Let Us Pray. . .Please!
Paul Dean Dr. Paul J. Dean's Weblog
- 2005 Feb 23
Another controversy involving public prayer came up last Friday in Virginia. A homosexual pastor was invited to pray before the Virginia House of Delegates. In her prayer, The Rev. Debra Peevey denounced lawmakers' efforts toward banning same-sex marriage and discouraging homosexual adoption. Reporters quipped that her prayer may have bowed heads, but it also raised eyebrows as a number of members of the Republican-controlled house looked up in astonishment when she prayed, "Holy One, convict those who are using their power not to lead or to guide but to harm the gay and lesbian citizens, a small minority in this commonwealth." One of the delegates, John Cosgrove noted, "It's interesting. . .we're told not to pray in Jesus' name, but this is okay?" The usual "amen chorus" at the end of prayers was noticeably dampened.
It is not surprising when the Michael Newdows of the world object to sectarian prayer as he attempted to eliminate prayer altogether from the Presidential inauguration last month. We might even expect Alan Dershowitz to object in light of his comments regarding prayer in the aftermath of the 2001 Presidential inauguration. But it does surprise me when I hear those who claim to be Christian object to sectarian prayer.
Let me offer a personal experience for perspective. When I was a younger man and not long in the ministry, I was put on the spot when asked to pray at a high school football game. I was the new pastor in town and it was expected. I found myself in a bit of a quandary. While I was a little intimidated by the politically correct sentiment of the day, I could not compromise my commitment to Christ. I was to pray at a government school function and I was going to do so in the name of Christ regardless of the consequences. Graciously, I was providentially emboldened by my youth pastor. On the way to the press box where I was to pray, I expressed my concern to him. He responded by saying to me, "they ask me to pray and they know I'm a Christian minister. Christian ministers pray in Jesus' name. If they don't expect me to pray in His name, then they shouldn't ask me to pray." The simple truth of that statement removed any fear I had of saying the wrong thing in the wrong place. I would have been faithful to Christ regardless, but it was nice to have peace. Of course, I now know that we as Americans have a right to pray as we see fit in the public square. The government may establish no law hindering the free exercise of religion.
The relating of that experience is an apt way to speak to the Virginia House of Delegates. If you don't want persons praying in a pro-homosexual way, don't invite homosexual ministers to pray. We might not be surprised if a Christian minister prayed in such a way so as not to offend, though all Christians should always pray in the name of Christ, regardless of the setting. Depending upon the circumstances, while we might accuse him of compromise if he chose not to pray in Christ's name, we would affirm that Christians are sensitive to others and their feelings by virtue of the Spirit's work in them. But, does anyone really expect a lesbian not to promote the homosexual agenda if given the opportunity, regardless of who she offends? Should we not expect such, especially in this politically charged culture? Should we not expect such when the very House for which this woman was to pray banned same-sex marriage? Have we not seen the militant side of those who push the homosexual agenda? Please.
John Cosgrove made an interesting point in the aftermath of this incident. Again, he remarked, ". . .we're told not to pray in Jesus' name, but this is okay?" Obviously if persons are denied the right to pray in Jesus' name, then Peevey's prayer is not okay. We must have consistency in the public arena. To deny the rights of some while giving others free reign is certainly unjust. Most of us still believe in liberty and justice for all, not a privileged few.
Yet, when I point out the need for consistency, (and I might get into trouble with unthinking or perhaps theonomic Christians here), I am not really asking that Peevey's rights be curtailed. At the same time, I am asking that the rights of Christians to pray in Jesus' name not be trampled or curtailed either. In the Virginia house, "Clergy whom the delegates invite to deliver the House prayer receive a letter in advance from the House clerk's office. Most keep their prayers very general and free of political tones. A few stray slightly." House Clerk Bruce F. Jamerson adds, "We suggest that it should be ecumenical. We tell them that they're praying to a mixed audience and that a broad prayer would be best."
Three questions are raised here. First, how can a person with any kind of conviction be expected to keep his prayers free of political tones when he finds himself in such a setting with such an opportunity? Christian ministers, especially, are not in the business of wasting valuable time with inane drivel, nor are they called to pray benign prayers to appease a wayward culture or government. They are called upon to pray for God to move mountains and establish righteousness. We do not put Peevey in the category of Christian minister. We are simply addressing the Virginia House of Delegates at this point. Second, how can a Christian be expected to pray without praying in Jesus' name? Third, when praying a broad prayer for a mixed audience, is one really praying? To be asked to pray an ecumenical prayer should offend persons of faith regardless of their particular religion. Those who are not offended do not understand the nature of prayer nor do they hold any real convictions about the god they claim to worship. How much less does a Christian who is content to pray in an ecumenical fashion understand the God of the Bible? He will have no other gods before Him nor will God be treated as if He does not exist.
Do we really believe in religious freedom? If so, then why do we live as if we do not? We must understand, embrace, and practice such. Another experience may help to illustrate. Swimming is a popular sport in our area. In fact, our summer, novice swim league is perhaps the largest in the country with over 3000 swimmers competing each summer. Some think it's a good thing that each swim meet is opened with prayer. I was asked to pray one time and refused to do so. Why would I refuse such? I am a Christian minister. The fact that I am a Christian minister is exactly why I refused to pray. The prayers in this league are supposed to be non-sectarian. In other words, I would not be allowed to pray in the name of Christ. How can a Christian pray if he does not pray to Christ? We do not worship the same God as those who worship other gods. If I do not pray in the name of Christ, then I am not praying to God. I am praying to the unknown god; the benign god; the non-offensive god; the non-existent god. In fact, if I am praying to such a god, then I am not really praying at all.
Where does the denial of religious freedom come in here? It comes in when people are so afraid of the government, or so afraid of offending someone, or attempting to be so politically correct because that's what's in vogue today, that the local swim organization discourages sectarian prayer (real prayer). Frankly, it is unconstitutional to prohibit public prayer. People, and Christians are in the lead here, are ignorant of their first amendment rights. It is the first amendment that guarantees our right to pray in public. It is not the other way around. The first amendment does not guarantee us freedom from God-talk in the public square. It actually guarantees us the right to talk about God in the public square. So, let us pray in the name of Christ at the swim meet.
And oh, by the way dear Christian, when it is time for my Muslim friend to pray at the next meet, I want him to pray to Allah. Why? Do I believe in Allah? Absolutely not! Allah is not the God of the Bible, contrary to what many claim. The God of the Bible has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ. Allah is a non-god and those who worship him will spend eternity in Hell unless they change their minds and come to Christ. The point is that Christians believe in religious freedom. Only when we allow Muslims to pray to Allah and other persons of faith to pray to their gods do we embrace religious freedom rather than pay lip service to it, either by not exercising it ourselves, or by prohibiting others from the exercise thereof.
We can't have it both ways. We either believe in religious freedom or we do not. If we want to be able to pray in the name of Christ, then we must allow others to pray to whom or whatever they want to pray. We agree that there is only one true and living God: the Lord Jesus Christ. When others pray to their no-gods, it should break our hearts. The Debra Peevey's of the world should grieve us greatly. They have no relationship with Christ and will suffer wrath unless they look to Him for salvation. But, if we invite her to pray, we must allow her to pray as she wishes.
We can also learn a lesson from the majority of those in the Virginia House who did not "amen" Peevey's prayer. We should respect the rights and views of others and we should demonstrate that respect, particularly in a public setting. We should tolerate the views of others in the old sense of the word. But, tolerance is not assent. The gurus of postmodern culture would have us affirm all truth claims as equally valid. No logic exists in such a premise. If Christ is the exclusive way of salvation, then Allah cannot be the way or even a way of salvation. These two concepts are mutually exclusive. Light cannot be dark and dark cannot be light. They are two different things. Thus, while we would tolerate a Peevey if within ear shot of her prayer, we would not give assent. We would not give the "amen." When the prayer is being offered at the local swim meet, I stand respectfully, but I certainly am not praying with the one offering the non-prayer to the non-god. Affirming the rights of all to pray in the public square does not mean that all have to participate.
If we believe in religious freedom, then we believe in it for all, not just us. To fight for religious freedom for others is to fight for religious freedom for ourselves. To have religious freedom means that we may express our convictions in the public square. It also means that we don't have to participate in the religion of another if we have no desire to do so. Thus, we do not have to validate truth claims other than our own, but we must tolerate those who differ with us. If we do not like to hear others pray to Allah but want persons to pray in the name of Christ, then we should engage in personal, intentional, and loving evangelism. But we may not ban others from praying because we happen to be in the majority and have the power to do so. That is not God's way. It is a denial of another person's essential dignity and freedom as one created in the image of God. Moreover, the tables may be turned sooner than you think. A day may be approaching when the majority does not embrace a Christian worldview. What lessons will they learn from us in regard to a free America? Will they force us to worship their god, or will they allow us to worship God in freedom?