Three hypotheticals in which what Terry Branstad did could be uncool

Every 68 year-old man in Iowa, including Terry Branstad

Every 68 year-old man in Iowa, including Governor Terry Branstad

I applaud Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s decision to proclaim July 14, 2014 a day of prayer and repentance, solidifying Iowa as a Christian state and renewing God’s protection for another year. To his critics, who argue it is unseemly for the governor to instruct his citizens to pray according to the Bible, I say the governor has to do it or it doesn’t work. You didn’t grow up there, but I remember when the Lieutenant Governor declared a day of fasting and repentance in 1988, and 100,000 schoolchildren died of the flu. Don’t second-guess Iowa. They didn’t become the tall corn state by not managing the guy with the locusts.

Here’s the proclamation as Branstad signed it in April:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Terry E. Branstad, as Governor of the State of Iowa, do hereby invite all Iowans who choose to join in the thoughtful prayer and humble repentance according to II Chronicles 7:14 in favor of our state and nation to come together on July 14, 2014.

The Family Leader wrote that, apparently with the help of Google Translate. The meaning comes across, though. For reference, II Chron. 7:14 goes like this:

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

See, that right there is why the Bible stands as not just a spiritual text but also an enduring work of literature. What other religion offers the piercing insight that if you pray, good things will happen? The Founders were wise, when they threw off the yoke of tyranny, to choose Christianity for themselves and the Indians.

Anyway, a bunch of troublemakers have complained that telling people to pray according to the Bible is something the governor of a state shouldn’t do. I don’t follow their argument, exactly, but I can only think of three hypothetical situations in which what Branstad did would not be okay:

1) If following the instructions in a 2300 year-old book did not motivate a being that exists outside of time to improve the land, either in terms of soil quality or general turn of events. Obviously, that would be embarrassing. If there were some spectrum of gubernatorial efficacy that included praying to the Christian god, ordering a gumball machine to save kids for accidents, and allocating more money to the university system, and if praying to the C.G. fell closer to the gumball end of the spectrum, then Branstad would be wasting our time and tarnishing the dignity of his office. In the hypothetical scenario where we’re not 100% sure that the Judeo-Christian god determines the fate of all peoples, that’s a risk.

2) If some law somewhere told the governor not to establish a religion. As Locke and Hobbes will tell you, people form governments for three reasons: to protect property, to guarantee individual liberties, and to know when to pray. This Enlightenment philosophy, named for the levelheaded quality religious people get, was a reaction to the monarchies of Europe, which gave their people so little spiritual guidance that society collapsed. In some bizarro world where this progression of history was not true, and the American Revolution reduced the role government played in religion while enshrining that idea in some set of written principles, what Branstad did would be insane.

3) If people started to think he was exploiting church for political purposes. The proclamation Gov. Branstad signed was written by The Family Leader, which traditionally means Dad but in this case is a socially conservative political organization. It’s headed by Bob Vander Plaats, who in 2010 organized a successful campaign to deny retention to three Iowa Supreme Court justices who overturned the state’s ban on gay marriage. The Family Leader includes the Iowa Family PAC, which conspicuously withheld its endorsement from Branstad the same year. If Branstad were not regarded as a guy who just fudging loves to pray and instead could be seen as some sort of political operator, people might think he was kissing ass.

Fortunately, each of these hypotheticals is absurd. The Judeo-Christian god definitely controls the future according to proclamations; the Constitution explicitly puts Governors in charge of praying to Him, and Terry Branstad would never take a camera crew to church. Everything is on the up-and-up. Now we just have to hope that people participate. If this day of fasting and repentance doesn’t work because one family didn’t go along with it, we’re going to have a dickens of a time figuring out who it was.

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  1. “If this day of fasting and repentance doesn’t work because one family didn’t go along with it, we’re going to have a dickens of a time figuring out who it was.”

    That’s the truly great part about praying for change. If things get better than you point to the praying and say “see, told you it would work” and if it doesn’t it was simply because people weren’t praying hard enough. There is absolutely no expectation of results.

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