Prayer: Public? Private? Or What?

Lots of people make assumptions about what I – as a Christian pastor – think about a variety of issues.  Take, for instance, the Supreme Court’s decision on June 27, 2022, allowing a public high school football coach to pray after games at the 50-yard line.  Some would assume that I as a Christian pastor am totally supportive of the decision.

I am not.

“Why?” You ask.

For two reasons: one reason being secular, and one being sacred.  Let’s start with the secular reason.

While some will debate the merits of the separation of church and state in the Constitution (i.e. strict Constructionists will insist the principle doesn’t appear in the Constitution), I don’t.  I believe that separation benefits both sides of the equation – the state AND the church.  That’s because when you break down the wall and give one religious group privilege over others, it can’t help but create ill will and divisiveness.

Even more so, many of the Evangelicals who are rejoicing at the decision haven’t thought about the implications of the decision.  If any religious group steps forward now and wants to offer prayer at a public event, the planners would need to accommodate it.  It will be interesting to see what would happen, for instance, if a spiritual leader of the Church of Satan asks to offer a prayer at a city council meeting.  From a secular standpoint, the principle of the separation of church and state is the one thing that makes it easier for us to live together in a religiously pluralistic nation.

Now for my sacred reasons for opposing the decision.

In Matthew 6:5-6 (CEB), Jesus makes it crystal clear how we are to conduct ourselves in public when it comes to prayer:

When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.

Jesus’ sentiments still ring so true today.  Those elected officials that are so often quick to wear their religion on their sleeves during a political campaign or press conference are often the least likely to live lives that reflect the basic values of Jesus.  Many of them are exactly the kind of hypocrites of which Jesus spoke.

As a person of faith, I believe it is my responsibility to live out my faith.  I should not demand the government create space for me to do that.

With all of this said, as a Christian pastor I join with many, many, many Christians, people of other faiths, and people of no faith in decrying the decision to impose religion on others in public settings.  Let’s hope future Court decisions do a much better job charting a course for fairness, justice, and inclusion that will weave together our wonderfully diverse country.

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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2 Responses to Prayer: Public? Private? Or What?

  1. Zazel Whitney says:

    During WWII, just as the war started, my little three room school in Ohio had a school assembly to hear the radio when Roosevelt declared us joining the war against both Germany and Japan! Our school Principal asked us the pray in silence! As a little kid, I didn’t know what to pray for, but just closed my eyes. This school had no Jewish kids and only a handful of Catholics. Also at Christmas time we would act out the Christmas story for our parents..

  2. Stevie says:

    I don’t even want to get started on church and state. There’s church. There’s state. A family member once said, “America has always been a Christian nation.” No. We are a melting pot. Many of our forefathers were Unitarians. Or Deists.
    What boggles my mind is the notion that we don’t have freedom to pray. That coach can commune quietly with God any time. You just can’t lead a Christian prayer in a public school. Well, I guess you can now.
    Since the 80s, I’ve watched prayer become loud and public and, I believe, “for show”.
    Thank you, Craig, for giving me clarity on why it bugs me. End of rant.

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