Monday, January 20, 2014

Prayer in Public Schools

You might be surprised to know that I do not support prayer in public schools. I often meet people, online and in person, who presume that because I am a priest, I would support a policy of returning prayer to public schools. Well, that couldn’t be the furthest from the truth.

While I do acknowledge that our schools had a long history, as did our other government institutions, in which prayer played an important role in the beginning of every day, I must also acknowledge that we are a very different society today than “yesterday.” Our nation used to be a predominantly Christian society, so public prayer normally consisted of some Christ-oriented prayer. But we have to face facts, whether we admit it or not, that our nation is no longer predominately Christian.

What’s that I say? America is no longer a Christian nation? Well, I’m not sure we were ever truly a Christian nation. We may have been founded by deists, but that is a far cry from Christians. We cannot forget that the Bible of Thomas Jefferson resembled swiss cheese with all the verses and chapters cut out and removed, because he personally did not agree with them. Besides the deists, would a Christian nation have laws supporting abortion and capital punishment? Would a Christian nation have such blatant examples of personal greed? Our nation is founded on freedom, which admittedly is a Christian value, but we have long since turned away from using our freedom to honor God. But on to prayer in public schools….

In 2014, with such a wide range of Christian Churches and a substantial presence of non-Christians, what would such a public prayer include? It wouldn’t include references to Jesus Christ, for fear it would offend the non-Christians. It could, I suppose, include reference to God, but for the growing atheist movement. It wouldn’t be permitted to include references to Allah, even though Allah is technically the Arabic word for God, since many Muslims insist on its usage to be limited to the Islamic God, and fundamentalist Evangelical Christian would have a fit. It might, I suppose, include a prayer to “the supreme energy” which many Christians would pretend acknowledged God, but as Orthodox Christians, we could never tolerate such a blanket reference. EVEN IF the “rest of the nation” could agree on such terminology, it veers so far from the Triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we could never allow our Orthodox youth to participate.

So that leaves us with no prayer in public schools. As an Orthodox Christian Priest, I can better explain why WE prayer and others do not pray, than I can explain why certain prayers are wrong to pray. I don’t doubt many Protestant Christians, and a growing number of Orthodox Christians, are unable to appreciate the nuances that overwhelm such a public prayer. To this I would turn our many faithful to a careful study of Christian history and discover there existed, especially at times of secular and pluralist influences, rules forbidding the faithful from praying with others. It wasn’t because we were being elite, but because we were protecting the faithful from offering incorrect prayer? Lest you think there is no such thing as “incorrect prayer” consider this example of the Gospel.
Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. So He said to them, "When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one." Luke 11.1-4
The disciples took this instruction so seriously, they commanded Christians to pray this prayer three times each day. I would rather have our children pray this in front of their icon corners and before/after meals, than to have them mumble some “O great unknown in the sky….” prayer, but it could just be me.

No comments: