Thursday, May 18, 2006

Praying for a Gas Drop

From: Los Angeles Daily News

The Rev. Beatrice Williams drove 110 miles to Hollywood on Wednesday to beg the Lord for lower gasoline prices.

"There is victory when we stand together," Williams said, after joining eight others in prayer. "We will overcome, and we will overcome this if there are enough people who believe that God cares."

Standing beneath the Gothic Revival tower of Hollywood United Methodist Church - and across from a Chevron station charging $3.43 a gallon for unleaded - the group asked God to comfort those paying more while driving less.

"We give you praise and honor and glory. You are king of all kings. You know our needs," Bishop Donald Downing, pastor of Heart to Heart Christian Center in Fort Washington, Md., prayed as cars zipped through the intersection of Highland and Franklin avenues, occasionally honking.

"These high gas prices, Lord, bring them down, oh Father."

These prayer warriors were hoping to induce the same miracle the effort's organizer, Pray Live, claims it brought about in Washington, D.C. After about 50 attended a gathering in late April, national fuel prices dropped a few cents.

Californians, however, continue to see prices sky high. A gallon of regular averaged $3.39 in Los Angeles on Wednesday - down, but just a penny from Tuesday.

"This will be a testament to all of the people who don't believe in the power of prayer," said Wenda Royster, director of Pray Live, which operates a 24-hour phone and Internet prayer line.

"Gas is almost like water, especially here in California, where people drive far to work and can't rely on public transportation."

Gasoline experts have been offering advice for months on how drivers can reduce fuel prices: empty the trunk, combine errands, keep tires properly inflated, maintain a steady speed.

"People seek - what is the word I'm looking for? - relief in many ways," said Jeff Spring, a spokesman for the Automobile Club of Southern California. "We would recommend they continue to try to cut their use of gas to try to lower the prices. Reduced demand will lower their prices."

What about asking for help from above?

"I'll leave that question up to the theologians," Spring said.

In Scripture, God's children tend to pray for illnesses to be healed and for persecution to be stopped, said Patrick Miller, professor emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary.

"Situations that evoke people's crying out to the Lord - what I would call prayers for help - tend to be situations when the community is in dire straits," Miller said.

But rising gas prices are different because it's possible God is reminding Americans the world has limited natural resources, Miller said. Praying to overcome human excess would be like praying to ace an exam that wasn't studied for.

On the other hand, it would be appropriate to pray for wisdom to respectfully live in God's creation and conserve natural resources, Miller said, which was why the Rev. Ed Hansen agreed to have Wednesday's prayer session outside his church.

"It is very unjust that profits can be so high when people are so deeply affected," said Hansen, who drives a 2004 Prius and lives a mile from his church. "From a faith perspective, I believe God wants us to work for justice."

While Hansen said some people at United Methodist are struggling to pay rent or put food on the table because they're paying steeper prices for gas, ExxonMobil, the world's largest publicly traded oil company, reported a record profit of $8.4 billion in the first quarter of this year.

The national average for a gallon of gas rose again this week, closing at $2.93 on Wednesday.

The prayer group didn't expect God's answer to "come down in a lightning bolt" but to lower prices over time by guiding politicians on energy policies.

Not everyone was a believer, though. Holding signs calling people to prayer, the group was unable to lure any passers-by into its fold.

"Pray for lower gas prices?" a twenty-something man said, cocking his head as if confounded by a great riddle. "I'll think about it," he said, deadpan, and hurried off.