Republican lawmakers in the North Dakota state Senate turned their backs on a chaplain last month as she led the politicians in prayer in a display that has since garnered local media attention.
“I just didn’t expect it,” Rev. Dr. Leanne Simmons, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Bismarck, told FKYR-TV. “When I saw it, though, my first reaction was, ‘Oh, that looks really ugly.'”
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As is customary at the start of each floor session, Simmons — one of many local religious leaders to deliver the invocation inside the state Capitol — began praying over the Senate Feb. 8, when state Sens. Michael Wobbema (R) and Janne Myrdal (R) turned away from the minister as she spoke.
What was it, then, that Simmons prayed?
Creator of the universe and all people therein, You who formed humankind in Your image, placing them in this world in all their diversity — differing colors, genders, races, ethnicities and language. We praise You for the splendor of Your creation and the love that motivated Your hand on this Earth
“When I was praying about pluralism, diversity, genders, races, that was the point at which they look at each other and turn,” Simmons said when she watched video of the opening prayer. “That seems like a kind of benign prayer.”
Myrdal and Wobbema, however, did not see Simmons’ invocation as a “benign prayer.”
“People lobbying from the prayer pulpit is something we don’t believe in,” Myrdal told FKYR-TV. Wobbema, for his part, added he believed Simmons was using her spiritual platform to make a political statement about the transgender bills the lawmakers would be voting on that session.
One of the bills before North Dakota lawmakers, H.B. 1254, would make it a class B felony — equatable to manslaughter and punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine — to perform transgender-related surgeries on minors, according to KFYR-TV.
“According to God’s Word, people who are called to preach God’s Word are held to a higher level of accountability,” Wobbema said of Simmons’ prayer.
It should be noted Simmons’ church is associated with the Presbyterian Church (USA), which is known for its progressive stance on doctrine, to include to ordination of those who identify with the LGBT community.
In a Facebook post last week, the church voiced its support for Simmons.
“Proud of our amazing Pastor, Rev. Dr. Leanne Simmons, for sharing the Good News through this simple prayer, reminding us ALL that we are created beautifully and perfectly in HIS image,” the church stated.
Simmons urged her supporters to pray for Wobbema and Myrdal, “not against them.”
State Senate Minority Leader Kathy Hogan (D) said of the incident, “It actually broke my heart, because, first I thought it was so disrespectful of the people who come to volunteer. And secondly, it just made me sad because it’s not the decorum of the Senate.”
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