By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
The National Day of Prayer is celebrated by hundreds of cities across the country on every first Thursday of May. Mission Viejo is one such town—its Rotary Club has hosted a Mayor's Prayer Breakfast for the past 17 years. But in this master-planned, conservative community, merely praying amongst geriatrics and council members isn't enough. Liking God is fine in Mission Viejo, but you better believe His name is Yahweh and He loves America above all nations, for we're a blessed race of God-fearing patriots—and we're a bunch of ingrates. Let us pray.
"We're really a blessed people, aren't we?" witnessed the Reverend Lyle Castellaw, the lead pastor at Mission Viejo's Rock Hills Church, to about 100 souls gathered in the faded, stuccoed luster of a Mission Viejo Country Club dining room last Thursday morning. He gushed about the manicured environs of South County. "It's orderly, it's a great place to raise a family. And it's a place to enjoy freedoms," Castellaw said.
"But every place is not like this—did you know that?" he continued. Castellaw described the wretched places where he had evangelized on behalf of Jesus: Calcutta, Port-au-Prince, Tijuana. "God has entrusted us with a lot," he said. Then Castellaw told the crowd he would "instruct" them through a prayer. Every head in the room bowed. Eyes closed. Muffled Spanish echoed from the nearby kitchen.
"Greet the Lord," Castellaw proclaimed. "Connect with him. Worship him. Present yourself to him." He threw out hosannas for the Mission Viejo City Council, for California's governor, for President George W. Bush. He also gave a shout out to the Republican Party's right-wing takeover of America's courtrooms. "Would you pray for our judicial system and judges, that they would judge fairly and justly, and judge in righteousness?"
After Castellaw finished, some service members returned to their breakfast of scrambled eggs, potatoes and two strips of fatty, luscious bacon.
After a stirring rendition of "Amazing Grace" by two Mission Viejo High students, the keynote speaker took the podium—Reverend John Beeman, a wiry, Mr. Clean-style Texan with a twang like a zither. During Castellaw's oration, Beeman hid his face behind his hands in intense, quiet meditation.
Beeman, the senior minister at the Mission Viejo Church of Christ, began his sermon with a joke—something about one man betting another that he didn't know the Lord's Prayer. The audience laughed, and so did Beeman. "There is a basic consensus that prayer is a good thing," Beeman chuckled. "We believe prayer is a good thing. We just don't do it much."
But then his stare hardened. "If we're going to be a country that continues to get blessed by God, we have to get on our knees and pray," he warned. "And pray."
Beeman returned to the morning's favorite subject: why God loves America so damn much. "Is it because we're intelligent?" he wondered. "Is it because we have a good work ethic?"
The answer is neither, he said. Rather, it was what he described as this country's historical adherence to Christianity, as outlined by King David in Psalms 33:12—"Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord."
(He said something after this, but at that point, my attention shifted to a raspberry Danish. Sorry—but it was a breakfast. And thatwas Danish.)
Beeman then offered three hypothetical scenarios. What if a Supreme Court judge said only Christians should govern the land? What if citizens had to take an oath of Christianity? What if only Christians were eligible for public office?
"Do you think we would have a response from the media?" he shouted. He didn't have to respond—many shook their heads in knowing anger. But he did. The laws dated from the colonial era; the judge was John Jay, a traitor of American history who is so reviled that there's no J Street in Washington, D.C., lest people get the wrong idea.
"If these people who were so instrumental [to our nation's founding] would [say those things today]," Beeman thundered, "they would be considered right-wing radicals and a threat to our nation!"
Murmurs of approval accompanied the thought.
"We've gone away from our roots," he continued. "Prayer is the only way back."
Beeman became more agitated. He claimed history books have removed miracles of conversion from the founding stories of the United States, specifically one relating to the union of French and American troops during the Revolutionary War. He called the Founders' separation of church and state false—"I challenge any true student of history to study the background" of it.
And Beeman gleefully told stories of students defying the ban of prayer during high school graduation ceremonies. "They cannot stop us from practicing!" he exclaimed—"they" being the Supreme Court. "When someone tells you you can't do that, you smile, get down on your knees and pray for their salvation, that they come to an understanding of [Jesus].
"We are blessed by God, and the world knows it," Beeman concluded. "I don't know if we know it anymore. . . . Let us not forget. Let us not forget."
And the faithful stood and recited a hymn. And everything was right in God's Country.