A new worldwide effort among several Christian groups for a prayer "offensive," directed at particular places and particular people, is likely to draw both praise and criticism. Many faithful are signing up. Others see it as intrusive. Still others shrug it off as ineffective.
The last response would be a mistake. Without question, a movement that rallies people to apply spiritual thinking is significant. The question about this offensive, examined in the Monitor's Ideas section today and last Thursday, involves its tactics - and perhaps the motives behind them.
Today's installment looks at what the movement's evangelical organizers call "spiritual mapping." This refers to targeting specific sources of "spiritual blindness" - "demonic" influences, drug-dealing, and what the prayer leaders see as heretical teachings. Prayers are then directed accordingly. Pastors claim dropping crime rates and growing congregations as a result.
The tactics have drawn protests from at least one group, Jews, who view themselves as targets for conversion. And militant rhetoric - for example, prayer as the "air war" preceding missionary "ground troops" - won't sit well with Hindus or Muslims. It could inflame religious tensions, rather than bring harmony.
Whether aiming their campaign abroad or in the United States, the prayer legions might first want to confront any assumption on their part that everyone whose religious views don't coincide with their own is necessarily in need of salvation - i.e., has had no experience of God. Targeting people with prayer because they don't think like you has too often justified persecution and war.
Prayer-movement leaders no doubt revel in Paul's words in II Corinthians: "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds." But those words point to a probing of one's own thoughts before endeavoring to save others.
Ultimately, the movement's influence for good depends on a genuine motivation of love and selflessness. That's worth praying to see in action.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society