Prayer to the Kansas House of Representatives Sparked Furor

Kansas State Capitol (Topeka, Kansas)
Jordan McAlister / Getty Images

Pastor Joe Wright gave a prayer before the Kansas House of Representatives in January 1996 that sparked a political furor. In the following months, the prayer Wright wrote in 30 minutes, led to "angry walkouts in two state legislatures, an unprecedented two readings on Paul Harvey's ABC Radio newscast, more than 6,500 phone calls to Wright's church and so many boxes of mail that the church staff (didn't') know where to put them anymore," Marc Fisher, a senior editor, at the "Washington Post" wrote in May of that year.

Additionally, Wright's prayer went viral, with hundreds of emails, which republished and critiqued the prayer, circulating on the internet.

Transcription of the Prayer

Here's an example email that appeared the next year, in February 2000:

This was sent to me by a cousin from Wyoming. Maybe it needs to be sent to our government officials. Hmm!
When minister Joe Wright was asked to open the new sessions of the Kansas Senate, everyone was expecting the usual generalities, but this is what they heard:
Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask Your forgiveness and to seek Your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, "Woe to those who call evil good," but that is exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.
We confess:
We have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it pluralism.
We have worshipped other gods and called it multiculturalism.
We have endorsed perversion and called it alternative lifestyle.
We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.
We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.
We have killed our unborn and called it choice.
We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem.
We have abused power and called it politics.
We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it ambition.
We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.
We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.
Search us, Oh God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and set us free.
Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent to direct us to the center of your will. I ask it in the Name of Your Son, the living Savior, Jesus Christ.
The response was immediate. A number of legislators walked out during the prayer in protest. In six short weeks, Central Christian Church, where Rev. Wright is pastor, logged more than 5,000 phone calls with only 47 of those calls responding negatively. The church is now receiving international requests for copies of this prayer from India, Africa and Korea.
Commentator Paul Harvey aired this prayer on his show "The Rest of the Story" on the radio and received a larger response to this program than any other he has ever aired.
With the Lord's help, may this prayer sweep over our nation and wholeheartedly become our desire so that we again can be called one nation under God.

Analysis of the Prayer

Wright said back then that in the months after he gave the prayer, it was reprinted in hundreds of church newsletters and other publications, read from pulpits in every state of the nation and broadcast on more radio shows than he could count.

The prayer also had political repercussions in Kansas, itself. At least one legislator walked out during the prayer, according to the "Kansas City Star." Others made speeches criticizing what the House minority leader, a Democrat, called "the extreme, radical views" reflected in the prayer. To this day — decades later — you can still find online republications and references to the prayer, both defending and criticizing Wright's words. The parable is an illustration of the religious and political divisions that divide the country to this day.