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State Sanctioned Prayer
Martin Marty | Nov 11, 2013
Let us pray: “in the name of the one who came, and died, and rose again that we might have eternal life—Jesus Christ our Lord—Amen.” Thus Dr. Robert Jeffress, “pastor of the 11,000 member First Baptist in Dallas, Texas, and daily radio broadcast on 760 stations,” brags about how he set out to please God and taunt those who disagreed with him about the politics of prayer.
This tactic worked to Jeffress’ satisfaction, for he could report that immediately after the “Amen,” “a member of the council expressed his offense at the content of [this] prayer.” Of course he would; getting such a reaction was the purpose of Jeffress’ praying. Listen to those school officials, town council members, visitors to courts, and others who issue similar taunts—you’ll be put on the defensive just for asking that the business of the gathering proceed without cultural wars and other uncivil wars to precede them.
The US Supreme Court last Wednesday (November 6, 2013) heard Town of Greece v. Galloway, this year’s case “challenging the constitutionality of prayers before local government meetings.” Expect continuing debates over the case, the Court, and the contenders, if not as prolonged as Pastor Jeffress’ “eternal life,” then at least as long as Americans on all sides invoke God or non-god in public forums. As thousands of bloggers and interest-group leaders responded at once, it became clear that this year again the Court will be called to resolve the irresolvable and put an end to the unendable debates on this subject.
Whoever reads any number of the hundreds of on-line responses on all sides, has reason to recognize that the founders “solved the religious question by not solving the religious question” in the Constitution and its First Amendment. Competing interests in such cases and what they signal are too diverse, seldom surprising, and likely unpromising for the public good and the witness of religious institutions.
Re-read the Jeffress prayer in its point of origin, the Dallas City Council, and you are privileged to decide: is this prayer, as offered and described, prayed to the glory of God, or designed to evoke the kind of response it got? And, since the Court decision will not begin to satisfy or to resolve all interests, see whether anything advances the possibility that the Court or town hall or public school leaders after 2014 will act more judiciously, fairly, or wisely than if they had not been bullied by pray-ers.
The main preliminary arguments to the Supreme Court for prayers, as voiced last Wednesday, come down to: “we’ve always done that before.” Or “we’re bigger’n you are.”
More and more the question is becoming: who are the “we?” The one Wiccan, the other three or four “others” who did not call upon the God of the Majority population invoked at Greece, New York, are not fully representative of the true and new “we.” Before long in any number of communities Muslims will outnumber many other constituencies. What will the people whose only case is that “we and our God were here first, and that we set historical precedents” have to say and do?
Perhaps some day, even those who obviously find political uses for their public prayers, will recognize that the God whom this majority fears or would fear or would want others to fear, gave pretty clear guidelines in “their” Book against trumpet-blowing and boasting uses of prayer.
Not that all have to follow the Jesus invoked in Dallas into their “chambers” and shut the doors. With others who share their faith and would direct prayers in their contexts, they can pray, including in synagogues, churches, or mosques. That’d be more impressive than the noises (like mine, here) in argument without end.
For further reading:
Jeffress, Robert. “Will Supreme Court strike a blow for religious freedom in Greece v. Galloway?” Fox News, November 4, 2013.
Podkul, Alexander. “Greece v. Galloway Could Bring Down a Valuable American Tradition.” PolicyMic, November 6, 2013.
Lithwick, Dahlia. “Say a Prayer for the Supreme Court: Can the justices settle the world’s religious differences?” Slate.com, November 6, 2013.
Laarman, Peter. “God’s Amicus Curiae on Town of Greece v. Galloway SCOTUS Case.” ReligionDispatches.org, November 7, 2013.
I recently reposted a link on my Facebook page about phrases that are driving millennials away from the Church though many remain interested in practicing Christianity. This article by Rev Mark Sandlin, Fandom of God is Upon Us and It’s Killing the Church, is another observation about the state of what I call “pop-Christianity.” Rev. Sandlin’s observations are probably more on target than many would want to admit. A paragraph and I encourage you to keep reading. Visit Rev. Sandlin’s blog, The God Article.
The Fandom of God Is Upon Us and It’s Killing the Church
Mark Sandlin | Huffington Post | Nov 11, 2013
When the Church’s focus is on fandom practices rather than on kingdom practices it tends to become not only self-centered and self-serving but self-selecting as well. When we are fans of Jesus rather than followers of Jesus, our focus is inward turned, like in fandoms, concerned with and finding full satisfaction in what we think and feel and believe. We are more interested in who gets to be labeled insiders, who are “real/true” fans of God, than we are with following the sometimes difficult teachings of Jesus when it comes to those we see as different. Our world shrinks. It becomes far too easy to worry about those we claim as our “own” and to forget that there is a world of hurting people who we are not only called to stand with but who we are to recognize as equally created in the image of God.
A good article from the Opinionator from the New York Times.
Contrary to popular belief, the percentage of the population that directly encounters poverty is exceedingly high. My research indicates that nearly 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 will experience at least one year below the official poverty line during that period ($23,492 for a family of four), and 54 percent will spend a year in poverty or near poverty (below 150 percent of the poverty line).
Even more astounding, if we add in related conditions like welfare use, near-poverty and unemployment, four out of five Americans will encounter one or more of these events.
The solutions to poverty are to be found in what is important for the health of any family — having a job that pays a decent wage, having the support of good health and child care and having access to a first-rate education. Yet these policies will become a reality only when we begin to truly understand that poverty is an issue of us, rather than an issue of them.
David Letterman used to do a bit with Paul where they would raise the curtain on stage, see a thing, and then discuss if that is “something or nothing?” I also enjoyed the bit, “Will if Float?” Dave hasn’t done either of those bits in a long time. A tech friend of mine explained to me last year that Google has changed what people think is worth “paying for” and that their strategy of “some stuff for free and some you pay for,” even if it is “ad words,” has changed the behavior of what content or services that a person would pay for. When you think about it, Google just picked up the business model of Big Box Stores that sell a little of everything at such low prices that it has driven down the costs and the expectations of said product.
My companion and I create and self publish a little service called, Sacred Steps: Children’s Sermon Journal. It is a weekly document to assist those that are following the Lectionary readings each week in their worship experiences and are working to prepare a “children’s sermon” from one of those texts. We utilize another great site for study, Textweek.com, as a beginning place for some of our thinking and writing. My companion is a First Testament biblical scholar, so most of her words are her own about the First Testament texts. SSCSJ is unlike other options in this area, but it is something that few would “pay for.” We’ve tried subscriptions and will move to an ebook model when Advent begins this year. We have a few subscribers. No worries. It is not a primary income stream. I’m thinking about this today after reading an opinion piece from the New York Times this morning. I won’t completely rip off his words, but borrow a paragraphs for exposure and link to the article.
Practicalities aside, money is also how our culture defines value, and being told that what you do is of no ($0.00) value to the society you live in is, frankly, demoralizing. Even sort of insulting. And of course when you live in a culture that treats your work as frivolous you can’t help but internalize some of that devaluation and think of yourself as something less than a bona fide grown-up.