Ultimately, we have faith not in Jesus, but faith with Jesus. In the re-imagined world of the parables we stand beside Jesus and trust that his world will work, that it can provide the safe place - the empire of God - that resists all other empires.
~Bernard Brandon Scott

Don’t Tell Me How to Pray. . .

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For quite a few years, there has been much ink, e-mails, and hot air spread about the issue of prayer in schools. Many people are all in an uproar that, “The government won’t let my child pray in school.” This, however, is actually NOT the case.

There is NOTHING, according to the law, that prevents a child from praying in school – so long as it does not disturb the necessary goings on at a school. How do I know this? Have you ever attended a “Meet You at the Pole” rally at a public school? You see, prayer DOES happen at school!

You see, the issue is that a public school employee, which is ultimately a government employee that represents the government (even teachers fall into this category), cannot lead a prayer for the students of the school. Why? It is quite simple. By doing so, the employee is implying that the government promotes a certain “type” or “brand” of religion, which goes against the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution that reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. . . .”

Now, I find it interesting that the majority of the people that I know who get all in an uproar about this issue (all of which are Christians) would “have a cow” if their child’s teacher was a Muslim and led a Muslim prayer in class! Yet, without the current laws, this could happen!

Frankly, there are many “Christians” that I would not want to model prayer for my child. In fact, I’d prefer many Jews or Muslims to some Christians! But here’s the deal: I believe it is MY job to teach my child to pray with the help of my local church – not the public school system!

I’m reminded that many of the “Christians” that I indicted above for being sticklers for this issue often want to take Scripture very literally. I say to these people to read this passage of Scripture:

1 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6, NRSV)

The above words are, according to Matthew, from the mouth of Jesus. Jesus says that we should pray in secret – not in front of everybody. Yet, some people have temper tantrums saying they want their child to do EXACTLY what Jesus as explicitly said not to do. It seems even literalists / fundamentalists pick and choose what they want out of Scripture, too!

Looking at Matthew 6, I am reminded that most of the time that I pray, I do so silently – often with others present, but they never know it. Nobody, then, can prevent me from praying – especially if I do it silently! Therefore, if there is not prayer in schools, it is ONLY because WE (parents and church leaders) have not taught our children how to pray. Are we expecting the public school and government to do it?

(Originally posted at http://theology-of-t-roy.blogspot.com/2005/07/dont-tell-me-how-to-pray.html on July 2, 2005)

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