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DES MOINES — What would Jesus do?
If he were a member of the Iowa Legislature, Rep. Rob Taylor believes he would peacefully protest the morning prayer by a Wiccan priestess.
So the West Des Moines Republican turned his back Thursday and prayed silently as Cedar Rapids Cabot witch Deborah Maynard appealed to 'god, goddess, universe, that which is greater than ourselves.'
Many of his colleagues chose not to attend the daily prayer. But Taylor said that after praying over it, he decided the appropriate response would be to 'be in the presence of a prayer, but peacefully protest.'
Despite his protest and the boycott by more than a third of the House members, Maynard thought it went well.
'It was kind of a rush,' said Maynard, 43, a project manager for a company she declined to identify. 'It was awe-inspiring. It was humbling. A little scary to be the first one to do something like that in the state of Iowa and the third one in the nation.'
Maynard, a Unitarian Universalist and the leader of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, said her goal was inclusion.
'I just wanted to show that the House is very inclusive of all faith traditions,' she said.
Wicca is earth-based spirituality, she said. 'We believe in Mother Earth, Father Sky. We believe we are all connected to the interdependent web of all existence. We love nature.'
Rep. Liz Bennett, D-Cedar Rapids, said she was not offended by Taylor's turned back, or by the absence of many of her colleagues.
'My purpose in inviting Deborah was not to force anyone to listen to anything they are uncomfortable listening to,' Bennett said. 'Iowa is a very diverse state and I'm glad that I could do something to make our Statehouse just a little bit more open and welcoming.'
Bennett said she had received about 50 supportive emails.
The morning prayer is a tradition in the House and Senate. Typically it is offered by clergy members but in their absence, lawmakers offer it.
If Maynard wasn't bothered by the absences, Interfaith Executive Director Connie Ryan Terrell was.
'In a way it troubles me in that we all should be respectful of people's traditions and beliefs,' she said afterward.
In a statement, Terrell went on to say 'it is disingenuous for some legislators and conservative religious groups to create a public outcry against a minority religion when they often cry wolf about their own religious rights being under assault.'
However, Bob Vander Plaats of The Family Leader conservative Christian organization said Maynard offering the prayer was a 'stunning development (that) many Christians across the state recognize has spiritual ramification.'
Citing the Bible, he quoted from Ephesians: 'For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.'
Taylor said he asked himself, 'What would Jesus do?'
'Jesus would be in the chamber, from my perspective, he would passively protest. Then he would seek that individual out and have peaceful conversation about why his way was the best way,' Taylor said.
Still, he said he didn't hear anything troubling or offensive.
Taylor acknowledged he did not turn his back when Islamic or Jewish prayers have been offered in the chamber.
Later, he met briefly with Maynard and invited her to have coffee to talk further.
While Taylor was turning his back, Pastor Michael Demastus of the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ was in the balcony, praying for Maynard.
'I was praying for her salvation. I was praying that she would come to know the one true God,' Demastus said. 'I believe that the occult is dark. I do believe that's not the place to seek guidance from, so I was not praying against her. I was praying against what she was doing.'
He was joined by Michelle Gute, a Huxley resident who said she came to the Capitol to counteract the Wiccan message with a Christian prayer.
'I don't want any demonic influences on the people who are making decisions on our behalf. I was not praying with her,' she said. 'I was praying the opposite. Our country was founded on godly principles, not goddesses and whoever she was praying to.'
Editor's Note: Maynard has previously worked as an accounts receivable specialist for The Gazette Co.
Transcript of Maynard's invocation:
'We call this morning to god, goddess, universe, that which is greater than ourselves to be with us here today. By the earth that is in our bones and centers us, may all here remember our roots and those we are here to represent. By the fire that gives us light and passion, may all here remain passionate about the work that must be done for the people of Iowa. By the air that gives us breath and logic, may all here find thoughtful solutions to the problems that are presented. By the water that flows through our blood and stirs our emotions, may all here draw an emotional intelligence which helps us see the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We call this morning to spirit ever present, to help us respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. Be with us and this legislative body and guide them to seek justice, equity and compassion in the work that is before them today. Blessed be, Aho and Amen.'