Prayer in School & At Public Events: Towards A Theology Of Prayer, Pt. 12

Without a doubt, the topic(s) mentioned in the title of this post are "hot topics" for many Christians. It may well be the case that when it comes to such matters, a great deal of so-called Christians let zeal override any shred of reason or critical thinking skills they may have. Even on Facebook, many Christians are starting groups to promote prayer in schools and at public events; of course, they are referring to "Christian Prayer" here, not prayer in relation to any other religions. And really, that last statement leads into the first point I want to make about "Christian Prayer" in public schools and at public events.

For those who claim to adhere to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it must be noted that Jesus never forced His views down people's throats. In fact, during His lifetime, even His own family members struggled with His movement and teachings, yet, He didn't force them to take His side. The truth is, in Jesus' mind, adherence to the Good News is predicated on choice. Actually, anything else (e.g. forcing Christianity on someone) not only runs counter to the core of the Gospel message but wholly contradicts the notion that "choosing" a relationship with Christ is just that: a choice!

Remember, Jesus lived in a world with myriad religious movements and His own movement was one among many. Jesus was not out to shake His fist at people and scare them into a relationship with Him but rather, He was out to share God's love and to exemplify what intimacy with His Father looked like. Just as well, Jesus was not out to overthrow the government of His day (though He was a revolutionary in many ways, whose ideas and practices tended to subvert the ways of the established government). With all of this in mind, let me recap three important points here: 1) Jesus never forced the Gospel upon anyone, 2) Jesus led His movement in a world where other religions existed and He led His movement with a spirit of peace and co-existence, and 3) Jesus never attempted to use His movement to gain a political foothold or stake in the Roman civil government.

Now, if we transfer the implications of these points into the 21st century culture of the West, I believe the practical applications will actually be quite the same. Christians today are not called to force the Gospel on persons, they are not called to use it to gain control or power over others (but rather, to serve them), they are not called to use it to make people uncomfortable or to scare people and they are not called to use it as a tool to gain political clout. If we apply these ideals to the topic of prayer in schools and / or prayer at public events, then we come to the conclusion that: Unless the event is a faith-oriented event, prayer should be kept quiet and personal.

In applying my definition of prayer to these matters (Attending to the presence of God both around us and in us), I think this all really makes a lot of sense. In fact, I think that when you allow my definition to interact with these ideas, you actually start to see that many of the underlying reasons for people wanting prayer in school and at public gatherings runs directly counter to the ways of Jesus and the message of the Gospel itself!!! For example, it seems clear to me that many so-called Christians are actually throwing stupid fits about prayer in schools for very un-Christian reasons: 1) To show-off their own supposed personal piety, 2) To show that their religion is the best, 3) To gain religio-political clout and power over others and 4) To cover up their own spiritual weaknesses in private!

In fact, I would venture to say that you can see most of this stuff at work by asking one question: 1) Are the people who are so adamant about public prayer, willing to let multiple religions have a prayer or just Christians? Indeed, most of these people would advocate a "Christian Prayer Only" sort of view! And this, friends, reveals the biases and motives mentioned above. There is no need to attempt to force prayer into the public arena! This does not equal "kicking God out" of our society or lives because just as easily (and more peacefully and more theologically correct), we can say prayers quietly amongst ourselves. Christians need to start using their brains!!! Nobody in America is preventing you from praying quietly! I mean, is there really a difference between praying aloud and quietly? Does a vocal prayer carry more weight than a silent one? Do the prayers of those who can speak carry more weight than those who are mute?

I remember in my 6th grade science class, how my teacher (at a public school) always called on someone to pray at the beginning of class. Some people, me included, were terrified to do this. Indeed, many people weren't into church or even religion, me included, and he still issued it as mandatory. There is no reason that Christians who are teachers should force this on students! When one of the first major Supreme Court decisions about prayer in public schools was made in 1962 (Engel Vs. Vitale), many Christians freaked out. As cases like this one continued to develop over the years (e.g. Abington Township Vs. Schempp, 1963; Wallace Vs. Jaffree, 1985; Lee Vs. Weisman, 1992; Santa Fe Vs. Doe, 2000; Adler Vs. Duval, 2002; etc.) and still do, it only makes sense that those who embrace any sort of religion in a society that values choice, need not force their views and practices on others. Thankfully, Jesus even understood this two thousand years ago.

Sadly, even people like the renowned Billy Graham use poor logic such as: "Eighty percent of the American people want Bible readings and Prayer in the schools...Why should the majoritybe so severely penalized by the protests of a handful?" It is one thing to allow the Bible to be read and exegeted in public schools from a literary, historical and social perspective but a wholly other thing to do it from a confessional or devotional perspective. Again, how could this one who has stood before billions and offered a "choice", in this case, "force" the issue on those who have rejected the choice? It simply goes against all logic!

There's also the argument about moral deterioration in America since Court rulings like those listed above have started occurring. While this may be the case or while it may be coincidence or even exaggeration, the truth is, if parents were more vigilant at home, things like early drug use, early sexual activity, teen crimes, violence and other things would decline. The public school is not the arbiter of faith; she never has been and never should be! Personally, I don't want someone who is uneducated in exegesis and theology attempting to teach my kids about the Bible or God! First of all, the home is the place where Christian teaching should happen and also (or then) the Church! We have worship gatherings and meetings for just this reason!!!

So, my thoughts: Christians (or other religious groups) stop attempting to force your faith, theology and religious praxis on others that do not share those things in common. For Christians, the call to teach at home, to teach in the Church and to co-exist peaceably needs to finally be taken seriously! In the end, I would urge many of those purporting to be so-called Christians to lay down their artificial masks of piety, to start using their brains and to start looking at the real roots of the spiritual draughts they may be experiencing: Themselves! One last thought: All Christians may do well to remember that when Jesus prayed, He often retired to a quiet, un-public place or in a home with fellow believers. In fact, Jesus is even noted as being critical of those who pray in public (as if for a show or to make some religious point!!!). Think on these things.

1) Defining Prayer
2) Imaging Prayer
3) Asking in Prayer
4) Why I Don't Pray For Things
5) Pray Without Ceasing? Why?
6) Does Prayer Work?
7) Can Prayer Change God's Mind?
8) What Is Genuine Prayer?
9) Frustration & Prayer (Rethinking Psalm 137)
10) Why Pray If God Already Knows Your Thoughts?
11) Mystical Praying

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