Fact Check

Who Believes in Prayer?

Texas judge makes caustic comment about which side in litigation believes in prayer?

Published Aug. 28, 2008


Legend:   In a dispute between a bar owner and churchgoers, a Texas judge makes a caustic comment about which party believes in prayer.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, August 2008]

Strange isn't it!! How would you like to be the Judge?

TEXAS Bar Sues Church

In a small Texas town (Mt. Vernon), Drummond's Bar began construction on a new building to increase their business. The local Baptist church started a campaign to block the bar from opening with petitions and prayers.

Work progressed right up till the week before opening when lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground. The church folks were rather smug in their outlook after that, until the bar owner sued the church on the grounds that the church was ultimately responsible for the demise of his building, either through direct or indirect actions or means. The church vehemently denied all responsibility or any connection to the building's demise in its reply to the court.

As the case made its way into court, the judge looked over the paperwork. At the hearing he commented, "I don't know how I'm going to decide this case. It appears that we have a bar owner who believes in the power of prayer, and an entire church congregation that does not."


Origins:   Our earliest sighting of the item comes from a 2001 issue of "Smilers," an online compendium of humor. It in turn gave as its source "Our Daily Bread," a publication of RBC Ministries.

The story is told of a man who got a permit to open the first tavern in a small town. The members of a local church were strongly opposed to the bar, so they began to pray that God would intervene. A few days before the tavern was scheduled to open, lightning hit the structure and it burned to the ground. The people of the church were surprised but pleased - until they received notice that the would-be tavern owner was suing them. He contended that their prayers were responsible for the burning of the building. They denied the charge. At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, the judge wryly remarked, "At this point I don't know what my decision will be, but it seems that the tavern owner believes in the power of prayer and these church people don't."

In that earlier telling, the name of the tavern and that of the town where the incident took place are not given. Later versions would flesh out the tale, such as a July 2007 blog post which presented the incident as having happened in "a small, Midwestern conservative town" and the August 2008 version given in the Example section above which dubbed the lightning-struck watering hole Drummond's Bar and located it in Mt. Vernon, Texas.

The story isn't supposed to be read as relating something that happened in real life; it's a modern day admonition to churchgoers to not allow transient secular

needs to get in the way of their faith. What a person believes or will stand up for shouldn't change because there's a monetary factor involved; otherwise, it's not true belief. As the fictional judge points out, there is something untoward about a congregation so willing to put worldly matters first that it denies it believes in prayer.

While the tale is an exaggeration of its underlying moral, that overstatement is a way of prompting folks to measure the contents of their hearts against those of the fictional congregation to see if they themselves aren't at times engaging in a bit of religious distancing. Do they set aside their faith, and their pride in it, when faith becomes inconvenient? Or do they stand up for their beliefs and proudly proclaim them, even when doing so is to their disadvantage, financial or otherwise?

Barbara "standing order" Mikkelson

Last updated:   10 January 2013


    Vanderlippe, Marg.   "Power of Prayer?"

    The Evangelist [St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Sedona, AZ].   July 2008   (p. 3).