Instead of praying to God, Dan Nerren, a founder of the Humanist Association of Tulsa, “prayed” to those gathered. Some heads were bowed and some eyes were closed as Nerren offered a contemplative moment from his secular, humanist perpective.
“I’ll be invoking the council, not a deity,” the former Southern Baptist advised prior to the assembly.
As part of his invocation, Nerren urged the city council to look within themselves for truth and beauty and to respect “the inherent dignity and worth of each person.”
“We must remember that in the face of adversity, we need not look above for answers but instead recognize the proven potential within ourselves and in each other to overcome any challenges we face,” the text of his “prayer” stated. “Through the prudent use of reason and compassion, we can ensure the success of this great city.”
For several years, groups such as the Humanist Association of Tulsa and the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union have been fighting to stop the Christian prayers that have opened each meeting since 1990. While attempts have been unsuccessful, the prayers did stop for a time in 2007, but were reinstated the following year by a vote from city council.
At that time, however, the council decided to open the city council meetings to people of all religions, and have featured prayers from Buddhists, Wiccans, Muslims and other groups. Thursday’s invocation marked the first time that an atheist opened the meeting.
“We’d prefer if there was no religion arbitrarily injected in the beginning of the meetings, but if we can’t do away with this procedure, at least we’ll get our point of view across,” stated Randy Bradley, a member of the humanist group. “It’s halfway there.”
Opinions from city council members and local Christians are mixed.
City Council Chairman G.T. Bynum told reporters that he thought the arrangement was just fine.
“As a Catholic, I’m not terrified of an atheist giving an invocation. There are things of value you can learn from any religious perspective,” he stated. “Tulsa is a very religious community, and that’s one of its strongest attributes, but we’re also a diverse community. We’re not a caricature.”
Walker Moore, the president of the Tulsa missionary group AweStar Ministries, agreed.
“I don’t have to worry about my position or waving a cross every time somebody does something different than what I believe,” he said, adding that he was praying for Narren.
However, Oklahoma resident and Republican delegate Toni Calvey said she was very concerned about the atheist invocation.
“Personally I think it’s a slap in the face to our Christian heritage … our nation and … our state of Oklahoma,” she said. “We are a conservative state, and I think that something like this is meant to be provocative, and it’s insulting to me.”
The incident caused a stir among other area residents as well. Tulsa World reports that it received hundreds of comments throughout the week on both sides of the issue.
Tulsa is often called “the buckle of the Bible Belt.”
Photo: News on 6 Television