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Last week, Wiley S. Drake, an California pastor and a former national leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, asked his followers to pray for the deaths of two leaders of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS).

He did so because the group urged the IRS to investigate his church's nonprofit status. Drake had endorsed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for president, doing so on church letterhead and during a church-affiliated internet radio show; the AUSCS was naturally concerned.

Drake said he was "simply doing what God told me to do." He believes AUSCS officials are "enemies of God" and that "God says to pray imprecatory prayer against people who attack God's church."

Leaving little to the imagination, Drake offered some samples that, I presume, were to be answered before God killed the officials: "Let his days be few, and let another take his office," his suggested prayer reads. "Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow."

This incident made the news partly because such prayers today strike us as absurd. It's weird news you can't use but find fascinating. But when we Christians hear about a character like Drake, we flinch because we know that such prayers litter the Bible—everything from King David's "Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!" (Ps. 139:19) to Paul's "If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed" (1 Cor. 16:22).

Such bursts of righteous indignation could be quietly shoved into the exegetical closet, except that the "meek and mild" Jesus had a reputation for not only killing fig trees with a curse, but also for cursing friends ("Get behind me Satan!" he tells Peter in Mark 8:33) and enemies: "You serpents, you brood of vipers," he yells at the Pharisees, "how ...

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