Explaining Why I Don’t Use the “Traditional” Version of “The Prayer That Jesus Taught”

Hello Church Family and Friends,

I have been asked by a few worship leaders why the three versions I use of the “Prayer that Jesus Taught” does not also include the version they may be most familiar with and find most comforting. I suspect that others of you have also wondered about that, so I want to explain the reasons why this is the case.

First, thank you to all who participate as worship leaders or in other capacities in our sacred time together. That is always appreciated. I’m am gladdened when people want to be involved in the worship and ministries of the church. Thanks, too, for all of you have mentioned to me your affirmation of my role as pastor, and the decisions I make as pastor. I am thankful for your understanding of the dilemmas that are created during transitions of pastors. And I pray you will be understanding of all pastors to come throughout the future of our church.

I could respond succinctly with why I don’t use the “traditional” version of the prayer most know as “The Lord’s Prayer,” but I want to create as much understanding as possible so that the philosophy and motives for my actions are understood, and not simply the action itself. I hope this will be helpful.

I understand how people have different thoughts and feelings about various elements in worship services; and that the ways I do things may seem wonderful for some, awful for others, and not really good or bad for yet others. There are many places where I try to accommodate differences of opinion where possible, but there are other areas which I do things as I do them out of a long-standing commitment to principles and values which I have carefully considered, acquired, and cultivated over the 36 years of my ministry.

Throughout my ministerial service, numerous people have expressed to me their discomfort and disagreement with the language of the “Lord’s Prayer.” For years I didn’t ‘get it,’ and I used the “traditional” version (which, of course, is not Jesus’ words as he did not speak English), without thought of how it affected those who saw it as exclusive and hierarchical. In having enough experiences where I have come to not only agree with these viewpoints, but to acknowledge how it perpetuates systems of thought and values which were likely not Jesus’ own thoughts and values, I have come to not use that version. For me, it is therefore an issue of conscience and ethical integrity in my ministry.

As a human being, and especially as a pastor, I try to lessen the way our society systemically uplifts some people and disenfranchises other people. I have come to see that the all-male language of the “traditional” version (e.g., God referred to as ‘Father’), along with the hierarchical language (e.g., kingdom, debts, etc.), subtly affirms and devalues certain groups of our society while also perpetuating inequalities between them.

Jesus wanted an egalitarian society where all were to be treated as equals in worth and dignity. When God is regarded as male, when kingdoms rather than communities of equality are included in our prayers, and when debts are things to be “forgiven” (obviously by those who have more assets towards others who have few assets) rather than the elimination of debt completely as the Biblical idea of Jubilee expresses, then we subconsciously uphold the very injustices that we are supposed to be trying to eliminate in following Jesus’ ways.

I recognize how many are comforted by the words they grew up hearing. They are the words I grew up with as well. But the question for me now is whether we are comforting some at the expense of violating the dignity of others who have been traditionally oppressed in our culture.

I am committed to inclusive language in worship, and have made this very clear whenever I have been interviewed for ministerial positions I have had since rather early in my ministry. I’m on a learning curve like everyone else, and while we are not all at the same place, I feel compelled by ethical duty to do what I think is right given my limited understanding. I will try to err on the side of justice for all and inclusion rather err on the side of privilege for some and exclusion. This, I truly believe was the ethic of Jesus, and it is one I am committed to follow.

We are at a point where racism, White supremacy, sexism, religious bigotry, and other exclusive and discriminatory behavior has resurfaced in our society. Discrimination and systemic injustice are pervasive in our society, and most “good” people are unaware of how it has infiltrated nearly every aspect of our society — including the way we see our relationship to God and others within our places of religious fellowship.

We are in need of leaders and people in positions of authority, especially those like me who are privileged, to act on behalf of those who have been treated as the “least of these” in our own society. This was Jesus’ way of thinking, speaking, and behaving, and my commitment to trying to follow in his ways requires me to resist the ways that our own society and churches discriminate against those it has excluded and treated as less valuable than others. But such leadership is unsettling for some, while liberating for others.

I am well aware that some who have been comfortable with “the ways things have always been” have been and will continue to be disgruntled as measures are taken to try to make our world more equitable and mutually respectful. It clearly has made those who have been advantaged in far more ways than others falsely feel “oppressed” themselves since they are not being treated as better than everyone else. Challenging the comfortable and comforting the challenged will create discord, as Jesus knew himself. This backlash is a typical condition of creating a more egalitarian society. Not everyone will be happy with the changes, especially those who have been happy with the way it has always been. But we must remind ourselves that some may finally be experiencing a sense of worthiness for the first time. And we owe it to our siblings who are seeking a haven of hospitality and a refuge from repression to open not only our doors, our hearts, and minds, but also the way we worship, operate, and do things in order to make them feel the same worth that the rest of us have always felt.

I believe our churches, in order to regain respectability in a pluralistic world that aspires to be more fair, need to take the lead in making changes that will create an understanding that we are all equals in worth and dignity in the sight of God. This starts with the language we use, but continues with the way we worship, and how we try to make everyone feel welcomed without speaking or acting in ways that clearly reveal favoritism. It extends to our church educational programming, as well as ministries of outreach, and service.

I hope this explanation helps each of you, my church family, to understand where I am coming from and why I don’t use the “traditional” version of the Prayer that Jesus Taught. Notice that I don’t even like to call it the “Lord’s” prayer as “lords” are always raised above those over whom their lordship rules. Part of changing our society for the better requires us to change our language for the better. As we come to value a more equitable and egalitarian world, so too must our language change to reflect that different set of values. Otherwise we are simply sabotaging our own efforts with the language that we use.

I just yesterday read the words, “The moment you understand how your actions harm others and continue to do it anyway…you cross the line from willful ignorance to calculated evil.” I don’t want to be a pastor who is willfully ignorant of how language is skewed in our own culture and churches. And most certainly I don’t want to be a pastor who ignores the protests of those who have been alienated and oppressed such that I engage in calculated evil. For me, it is a moral and spiritual issue about the words I use in worship. Whether everyone agrees with me or not, I have to try to set an example of inclusion that is premised on the equal worth and dignity of every person regardless of their sexuality, socio-economic condition, ethnicity, or any other factor in which our culture is remiss in making distinctions of who is more valuable than others.

Are we not all endowed with the image of God within us? If so, then should we not speak and act in a way that affirms this equality of worth in each of us? Our loyalty to Jesus needs to supersede our loyalty to culture; and our duty to equity needs to exceed our assuagement of those who may be unfairly comfortable with “tradition.” Together, we can create a world that more closely approximates Jesus’ vision of us siblings of one another who treat each other in respectful, loving, just, peaceful, and caring ways.

Blessings of love and peace,

Pastor Bret

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