Oklahoma’s oil and gas sector, one of the biggest in the country, is in bad shape. So bad that the state’s governor has called for divine intervention.
Falling oil prices have sapped the state’s economy in the past year and have caused companies to eliminate tens of thousands of industry jobs. The state has made a number of attempts to revive the sector, including giving oil companies huge tax breaks, but the outlook remains bleak.
Gov. Mary Fallin’s solution? Pray.
Last month, Fallin (R) dubbed Oct. 13 “Oilfield Prayer Day.” In a one-page proclamation, she called on all Christians to “thank God for the blessings created by the oil and natural gas industry and to seek His wisdom and ask for protection.”
“Oklahoma is blessed with an abundance of oil and natural gas, allowing the state to be a prosperous producer of these valuable resources,” the proclamation states. “Oklahoma recognizes the incredible economic, community and faith-based impacts demonstrated across the state by oil and natural gas companies.”
Some people welcomed the call.
“We’re asking churches all over Oklahoma to open their doors, put on a pot of coffee and pray for the oil field,” Rev. Tom Beddow, a member of Oklahoma’s Oil Patch Chaplains ministry, told the Oklahoman. “And not only for the oil field but the state, because the economy of our state is so connected to the oil field.”
Others, however, took issue with the measure — not so much because a public official was advocating prayer in an official proclamation, but because Fallin restricted her pitch to Christians alone. Among the most vocal was Tulsa World columnist Ginnie Graham, who noted that many state energy executives were non-Christian.
“The governor’s proclamation ignores them,” Graham wrote. “That’s wrong.”
Now, on the eve of Oilfield Prayer Day, Fallin is backpedaling. On Monday, the governor said she would revise the measure to include “all faiths,” the Associated Press reported.
“There are many people suffering right now who have lost their jobs in the energy sector,” she said. “There are a lot of families who have been hurt, and I think prayer is always a good thing for anyone.”
Twitter users were not impressed by either version.
The measure was sponsored by the Oilfield Christian Fellowship, a group that holds prayer meetings, distributes Bibles and publishes a newsletter for Christians who work in the sector. Jeff Hubbard, a member of the group, told the Oklahoman he thought the proclamation would help.
“We have a saying: The oil field trickles down to everyone,” he said.
But even other religious figures took issue with Fallin’s measure. Bruce Prescott, a retired minister who once sued to have a Ten Commandments monument removed from the state Capitol, told the Associated Press the governor shouldn’t be calling on anyone to pray.
“That’s a minister’s responsibility,” he said. “There are a lot of things that could be prayed about in this state, and the oil field is not at the top of that list.”
As the oil and gas industry has foundered, the state legislature has cut funding from schools, forcing some to reduce school-weeks to four days, as Reuters reported earlier this year. At the same time, Reuters reported, lawmakers preserved a crucial tax break for oil and gas production, worth about $470 million in 2015.
Fallin, who took office in 2011, said the tax breaks were enacted by previous governors.