Condoleezza Rice gave a public prayer on Sunday, July 10th, 2016 at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. When I read about it, I was intrigued enough to watch the video.
I hear a lot of public prayers – a LOT – most of them pretty pedestrian (though good and sincere), some of them amazing (and still sincere), some of them awkward, strained, or even pompous.
I wasn't overly impressed the first time through, though she seemed humble, so I watched it again. I pondered, trying to put it in the proper perspective. And then the power of her prayer began to dawn on me.
I don’t know Condoleezza Rice personally, of course. I've read her book called Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom, and I've read some of her history. Her parents were both involved in teaching, and her father was also a minister. She wanted to be a concert pianist, but she realized in college that she didn’t have enough talent for it and confidently changed course. She was a Democrat until 1982, but her father had been a long-time Republican because the Democrats in 1952 didn’t want black people voting.
She became a noted expert on Soviet and East European affairs and was involved in U.S. policy as the Iron Curtain fell and transformational geopolitical and social change was taking place across the world. She was the first female National Security Advisor and the first African-American female Secretary of State. As far as I know she has never married and has no children, but she devotes much of her time and effort to inspiring young minds. She is also one of the most well-spoken and personable people on the planet.
There are some people who don’t like Condoleezza Rice, for reasons that almost invariably have to do with racially-tinged politics or failures surrounding the Iraq War. She has dealt with some of the vilest expressions of personal hatred directed toward her, and has rarely, if ever, responded in kind. Many people have begged her to run for President, or to accept an invitation to be a vice presidential running mate, and she has refused them all.
I am very happy she gave that prayer, because we need it, and we need it NOW. During Hitler’s ascent to power, only a tiny handful of the world’s illustriously-elite minds thought it was even remotely possible that Hitler could become a significant danger. That kind of massive-underestimation scenario has played out literally hundreds of times throughout history, as the smug superiors of the “common man” casually dismiss the real evils people face. What is Ms. Rice saying to us by offering such a prayer in a very public way? She’s saying, “Wake up! God hasn’t been asleep – WE have been.”
Of course, Condi Rice is one person, and she doesn’t speak for all of us. She doesn't claim to speak for God, either. But she knows that if she can help convince enough of us to plead with God for help, forgiveness, and guidance, we all have a chance at real progress.
To me, she said three critical things we need to understand:
Our nation is not, nor ever has been, perfect, and we need help to rise above our weaknesses, past and present
Those who profess to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ must be at the forefront of efforts to achieve peace and reconciliation in our country and in the world
Without God’s help, we can’t do it; we desperately need Him, and the sooner a critical mass of us recognizes that, the better off we will be; we cannot outsmart him
As Ms. Rice has done, I have studied a great deal about our nation’s founding. It was not perfect, and how could it have been? God didn’t come down and personally set things up, because that’s not how He operates. He gives us our agency to make choices and figure things out, and gives us help as we strive to work through obstacles and ask (appropriately) for His help.
He is wise in how He does this, allowing us the maximum growth of which we are capable at the time. And if we fail to listen, or to seek His help at all, we reap the consequences of our vastly inadequate understanding. (The differences between the American and French Revolutions are a striking example of this, by the way.)
Many of the Founders tried valiantly to abolish slavery from the start in the new republic, and were unable to achieve their goal. They understood the true ugliness of slavery, which has existed across all major groups of people since the dawn of civilization. They recognized the rapacious greed which had driven the great European powers to purchase slaves from European, Asian, and African slavers in order to more quickly render the resources of the New World. They knew how entrenched it had become in many of the colonies, and how pernicious were some of the rationalizations for it.
Should they have fought harder to explicitly ban slavery in the Constitution, rather than merely plant the seeds of slavery’s destruction therein? Should they have settled for a union of just the Northern colonies, knowing that the Southern colonies would ally themselves with Great Britain in an effort to erase the new nation from the map?
Those are tough questions, and the more I study, the more I’m impressed by what our Founders - men and women alike - were able to achieve under their circumstances. It was truly progressive, for they set the framework for securing the freedom of ALL Americans, whatever their perceived race. In the world of 1776, or 1787, or 1791, this emerging nation was the best the world had to offer, and because of the institutions being established and nurtured here for the protection of freedom, its potential for human progress was limitless.
It was only our human obstinacy, greed and pride that made the final abolishing of slavery require a disastrous civil war. Even then, God – in the great love Ms. Rice repeatedly referred to in her prayer – prepared Abraham Lincoln and other brave souls to guide us miraculously through … and then we killed or ignored most of them, leading to a prolonged period of cruel segregation that still casts the shadows which Ms. Rice so poignantly mentioned.
As things stand now, there are far too many who have embraced hatred and revenge, for whom no amount of reconciliation, progress, and good will can ever be enough to right past wrongs. They don’t want to engage in fair-minded, rational dialogue and collaborative solution-building. They want blood and money, in vast amounts.
Jesus himself faced the same kind of socially-charged, emotionally-raw undercurrent when He lived among the Jews in Roman-occupied Palestine. While the Jews were overly proud, the Romans were also cruel at times. Many Jewish men, women, and children suffered and died at the hands of the Romans, and the Jews were harshly treated as second-class citizens – or less – in the great Roman Empire.
As a consequence, many Jews wished for bloody revenge on the Romans, and it was partly this manic desire for revenge that caused them to ignore the true purpose of their long-awaited Messiah, who they ultimately rejected despite his many pleadings and warnings.
Condi Rice’s prayer is a call to all people of good will – and particularly Christians – to throw off the shackles of hatred and revenge and to valiantly pursue peace. She is reminding us not only of our responsibility as followers of Christ and brothers and sisters to “do good to all men,” but also that in the end it truly is the peacemakers who inherit the Earth, because those who seek evil and destruction always end up destroying themselves.
Through Condi’s humble prayer, God is calling us to race again toward Him. He won’t force us to obey Him or even talk to Him, but He will warn us that grave danger is upon us, and He will “embrace” us – as Condi expressed – not only so that we can be comforted and emboldened by His love, but so that He can teach us and guide us and impart to us some of His wisdom, without which we must surely fall. President Lincoln understood that clearly, and he prayed with every fervent hope that he could convince enough people in the United States to petition their Maker for mercy and offer their service in the cause of Good and Peace.
None of us can do it alone, but enough of us together, inviting God’s help, can do miraculous things to establish peace and save the constitutional beacon of Faith, Liberty, and Rule of Law that was, is, and should remain the United States of America.
View video of Condoleezza Rice's prayer below: