| |

Praying to be Seen

A few years ago a number of my students in an introductory Bible study class arrived very excited. There was a town coucil here in Florida (I forget precisely where), that had invited a Wiccan–a witch!–to offer a prayer opening a public ceremony. My students were discussing what they would have done about this obviously heathen prayer, and were cheering folks who had turned their backs on the person offering it.

“I bet you would have done something good!” said one of them to me.

“I would have stood silently and respectfully as she prayed,” was my response.

Why is it so difficult to respect someone else’s spirituality, their prayers, or any other religious activity they pursue? Now we have a story of a school at which one student did not want to sit through a Christian prayer at the commencement, and the ACLU filed suit on his behalf and got an injunction to prevent it. I understand the student’s position. It can be very uncomfortable to be in the minority, especially a minority of one. At the same time, I must say that I have a problem with the ACLU position on this one. I think student initiated, student led prayer, even in a public ceremony should be regarded to some extent as free expression, though at the High School level there would be some limits to this. (See the story at Judge Blocks Prayer at High School Graduation, thanks to Ed Brayton, Religion and the Majoritarian Impulse for calling my attention to this.)

I think that there are much better ways to deal with a situation like that, including finding ways during the year and at various school ceremonies to acknowledge the beliefs of students who are in the minority. I’ve been in the minority religiously, growing up as a Seventh-day Adventist. “Do you go to church on Sunday?” asks someone. “No,” I reply, intending to continue with “we go to church on Saturday. But I see the “you heathen” look, and I know this is not a person who is interested in hearing about alternatives to the expected Sunday spent in church. That, of course, is very minor, but Seventh-day Adventist businessmen often had considerable problems with Sunday blue laws. Their faith required them to stay closed on Saturday, and the law required them to stay closed on Sunday. The majority felt it had the right to enforce its brand of spiritual life.

So back to this high school. What do the students do? About 200 of them stood up during the principals opening remarks and recited the Lord’s prayer. Now I have a serious problem with this. Whether the judge was right or wrong about the law, his injunction was the law. Those students said that they didn’t really care about that, they were going to make their prayer demonstration anyhow, disrupting the ceremony. They announced loud and clear that they were the majority and they didn’t much care what the minority thought, or what a federal judge ordered. Others at a rehearsal booed the student involved in the suit.

Now how does a prayer demonstration fit in with Matthew 6:5: “But when you pray don’t be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray in synagogues and standing on street corners so people can see them. I tell you truly, they have their reward.” How does the attitude of rebellion stand up against Romans 13:1-7? I do believe there is a proper time to protest, but is the use of prayer as a mode of protest really something we want to do?

But I have a better idea for us as Christians. Consider Philippians 2:4: “Let each person not look after his own interests, but after the interests of others.” What would the Christ-like attitude be in this situation. I’m not talking about the law here. What would our Christian standard be? I would suggest that Christian students–or better Christ-like students would seek to find a way to make the one in the minority feel more comfortable. Perhaps they could acknowledge his faith in some way during the ceremony. Such an approach might prevent a case like this from going to court in the first place.

The Christian majority in this country is whining about persecution quite a bit these days. We’re dealing with words, folks, and as Christians we’re in the majority. No, your own little sect, or big sect, whatever that may be, and my sect, are not all by ourselves in the majority, but Christians are. We are mostly putting up with one another, and most of the claimed persecution seems to be cases in which we don’t get to do precisely what we want, or what we’ve always done, because there is someone pesky outsider to object.

It’s not that we’re not free to pray; we are. Our children can pray in public school right now! They can do it legally. What is not permitted is having the state sponsor it. So the real problem is not that your child can’t pray. It’s that you can’t have the teacher force him, and other people’s children, to pray in some specified way.

But prayer as a demonstration is just noise. I suspect, based on the words of Jesus, that God is not particularly pleased with that sort of noise.

Similar Posts

One Comment

  1. Henry,
    I’ve never read your blog before; I was guided here from Locusts and Honey. This post is excellent! “…Christ-like students would seek to find a way to make the one in the minority feel more comfortable.” I whole-heartedly agree with your perspective on this. Thank you for this evocative post!

Comments are closed.