.
            I figure that it's not too much to ask for a church like ours committed to God's Peace and Justice to pray this prayer. After all, IHOPKC has already been praying similar prayers.

Gracious God,
Author of All Divine Mercies,
Giver of All Eternal Comfort--
as we continue to mourn the deaths of
Damiah White and Myeisha Turner,
we pray for Your inspiration and wisdom.

Inspire us and all people everywhere in the metro area,
particularly in communities of faith,
with your enthusing power--
to not grow weary in well-doing,
to seek justice for little Damiah--and all other children,
to seek justice for Myeisha--and all other young mothers,
to secure the communities in which we dwell and
the homes in which we live
with righteousness and honesty and fervent care,
especially for those among us who are most vulnerable.

Grant that we may bind ourselves together
with such purpose and persuasion and bonding,
heart to heart and soul to soul,
that respect will be accorded to Damiah's memory
and honor unto Myeisha's memory,
and justice will prevail for them.

Hear our prayers, O God,
from the broken hearts of we who offer these prayers
on behalf of those who have known too much tragedy
and burdensome loss,
as we participate in the sacred quest of healing our  city's heart,
and, indeed, all cities everywhere.  AMEN. 

Grace and Peace,