An essay by Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys
about links between "Church and State:"
Prayer at Public Meetings:
Is it a
Sacrament or Sacrilege;
A Blessing or Curse?
Prayers at public meetings are once again in the news, in a court case that may be headed to the US. Supreme Court.
An article on the Religion News Service website titled: "Court: N.C. commissioner’s prayer practice violated Constitution," 1 reported on 2017-JUL-14 that:
"The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that found the Rowan County Board of Commissioner’s prayer practice to be ‘unconstitutionally coercive’. 1
Earlier, another article on the same website titled: "Athena Salman, atheist legislator, on secular values and godless invocations," 2 reported on JUN-19 about an incident in the Arizona House of Representatives: Rep. Ms. Salman (D-Tempe), an Atheist, offered a secular invocation before the start of the day’s business. Her invocation did not reference a higher power and some members of the legislature complained. Another member was allowed to give a prayer, later, that referenced Jesus.
The wording of Ms. Salman’s brief invocation was:
"Take a moment to look around you at the people gathered here today. We come from a variety of backgrounds and interests, but the passion that ignites us; the fire that burns within us; is similar. We all seek to form ‘a more perfect union,’ creating change from an abiding passion to improve the lives of the humans of this city. There is wonder in that. More importantly, though, there is unity." 2
I have been at many public gatherings where what started out as a generic thanksgiving, or call to common ideals that could have been supported by all in the group was turned into a Christian prayer by ending with 5 little words "In Jesus' name we pray.
Many people don’t pray at all. Of those who do pray, many don’t pray in Jesus' name.
A third article appeared on 2017-JUL-19 on the same web site by Adelle M. Banks titled:
"Conservative evangelicals revel in their ‘unprecedented’ presidential access" 3
Ms. Banks reported about a July 10 prayer meeting at the White House involving Trump and a group of 25 religious leaders -- all evangelical Christians.
However, other religious leaders from mainline Christian denominations, Roman Catholicism, and other religions are not given such access. She quotes:
Steven Martin, the communications director for the National Council of Churches, who declared: "I’d absolutely say we’re frozen out."
Minhaj Hassan, a spokesperson for Islamic Relief USA, said: "In the first six months of the Trump presidency, there hasn’t been any direct communication with the White House." 3
In comparison, Adelle M. Banks and other writers at the Religion News Service wrote that President Obama created three short-term faith-based advisory councils during his two terms/eight years as President. They included members of:
"... Baha’i, Baptist, Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Native American, Orthodox Christian and Sikh faiths." 4
Two thoughts came to me.
First does using prayer for political purposes as Trump is doing turn a sacrament into a sacrilege? I think it does.
Second it struck me that the "evangelical leaders" were in essence prostituting themselves in order to gain access to promote their agenda!
Which is worse?
I wonder if the folks that feel the necessity to pray in public spaces have ever stopped to think about the problem that arise when a sacrament becomes a sacrilege?
Sacrament: A solemn religious ceremony of the Christian church. A sign, token or symbol. A solemn promise or oath.
Sacrilege: Disrespectful treatment of anyone or anything sacred or of a sacrament.
In the King James version of the Bible, we read in Matthew, Chapter 6:
Verse 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.
Verse 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.
Verse: "But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who sees in secret [and] will reward you.
Other passages are:
2 Chronicles 7: 14-15: "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place."
James 4:3: "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives ..."
Luke 18:14: "For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."
Some questions about public prayer:
Is praying in public spaces an attempt to exalt ones self by stressing one’s piety?
If there are those in the group that do not humble themselves, do not pray, do not seek His face, will God refuse to listen? Will their prayers be in vain, according to the Bible?
Does forcing non-believers to listen to or participate in a Christian prayer show disrespectful treatment of others, which is a sacrilege?
I think the answer to all three questions is "yes."
Forcing others to listen to or participate in a prayer that they don’t believe in or support as well as praying in public spaces, or praying for political purposes turns the sacrament of prayer into a sacrilege.
And when that happens does it also turn a prayer from a blessing into a curse?
The Supreme Court may decide that people have the right to open public meetings with a prayer. BUT that doesn’t make doing so the right thing to do.
Some related essays and sections on this web site that may interest you: