Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Public Prayer

I have sent over 3000 emails to workers in the Democratic Party. Not the elected officials, but the workers, down to the county and precinct level. Seeking a response to the concept of secularists and non-Christian faithful working happily alongside Christians evangelical and otherwise, an avowed atheist wrote, “I can agree as long as you don’t have public prayer like those hypocritical (so and so’s) of the GOP.” The comment kind of set me off – I like to pray although I feel I don’t pray enough – and I feel I can pray pretty much anywhere I choose. It shouldn’t affect anyone else what I’m doing, and we do have that whole religious freedom thing here in America, too.

But then, as usual, I got to thinking.

Prayer, to me, is a wonderful personal time with my God. Prayer, to me, can be done anywhere – in my car out loud, a big “THANK YOU, GOD!” or at a table in a restaurant, alone or with non-praying friends, a simple moment to myself that probably many don’t even notice, especially if I time it well. And prayer, to me, is best done in a quiet place either alone, or with a group of people that I know well and share the bond of our faith with. When groups of people pray together led with one voice, out loud together, or in a reflective quiet time of prayer, it is a beautiful thing.

Prayer is a Holy moment. My understanding of the definition of “holy” is “to be set apart.” By that definition, prayer is almost always better done in private or with a group of people of faith unencumbered with outsiders looking on.

Public prayer is another matter entirely. Public prayer can be private, as in a family or other group sharing a prayer before a meal at a restaurant. And public prayer can be public, as in a governmental boss insisting that all in his office, or platoon, pray together. That is where public prayer goes wrong.

Who would want to pray knowing that someone standing next to them, ostensibly part of the prayer, doesn’t accept Who is being prayed to with thanks, Who’s blessing is being humbly asked for, Who’s healing touch is desired?

To do a show of prayer in front of people that don’t share your faith is to be one of several things: inconsiderate of others, far-from-humble yourself, or a subversive (and mostly ineffective) proselytizer. To insist that a person outside of faith share in your prayer is to possibly inflict spiritual abuse on them, will probably conflict their perception of faith, and will likely make them wonder just what your real intentions are. Do you think they will be filled with faith from being part of a prayer they don’t understand? Perhaps. Wouldn’t it be better to share the meaning of faith with them first, at their request and with their desire for understanding before going to prayer? Isn’t prayer a holy moment?

Interfaith prayer must be an interesting thing to pull together. How to pray such that each person feels connected to their God yet none of them feel faith-trampled would take a delicate touch. I bet it’s wonderful when well done. I haven’t been there yet. Someday I hope to be a part of such a thing.

Christian prayer should be allowed anywhere, and when done properly, even in public situations, it should be invisible to those outside the prayer. It’s when prayer is done without consideration for those present of other faiths or no faith that offense is taken, especially when the indication is that they should join in because the prayer is the “right” thing to do. For them it isn’t. It’s when people pray self-righteously, without concern for those that might disagree with the faith outspoken, that religion seems forced on others. Religion should never, can never, be forced.

I have a friend whose family prays before every meal. Pretty common thing, actually, among many faiths. When his family goes out to eat, and it is an extended family, they gather in prayer before heading to the restaurant, or find a quieter place at the restaurant before being seated. He says this is because all the noise and bustle of the restaurant bothers their prayer and they like to be apart from that when they pray. Apart. Holy. Prayer.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said.


5/25/2005 9:33 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Hey, I just found your blog doing a search and I LOVE it! Come visit me sometime. I will definitely be back here. Glad I found you.

5/27/2005 7:56 AM  
Blogger Atlantic said...

Hi, I'm a conservative Christian and I don't understand why you think prayer in public should be invisible. We haven't been out to a restaurant in ages, but my DH and I always say grace before eating and being at our own table would be enough 'apart' for us to feel comfortable to pray as we always do. And I usually pray the rosary while walking to work - silently, but I don't think I should have to hide the beads in my pocket or fail to make the sign of the cross. We're not forcing anyone to do anything, or inviting anyone to join in, for that matter. You sound like you think that everyone should have to feign atheism in public, and that atheists are so psychologically fragile that they need to be spared any evidence whatsoever that religious people exist.

5/27/2005 5:33 PM  
Blogger Christian Democrat said...

Atlantic - Your reading of my writing leaves you with a critique that is correct. I admit to having trouble with that statement, too, it wasn't clearly made.

Writing this: "Christian prayer should be allowed anywhere, and when done properly, even in public situations, it should be invisible to those outside the prayer." my definitiion of "public situations" was meant to include things like a high school football team with some Christian players and others not, an airforce academy with some Christian folks and some not, etc. In a situation outside of the church where a person of responsibility, i.e., the coach, wants some of his team to be able to pray, and perhaps he with them, it should not be done in such a way as to intimidate or alienate any member of the team by their lack of involvement. Realizing that youth are extremely impressionable and half-alienated already, it should be done such that it is invisible to them.

Think for a moment of a team prayer where one-half of the team, in uniform and on the field just before the game, gives a quick prayer. It sounds so right to me, I know it goes on and I am thankful for such prayer. But for those that don't believe in our God, perhaps believe in another god (sorry, gotta go lower case here, that's my faith) it's a slap in the face to their faith. Just because you are absolutely certain in your faith doesn't diminish their faith one iota. (and with that thought I should go back and alter the capitalization, but cannot). How about those members of the team that want to pray together meet before the game and have a more involved prayer? How about they do that and let each other know that on the field, before the game at a specific moment, they were all going to pray the same prayer to themselves as a group?

It isn't the atheists that I am as concerned about - after all they don't believe in any diety so they should be thinking us fools anyway. It is those of other faiths, with strong theological beliefs that differ from ours, that I want to accept for who they are and not have a difference of theology come between us by me proclaiming my faith and not giving them room for theirs.

Prayer in a public place by private people, i.e., a restaurant with family, absolutely fine, go for it as you may be comfortable.

5/27/2005 6:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with CD's sentiments, and I didn't read into it that Christians should never be seen praying. I might have used the word "unobtrusive" instead of "invisible." My family prays before meals when we are out to eat, and no one has ever acted offended by it. However, we aren't praying in such a way that everyone around can hear. Jesus said that when we pray, we should do so in our closets--basically, be private about it. If we pray where others can see, we should be quiet about it or we run the risk of being like those that Jesus was speaking to--those who flaunt their spirituality in front of others in order to make themselves look good.

As far as prayer in a public venue in front of a diverse audience (such as at a baseball game or at a political function), the person offering that prayer needs to be sensitive to those of other faiths. I like the way that the last speaker at the presidential inauguration (Rev. Caldwell) offered a prayer that ended with, "Respecting persons of all faiths, I humbly submit this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen." He acknowledged people of other faiths and invoked the name of Jesus for himself only ("I" instead of "we").

Our call is to be humble and to love each other, and our public spirituality should never be done in such a way as to call attention to ourselves or to alienate people of other faiths. Otherwise, we aren't acting in love.


5/28/2005 8:43 AM  
Blogger Christian Democrat said...

Thanks JMG, I needed that. I will openly admit that I struggle when writing - I've had no formal training since high school and sometimes the words elude me. Also, while I have spent a couple of years trying to get a basis in theological thinking as well as the Bible, I'm sure no expert there, either.

All of my comments are my opinion alone and I look to the body of you, all of you, to help me define a better working relationship.

with Thanks,

5/28/2005 9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's the writing teacher in me coming out--but don't worry, I'm not grading anyone's grammar!

Informal dialogue like this is great because it helps us to formulate and solidify our own opinions. I know that when I hear (read) other people's ideas, it helps me to put into words ideas that I've been feeling but haven't been able to articulate, if that makes sense.

Thanks for putting some ideas out here for us to talk about!


5/28/2005 12:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello--I found this entry after a web search on "public prayer" while mulling over my own feelings on the topic. Well said!

A Democrat, myself, and a Buddhist, I feel that prayer is holy... and wholly personal. I am not offended by anyone else's religous expression, but the notion of forcing or being forced in relation to participating in public prayer is very distasteful to me. You have so expertly articulated my feelings on the topic, and I wanted to thank you for putting it so deftly into words.



7/10/2006 4:13 PM  

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