A controversial talk-radio evangelist, who has equated homosexuals with predators and molesters, was allowed to offer the opening prayer of Friday’s session of the Minnesota House of Representatives.
The prayer by Bradlee Dean, which seemed to suggest that President Barack Obama doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ, created a firestorm for House Republicans and prompted a Gustie response.
First, Rev. Grady St. Dennis — the regular House chaplain and Gustavus Adolphus College’s director of church relations — was sent to the podium a few minutes after Dean to offer a sort of do-over of the opening prayer. Then Rep. Terry Morrow, a Gustavus communications professor, communicated his Democratic colleagues’ dismay at the initial choice for the day’s chaplain.
“... Part of the explanation for starting our sessions with a prayer was that those prayers would never exclude, never marginalize a Minnesotan on the basis of their faith, on the basis of their beliefs, on the basis of who they are, and those expectations have been crushed today,” said Morrow, a member of the House Democratic leadership.
Morrow said he knew little of Dean’s incendiary history when he stood up to speak, basing his objection on the pastor’s words. Dean, wearing a track suit and a long pony-tail, left out any reference to homosexuality in his prayer.
But he violated a House custom of saying an opening prayer that is broadly spiritual without favoring specific faiths. Dean talked of the “head” of all denominations, “his name is Jesus.”
Then he added: “As every president up until 2008 has acknowledged.”
Morrow said Dean’s prayer effectively demolished one of the few moments when Republicans and Democrats set their differences aside “to contemplate together, to come together, before the heated battle of what can sometimes be partisan politics.”
Afterward, he pointed specifically at the Obama remark.
“I think he was clearly implying falsely that President Obama is not a Christian,” Morrow said.
Other House Democrats, including two openly gay members, were more focused on Dean’s past comments — including, in the midst of a radio conversation about homosexuals, that “they molest 117 people on average before they’re found out.”
“In my 30 years in the House, I have never seen such a hateful person be allowed to deliver the opening prayer,” Rep. Karen Clark of Minneapolis said. “... The Republican leadership should be ashamed of themselves.”
In fact, House Speaker Kurt Zellers profusely apologized for allowing Dean to speak and stated that Dean is “a man I personally denounce.” Zellers said he knew nothing about Dean’s background.
Dean was suggested as a guest chaplain by Rep. Ernie Leidiger, R-Mayer. A freshman, Leidiger later called the invitation a “mistake” and said he knew little about Dean’s ministry when a constituent suggested he’d be a good guest chaplain.
Morrow, who approached Zellers immediately after the prayer, said the speaker seemed genuinely surprised by what had happened at the podium.
Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, said it’s inevitable that some people will suspect Dean was purposely selected as a precursor to an expected debate over a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Cornish said it isn’t logical to think the legislative leadership would want to stir up emotions in that way, particularly as it faces a Monday adjournment with little progress made in fixing a $5 billion budget shortfall.
“The last thing we want is a huge conspiracy,” he said. “We’ve had enough of that.”
As for St. Dennis, the regular House chaplain who was asked to re-do the prayer, he stepped to the podium wearing a black jacket and shirt with a white collar.
“In this time of words and activities and many distractions, we thank you for this time to center ourselves,” St. Dennis began. “... We thank you for the patience that we have with each other and that you have with us. ... We are grateful for all your blessings. Amen.”