Today I received an email forwarded to me that included a statement defending public Christian prayer attributed to Andy Rooney. It was actually not written by Rooney but I will not elaborate on that too much because that isn’t my point. The full text of the statement, the actual author and its circulation history can be found here. Regardless of the author, there are words here that many have found inspiring and truthful and meaningful enough to pass on to others for over a decade. However, there are a few things that truly stood out to me with which I strongly disagree.
I’ll put aside the part where the author says that “Christians are just sick and tired of turning the other cheek while our courts strip us of all our rights. Our parents and grandparents taught us to pray before eating, to pray before we go to sleep. Our Bible tells us to pray without ceasing. Now a handful of people and their lawyers are telling us to cease praying” and resist the urge to quote the words of Jesus about turning the other cheek (merely emphasizing his poor choice of words), or the fact that copious numbers of people in the world (yes, even Americans and Canadians-as he cites) did not have grandparents and parents teaching them to pray. It is oh so tempting to linger on St Paul’s often invoked injunction to pray without ceasing from 1 Thess and the quite obvious fact that omitting a prayer from a public event does not actually in any way jeopardize this discipline. But I shall leave all this to only a passing nod because of something else I find more important altogether.
The author implies and even out right says that prayer isn’t really a big deal. Why deny Christians this small thing, he says, when it doesn’t really matter anyway?
Really? Prayer doesn’t matter?
“Life, liberty or your pursuit of happiness will not be endangered because someone says a 30-second prayer before a football game. So what’s the big deal? It’s not like somebody is up there reading the entire Book of Acts. They’re just talking to a God they believe in and asking him to grant safety to the players on the field and the fans going home from the game.”
I absolutely could not disagree more. The world should, indeed, be afraid of prayer. Very afraid. Prayer is not just some sort of wish on a dandelion or generic warm fuzzy thoughts for safety we send out to others. Prayer changes everything. Prayer changes the world. Prayer changes us. It is the most powerful practice in which we can engage. If the world or atheists or anyone else upon whom we wish to put the slippery and ambiguous label of “them” declares our prayer to be forbidden, then so be it because it acknowledges their fear of something truly powerful.
How sad it is that we Christians must be reminded of the power of prayer by those who do not pray.
We just keep telling them it isn’t a big deal. Please, please, we beg! Let us be just another voice in the crowd! Let us just be accepted! Let us go back to feeling like we ourselves were powerful because we were the majority and everyone did things just like us instead of relying upon the power of the God to whom we pray! Just tolerate our little 30 second prayer so we don’t feel like outcasts from the world!
In the end, the only ones we have convinced of prayer’s impotence are ourselves. The world continually acknowledges God’s power and we try to dress it down into some sort of acceptable garb. We try to scale back, tame, squish God into a box so that he and we can be acceptable to the world. We trade in our God of might and mercy and grace and suffering and redemption for a hollow but flashy and popular god on a leash who is valid not because of truth but because his followers outnumber all others in the phone book. A god who isn’t a big deal and to whom we may make dandelion wishes and warm fuzzy intentions.
So fine, ban all the public prayers you wish. It isn’t as though prayer could ever truly be banned and it is doubtful that we could ever truly claim religious persecution in this country. It only reemphasizes and publicly acknowledges the power of our God. Perhaps it will remind each and every Christian that when they fold or raise their hands, bow or go to their knees, turn silently inside to the throne of God, or even when a child speaks “Come Lord Jesus be our guest….” it does indeed “shake the world’s foundations” because the one to whom we pray—the one whose presence the world fears even at a simple sporting event—can do just that. And so much more.