Praying for the Worst

“Isn’t it against the rules of religion to pray against another person?” Elizabeth McAlister, professor of religion, professor of American studies, professor of African American studies, asks in an op-ed in The Los Angeles Times. The answer: “Hardly.”

Imprecatory prayer–or praying for harm to befall another–is more common than many know, McAlister writes. She points to a Ghanaian traditional priest who is claiming credit for causing an injury to Portugal’s soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, whose absence, the priest hopes, may improve Ghana’s chances against Portugal in the World Cup this week. Closer to home, the American evangelical community for the last five years has led a chilling campaign praying for President Barack Obama’s death.

McAlister writes:

The Secret Service has taken note of the threat inherent in the prayer campaign. But without direct evidence that people were actually advocating acts of violence, the ACLU and the Anti-Defamation League have concluded that the campaign to “Pray for Obama: Psalm 109.8″ is a legal form of political speech.

In a way, though, that conclusion relies on secular logic. The ACLU and the ADL assume prayer to be ineffectual in causing harm. But many evangelicals believe negative forms of prayer can actually be efficacious weapons. This is why they use the term “spiritual warfare,” and why they think it is best left to the experienced “prayer warrior.”