Minnesota Legislature’s Special Session Fails To Pass Police Reform Measures    

Early Saturday morning, June 20, the Special Session of the Minnesota Legislature adjourned without passing any police reform measures. Nor did they pass a bonding bill for various state projects or a measure to provide federal COVID-19 aid for local governments.[1]

The Minnesota House had passed 20 police reform bills that would tighten the state’s deadly force laws, put the attorney general in charge of all cases where deadly force is used, ban “warrior-style” training for law enforcement and restore voting rights for felons on probation. The Senate, on the other hand, had passed a more modest police reform package that would have required reporting and intervention in deadly force cases and a state officer licensing board to ban chokeholds and neck restraints.

Early Saturday morning the Democrats in the House made a counteroffer that eliminated their proposals for having the attorney general investigate all police killings and restoring the right to vote to convicted felons. But The Senate Republicans apparently did not respond.

This result was disappointing, but not too surprising with the Senate controlled by the Republicans and the House by the Democratic Farmer Labor Party (the DFL).

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[1] Bierschbach, Van Berkel & Condon, Minnesota Legislature adjourns without agreement on key issues, StarTribune (June 20, 2020); Bogel-Burroughs & Healy, Protesters Demanded Police Reform. Minnesota Lawmakers Left Without Passing a Bill, N.Y. Times (June 20, 2020); Bierschbach, Gov. Tim Walz implores Minnesota lawmakers to pass policing reforms while ‘the world is watching,’ StarTribune (June 18, 2020).

 

Minnesota Legislature’s Daily Prayer          

Rule 1.01 of the Minnesota House of Representatives for the Convening of the House provides, “The call to order is followed by a prayer by the Chaplain or time for a brief meditation, then by the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and then by a call of the roll of members.” (Emphasis added.)[1]

Journalist Jennifer Brooks tells us, “In the middle of a pandemic, when the crowds at the State Capitol are at a bare minimum, it falls to the lawmakers themselves to open each session with a few good words in these bad times.”[2]

In early April 2020, Representative Pat Garofalo (Rep.) was the substitute chaplain who said the prayer should be “a time for some patience, for unity and most importantly for hope” and that he wanted it to be “a meaningful message that the people of Minnesota could respect, but would have particular relevance to House staff and House members.” Therefore, he chose the following passage from the New Testament of the Bible (1 Peter 3: 13-17):

  • “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their threat, do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”

On April 28, 2020, the opening prayer was provided by House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL), who used what he said was his favorite prayer, the Lutheran Prayer of Good Courage, because it “gives us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us.” Here is that prayer:

  • “Lord God,
    you have called your servants
    to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,
    by paths as yet untrodden,
    through perils unknown.
    Give us faith to go out with good courage,
    not knowing where we go,
    but only that your hand is leading us
    and your love supporting us;
    through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This same prayer was given on May 16, 2010, the final day of that session, by the House Chaplain, Rev. Dennis J. Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), who placed it in a broader context as follows:[3]

  • “In my experience, all prayers seem to come down to two simple petitions”
  • Lord have mercy covers all the sins, disappointments, failures, mistakes, what we did not get done, and stubbornness or hardness of hearts or posturing that contribute to stalemates. Yes, Lord, have mercy. Thanks be to God for that mercy which brings second chances and new beginnings.” (Emphasis added.)
  • Thanks be to God is a petition that covers all that went right during this session, that acknowledges successes and the hope we have in what seems like setbacks, hope for seeds that were planted, ideas that may yet come to fruition, laws that may yet be improved, the hope for tomorrow. Thanks be to God for partnerships forged, transcendent moments when the good of the people triumphs over partisanship. Thanks be to God for all who are willing to put in the long hours, endure the critics and do the heavy lifting , and to participate in this messy but necessary and godly process of democracy. Yes, thanks be to God.” (Emphasis added.)
  • Now, Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give use faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us.” (Emphasis added.)

This prayer was published in The Lutheran Book of Worship, which was produced by the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship, a collaboration of the Lutheran Church in America, the American Lutheran Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada that was started by the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, which left the collaboration just before publication of this book.[4]

Rev. Johnson reports that this prayer previously was written by Eric Milner-White, an English Anglican priest (1884-1963), who was Dean of Chapel at King’s College, Cambridge University (1918-1941) and the creator of its now world famous “A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.”[5]

Rev. Johnson was the House Chaplain, 2009-10, and his book, cited below, provides a history of that chaplaincy, including a list of the chaplains, 1849-1857 (Territorial Sessions) and 1857-2011 (State Sessions) along with an overview of issues of church and state, personal reflections on the roles and a compilation of prayers he (and guest chaplains) had offered in 2009-10. He spent a combined 21 years in parish ministry in Dallas, Texas and St. Peter, Minnesota. He also served as a vice president of Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, and one year as its interim president (2002-2003). After his retirement, he was an associate to the bishop of the Minneapolis Area Synod of the ELCA, which he joined on January 1, 1988, when the Lutheran Church in America joined the American Lutheran Church and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches to create the ELCA and more recently (2015-17) was Interim Senior Pastor at Minneapolis’ Mount Olivet Lutheran Church.   I am proud to say he is a friend of mine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelical_Lutheran_Church_in_America

An earlier House Chaplain (1993-94) was Rev. Dr. Donald M. Meisel, then Senior Pastor at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, which is this blogger’s church.

Reflection

The Prayer of Good Courage is instructive to us all. We all are God’s servants, and we all ”are called to ventures” even though  “we cannot see the ending “ and even though they lead us  on “paths as yet untrodden” and even though they lead us “through perils unknown.”  Too often we forget these basic truths when we embark on new ventures.

Therefore, we also should not forget that we need to embark on these new ventures “with good courage” and with faith that God’s “hand is leading us” and “God’s love [is] supporting us.” This “good courage” includes  humility to recognize that we may not have correctly analyzed the situation. We need to listen to others and try to learn from their opinions. We need to be able to admit that we were wrong.

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[1] Rule 1.01 of the Temporary Rules of the [Minnesota] House of Representatives] 2019-2020. Surprisingly the Minnesota Senate apparently does not have a similar rule. (Temporary Rules of the [Minnesota] Senate, 91st Legislature (2019-2020). A special comment is invited for identification of the Minnesota Senate’s rule or practice for a chaplain.

[2] Brooks, In a Minnesota Legislature on lockdown, State Capitol gets used to a new normal, StarTribune (May 1, 2020).

[3] Johnson, Chaplain of the House: A Ministry of Prayer and Presence in the Minnesota House of Representatives at 78-79 (Hennepin House 2011).

[4] The Lutheran Book of Worship at 153 (1978); Lutheran Book of Worship, Wikipedia.

[5] Milner-White, O God you have called your servants, DAILY PRAYER edited by Eric Milner-White & G. W. Briggs (1941).