Accuse me if you will of suffering from some form of ideological schizophrenia, but I want to make one more comment on this week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on public prayer.
I don’t object to the ruling on constitutional grounds. The court ruled 5-4 that sectarian prayers that open government meetings are allowed under the Constitution, in that they don’t force people to adhere to certain religious tenets. I’m fine with that.
What is objectionable, though, are government bodies’ insistence on reciting Christian prayers in front of citizens who might not worship Jesus Christ. What is so wrong with making the prayers more ecumenical?
A Christian pastor friend of mine recently opened a service club meeting I attended with a prayer. He didn’t end it with the usual “in Christ’s name.” He offered the prayer in “God’s name.” I told him later how much I enjoyed the message of his invocation, but he took it to mean I appreciated the ecumenical nature of the blessing. “I realize that not everyone here believes in Jesus,” he said. I nodded in agreement, although that wasn’t the intent of my compliment.
This ruling also reminds me a bit of what is billed in Amarillo as a “Community Prayer Breakfast,” which takes place every November around the time of Thanksgiving. If the city, which sponsors this event, is going to call it a “community” gathering, then it needs to be far more inclusive in its message of fellowship.
I’ve attended my share of these prayer breakfasts, which take place in the Civic Center. They resemble Christian tent revival meetings in their zeal to proclaim people’s faith in Jesus Christ. If you’re Jewish or — heaven forbid — Muslim and you’re passing through Amarillo and want to attend the Community Prayer Breakfast, which often is advertised on billboards along Interstate 40, you’ll learn right away that the event isn’t precisely what you think it is.
The Supreme Court decided correctly on constitutional grounds on the case it heard. However, the lesson likely won’t stick in the minds of government officials who keep insisting on opening their meetings with prayers that extol a certain religious faith at the exclusion of others.
By all means, let’s pray at these public meetings — but let’s try to include everyone who gather to seek God’s blessings.