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Religious freedoms key point at prayer breakfast

The Rev. Peg Chemberlin ad-dresses an audience Thursday at the annual Mayor's Prayer Breakfast at the Willmar Holiday Inn and Conference Center. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Religious leaders have had mixed reactions to a federal judge's ruling that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional, says the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Churches.

"I think there are folks who feel like this is an abandonment of who we've been. I think there are other folks who say, no, that's not who we've been and this is in fact in keeping an alignment with the Constitution, which we all desperately need to be in line with,'' says Chemberlin.

Chemberlin said her life is clearly in the religious community.

"But I think because of my faith, I'm called to build the common good, and the common good has to be done with folks who disagree with me. It has to be done inside the parameters of democracy,'' she said.

"I think they have relationship to each other. But I think we also have to be very careful about those lines of demarcation in order to protect freedom of religion in the long haul,'' Chemberlin told the Tribune after she spoke Thursday to participants at the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast morning at the Willmar Conference Center.

In her remarks, Chemberlin said participating in interfaith relationship-building is a political necessity in a democracy. Chemberlin says she has a fairly distinct notion of who God is as revealed in Jesus Christ. Chemberlin says she may stand in opposition to another faith.

"But precisely because of what I know about God in Jesus Christ, I am obligated to my fellow citizens to work for the good of all. That commitment to the common good propels my commitment to democracy and the freedom of religion therein,'' she said.

Chemberlin addressed the issues of prayer, religious freedom and the April 15 ruling by a federal judge in Wisconsin that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional.

Congress approved and President Truman signed a bill in April 1952 creating a national day of prayer. In 1988, Congress established the first Thursday of May as the National Day of Prayer, which is when the Prayer Breakfast in Willmar is held.

Chemberlin said those who agree that prayer is needed can pray. She said the government may not establish the practice of prayer, but that doesn't mean the government says prayer is wrong.

"Hallelujah, I say. I don't want the government to tell me how or even if I should pray. But I'm deeply grateful for those who made sure that the government could not keep me from prayer my way and we can still pray," she said.

"We pray for the protection of religious freedom. We pray the healing and reconciling aspects of all faiths would be lifted up. ''

Chemberlin said the gospel message does not fit into any ideological or political box.

"How lines are drawn and how we engage each other across those lines are of utmost importance to the life of the faith community. As Christians seeking to live faithfully in the world, we must never find ourselves in a position where we are asking how can I make the gospel fit my political view,'' she said.

Chemberlin addressed national trends, such as the growing Muslim population, especially in Minnesota, which she said has more Muslims than Episcopalians. She said the Minnesota Council of Churches has had a 20-year dialogue with Muslims.

She said Christians must talk in-depth with their Muslim neighbors about matters of shared concern and the questions each has about the other.

"It is urgent that Christians and Muslims and Jews and all faith groups speak against the misuse of Christianity and Islam in the service of extreme ideological ends and as instruments of conflict. That's what we in America in a democracy, which guarantees freedom of religion, need to show to the world.''

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
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