Divisive prayer at statehouse provides Movita Johnson-Harrell’s divine introduction to Harrisburg | Jenice Armstrong
It was to have been the newly elected state representative’s big moment. But her excitement quickly faded after freshman Rep. Stephanie Borowicz (R., Clinton County) began to speak.
I’m no preacher, nor a pastor’s wife. But I know how to pray. And the so-called prayer that was delivered from a podium inside the Pennsylvania statehouse in Harrisburg on Monday was offensive, insulting, and anything but Christian.
Freshman Rep. Stephanie Borowicz (R., Clinton County) had the audacity to stand before a government body and utter the most divisive prayer I’ve heard in a long time.
State Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell (D., Phila.), who has been Muslim for 42 years, was among those listening. With the newly elected representative were 55 friends and family members, many of them Muslim as well. They had gathered to see Johnson-Harrell sworn in as the first Muslim woman in the Pennsylvania House.
There was no ignoring Johnson-Harrell’s presence in the chamber. She had arrived dressed in full Islamic garb and with a copy of the Quran that had belonged to her late son, Charles Andre Johnson, a 2011 victim of gun violence. Many of those with her were similarly attired, their heads covered and wearing bright orange ribbons for gun-violence prevention in memory of Charles.
It was to have been Johnson-Harrell’s big moment. But her excitement quickly turned to something else after Borowicz rose and began to speak.
I wasn’t there to see it, but I can only imagine how Johnson-Harrell felt as Borowicz began calling out the name of Jesus. She did this over and over again — 13 times in a minute and a half. (I watched the prayer on YouTube and kept score.)
It was incredibly insensitive, considering how many non-Christians were in attendance. Muslims recognize Jesus as a great prophet but not as the savior.
But Borowicz, who was elected in November, ignored the diverse crowd, declaring, “At the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess, Jesus, that you are Lord.”
The wife of a pastor at a Christian church, she strangely brought up George Washington — a president who will always be remembered for holding Africans in bondage. At the time of his death, he owned more than 300 human beings.
She also threw in the Founding Fathers and Abraham Lincoln and Gov. Tom Wolf, and went so far as to thank God that President Donald Trump stands “behind Israel unequivocally.”
Thank God for the discreet arm tap by House Speaker Michael Turzai (R., Allegheny County) that brought the so-called prayer to a merciful end.
By then, though, the damage had been done.
A special moment had been forever marred by a junior representative’s appalling attempt to foist her limited religious perspective on a crowd of various religious views.
Afterward, Johnson-Harrell told me that she was outraged but that Borowicz “could never steal my joy.”
Johnson-Harrell said that because she had grown up Muslim — her mother converted when Johnson-Harrell was 10 — she was used to that kind of thing. Her concern was more for her guests and other members of the House who had witnessed it.
“It blatantly represented the Islamophobia, xenophobia, and bigotry that exists among some leaders,” Johnson-Harrell wrote to me on Facebook Messenger. “It was planned and meant to be insulting to me and my guests and was done in the name of Jesus, which is blasphemy.”
Amen to that.