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St. Pete pastor's political prayer ruffles lawmakers' feathers in Tallahassee

Rev. Andy Oliver's opening prayer mentioned hot-button issues such as LGBTQ discrimination, institutional racism, women’s reproductive rights and gun control.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — An invocation at the State House of Representatives in Tallahassee ruffled some lawmakers’ feathers this week when the reverend giving the prayer took on some hot political topics.

Rev. Andy Oliver of Allendale United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg delivered the House’s opening prayer on Wednesday and mentioned hot-button issues such as LGBTQ discrimination, institutional racism, climate change, women’s reproductive rights and gun control.

“Some, oh God, feel it is acceptable to ask for your presence here in this chamber, yet not okay to advocate for the folks whom our laws marginalize,” Oliver said in his invocation. “How is it, now too political, to advocate for the working class, and for those living in poverty, folks who increasingly can’t afford Florida? Why is it too political to pray our teachers and state employees to be paid enough for food on their tables and roofs over their heads?”

“O God, is it now too political to pray for your creation, calling for regulations to turn around climate change? Is clean water now too political?” he continued. “And why is it O God, too political to demand the dismantling of white supremacy and racism from a state whose laws increasingly support voter suppression, target the disproportionate incarceration of black and brown people, and do harm to the undocumented? When O God did it become too political for a woman to make her own medical decisions or for a child to want to attend school without guns?”

A day later, Oliver realized his prayer had rubbed some lawmakers the wrong way.

“Yesterday I gave the invocation to the Florida House of Representatives session,” Oliver wrote on his Facebook page. “Let me be clear: my prayer was not a rebuke of Republicans, but a reminder to us all that people who have been marginalized by unjust systems and laws were not born an “issue” or political or controversial.”

“It was certainly an interesting speech. As an evangelical Christian, I’m not sure that the gentleman who was praying subscribes to the same theology I do, but that’s what’s beautiful in this country, is that people can believe different things and say different things,” said Rep. Jamie Grant, a Republican from Tampa. “As I looked around the floor, both Republican, Democrat, front rows, back rows, black, white, male, female, everybody seemed to be bristling a little bit at what happened, and I think it was just as offensive if it was somebody who had been that bombastic on the other end of the political extreme.”

Oliver worried after the fact that his prayer may affect the legislation sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Webb, a Democrat from Gulfport who invited Oliver to give the invocation in the House chamber.

“I deeply, deeply love and respect Representative Jennifer Webb and her work. I hope that no members of the House will choose to retaliate against her or bills she is sponsoring for my two-minute prayer,” he wrote in his Facebook post.

“There’s always speculation about why bills die, the Boogeyman and the black helicopter theories. Most bills that die, die because they’re bad policy,” said Rep. Grant. “Never once have we had a conversation about getting our feelings hurt or being offended by something somebody did and that being the reason that somebody’s bill died. Bills die, by in large, because either they are bad policy or there’s just a finite amount of time.”

10News reached out to Rep. Webb for this story but our phone calls were not returned.

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