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May 22, 2014 7:17 am

AMEND CORNER: Private beliefs and public prayers

Written by Don Amend

Another skirmish has been fought in a continuing conflict that flares up now and then in our beloved country.

This time, the fight was over a city council’s inviting a clergyman to open their meetings with a non-sectarian prayer. This time, the supporters of prayer won, as the Supreme Court ruled that it was OK to pray as long as the prayer was really non-sectarian and the invitation to pray was sometimes granted to those who didn’t represent Protestant Christianity. 

A lot of pundits have called this decision unfortunate, because it allowed government-sponsored religion an inroad into the public arena and put us on a slippery slope into an established church.

I’m pretty skeptical of that logic, especially since, after finding out the city council in question would entertain requests from representatives of religions other than Protestant Christianity, clergy of other branches of Christianity, rabbis and even a Wiccan put in their own requests.

I’m not sure how the council will sort out all those requests, but I’m pretty sure if they issue an invitation that results in a black-robed Wiccan waving a pentagram during his or her own interpretation of what constitutes a non-sectarian prayer, it will set off a round of protests from just about all offshoots of Christianity, as well as the local Jews and Muslims.

Well, nobody asked my opinion, but despite my status as a Bible-believing Protestant Christian, I’m pretty opposed to the sort of prayer that opens meetings of councils, commissions, legislators and other government groups.

It’s not that I’m opposed to prayer in those places. I’m all for praying in public places. I certainly didn’t survive 33 years as a high school teacher without some serious prayer time. And I’ve been told by a few students that they regularly resorted to prayer before taking tests.

I wouldn’t even be surprised if now and then one of my students had prayed for his English teacher to drop dead before he could lay another essay assignment on the student’s list of undone homework. A couple students complained that their prayers didn’t seem to work for them, and I have to admit that they didn’t always help me either. That’s to be expected though. Saying no is God’s way of telling you aren’t supposed to pass a test you didn’t study for or teach a successful lesson that you haven’t spent enough time preparing.

The thing about those prayers, though, is that they were anything but non-sectarian. They were heartfelt pleas for individual strength and wisdom.

My prayers were all my own and came from my personal commitment to do my job. They weren’t part of some feel-good ritual designed to avoid offending somebody.

As for the prayer aimed at eliminating me from the picture, I totally understand the student’s reason for such a prayer and it wouldn’t have offended me, although I’m glad it wasn’t answered the way the student wanted it.

I believe a totally non-sectarian prayer is impossible to achieve. I know I couldn’t come up with one no matter how hard I worked on it. I’ve logged way too many hours inside the walls of Baptist churches and around campfires at youth retreats to pray that way.

But while my prayer would likely have some sectarian features, all that sectarian religious training has turned me into a moderate liberal who rejects the whole idea that God is, not only a Republican, but a member of the TEA Party.

Therefore, any prayer I ever offered in a public meeting would surely be the last one I was ever invited to give before a group filled with Park County conservatives. In fact I’d probably be elevated up there with Matt Mead, Hank Coe and Al Simpson on the TEA Party’s list of enemies that need to be squashed, a position I would probably enjoy too much, making me vulnerable to the deadly sin of pride.

I don’t think any honest clergyman, Christian, Islamic, Jewish, or even Wiccan, could offer a prayer that would be completely non-sectarian, and he or she probably shouldn’t even try. Such a clergyman would be violating his duty to his faith by offering such a sterile prayer.

Even if it were possible, a non-sectarian prayer is a waste of time. Think about it. A person who truly believes in prayer would already have prayed before the meeting, and would continue to pray during it. A person who doesn’t believe in prayer, while he might listen to the public prayer, wouldn’t likely be moved by it, especially if it’s a plain vanilla, non-sectarian prayer.

So why open any government meeting with such a prayer? Your own personal prayer, offered from the heart will be much more effective, especially if it moves you to act appropriately in the actions you take before the council.

Your actions, after all, speak louder than any non-sectarian prayer.

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