By Graham Glover –
I thought some of my friends had won the lottery last week. For several days they could hardly contain themselves. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen so many clergy and regular church goers this excited about public policy. Their euphoria was evident across the web and in multiple text messages and conversations.
On 5 May, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that prayers done at public events, even if uniquely Christian, do not constitute a particular governmental endorsement of religion. In other words, Christian prayers are ok in public. “Praise Jesus!”, some of my peers proclaimed. “The Lord is back where He belongs!”
Sorry to burst your bubble my friends, but this ruling is really insignificant. In fact, I think much of what we understand as public prayer is rather irrelevant.
I admit, I do these public prayers a lot. In my current assignment, I do them at least weekly, oftentimes much more. But giving an Invocation to a formation of Troopers is hardly the focus of my vocation or for that matter, my faith. Is there goodness in these prayers? Sure. I’d like to think there is. But my ability to pray at public events/ceremonies in the name of Jesus is in no way critical to the proclamation of the Gospel. In other words, if I didn’t/couldn’t do them, my ability to be a Christian chaplain to Soldiers is in no way diminished. This is why I could care less about this recent ruling of the court.
“But we are a Christian nation!”, many reply. “We need to preach Jesus in the public realm!”, I hear all too often!.Really? Why is that? Does a prayer that mentions Jesus legitimize the actions of our government? Does a uniquely Christian prayer convert the unbeliever at such events? Are public venues the places where people go to hear about religion or strengthen their faith? No. More than likely no. Definitely no.
I’m certainly not championing the radical secularist whose agenda it is to remove every bit of religious discourse from the public realm. This is an absurd desire, even as it gains traction among many in our land. It has no constitutional basis and zero historical precedent in America. It is discrimination and relativism, par excellence. Nor do I take exception to prayers at public events. Again, I do them all the time. (I even mention Jesus!) So, if a Christian wants to pray in the name of Jesus, good for them. If a Muslim invokes the name of Allah, no problem. If a Hindu commends Vishnu and Shiva, go right ahead. Pray as your faith teaches and your conscience dictates. (Remember that whole First Amendment thing…) On this count, the court is exactly right. Don’t dictate how one can pray. And when someone prays at a public event, don’t offer the asinine lament that such a prayer is a tacit endorsement of a particular faith by the government.
But fellow Christians, you really shouldn’t get overly excited about this ruling. It means very little to our faith. Sure, it’s nice that we don’t have to worry about the government condemning or persecuting us for praying in the name of Jesus at public events (at least for now). But if they did, who cares? Why have we Christians become so convinced that we must be able to publicly proclaim our faith without any repercussions from the civil authorities? I’m certainly not clamoring for persecution, but so what if we were? Moreover, why are we so insistent on being heard at public events? Are we really under the illusion that when we pray at these events that all those present are praying with us or that they are praying to the Triune God? Remember, the civil god that is most often referenced in these prayers is not the Christian God. Our public god mentioned on our money, in our pledge, etc. is not the God that died on the cross and rose from the dead. Do not confuse these as so many often do.
Do not become dependent on the civil realm for your faith. For the Gospel is found not in the writings of public jurists, but in the words of Jesus the Christ.
Next week I’ll offer an Invocation when 220 Infantryman receive their Blue Cord. I’m honored that I can give this prayer and do so as my faith teaches. But if one day I am no longer able, the Gospel will still be proclaimed, the grace of Christ still offered, and the Church still present.
Trust not in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. Rather, trust in God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.