So the Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 that city councils can be opened with prayer. I would councils and congresses begin with a pledge to the rainbow or, hands on a box of cornflakes, vow to be good and just council persons. Because the truth is, public prayer by public officials or their rent-a-cleric-for-a-day in service to the State pollutes authentic prayer while violating the sacred consciences of individuals who may not adhere to the particular religious tradition of the person offering himself or herself as a mouthpiece for a deity in service of the State.
Rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s is a separation of religion and the state enunciated by Christ himself whom, you may recall, was executed by the Roman Empire in large part because his message about the coming Kingdom of God was interpreted by Pilate and others as subversive. The first Christians paid a very dear price for their refusal to pray to the Roman gods. In fact, take a moment to read Governor Pliny’s letter to Emperor Trajan in the second century and you will see that Christians were hauled into “court” and summarily told to publicly pray and make an offering to Caesar and the Roman gods or be killed. Those early Christians were called atheists because they –or at least some portion of them—refused to mouth the religious script of the Roman Empire. For Christians in this country to demand that councils begin with prayer and thus shame, embarrass or coerce atheists or persons of other religious traditions is an abomination. The early Christians would know what to call such a practice and “Christian” or “honorable” are not words that come to mind.
Here are a few of my assumptions with commentary:
*The State does not know how to pray. Why would you trust the State to pray or teach your children how to pray? This practice amounts to God-cover for the political aims and aspirations of politicians and the government. By the way, what do you think slave owners and segregationists were praying in their public meetings? Right.
*State sponsored prayer is the rather megalomaniacal illusion that you and your tradition has the only correct way to address the God and the health of the [city, town, country or football team] depends on praying to your God. Unless you’re taken with theocratic notions, why would you agree to participate in this practice? Which leads me to say this to brother and sister clergypersons: stop praying in public on behalf of any government or football team. See below.
*Jesus taught us to pray in our prayer closet in secret and not on the street corner bellowing our prayers or parading God like a float in a Macy Day’s parade. Stop that. It is not just embarrassing, but it is darn near blasphemous.
If you want to pray (and I would hope that you do) then enter your soul’s sacred space and pray or enter the church, mosque, synagogue or temple and pray with others who are doing so because they believe in what they’re doing and not because they are coerced into participating in a religious rite for which they have no devotion. Politicians, you’ve been invoking God to laminate your agendas and minutes for a long time. Some of us have read Machiavelli’s The Prince. You’re not fooling us.