Thinking Aloud About Praying in Public

Thinking out loud can get a person in trouble. Me be the person doing the thinking can add to the trouble; I tend to start my train of thought in a very different train station than the average person where I live.

But this whole war over public prayer with the Freedom From Religion Foundation really has me thinking about prayer, especially public prayer. The issue was reignited in the Chattanooga area in August when the Foundation filed complaint against a local football coach.

Then there was an issue over prayer at UTC football games. Now UTK has issued a statement to inform the public that, per legal advice, they have no reason to discontinue prayer before ball games.

My first, fiery response to the whole thing was decidedly redneck and all things that are wrong about tradition and religious culture. “We pray at ball games down here! No one has a problem with it here. Why don’t they go back to Wisconsin and leave us alone?” There’s my moment of confession; everything redneck and Southern Confederate heritage oozing out of the overflow of my heart. Massive heart check required.

But that thought made me think a little deeper; why do we insist on praying at public events?

Is it because it’s tradition?

Is it because we have a superstition that someone will get hurt if we don’t pray?

Is it because we want to summon our god to be on our side?

Southern redneck public prayers don’t exactly have the best track record of displaying the glory and majesty of the God we serve.

Jesus had some things to say in Matthew 6 about praying in public:

5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Just some food for thought as I’m thinking through the Freedom From Religion yuck.

What’s being proven with making a stink about praying before a ball game?

Are we reducing prayer to a magic charm when we insist it take place a certain way?

What’s wrong with observing a moment of silence? That’s what UTC decided to do, and it seems to be a mutually respectful compromise.

I understand that some people see this as further encroachment upon our religious freedoms and this is the issue at which some have chosen to draw the line of saying “no more.” I’m just not sure which religion people are practicing that requires they pray at the beginning of public events. Sometimes it feels as if this whole fight is based not upon protecting our religious freedom, but about insisting our religion is right.

But what causes us to think that we have the “right” to pray in public at all? Is having a moment of silence preventing us from practicing our religion?

My questions are based more on the global perspective of knowing the friends and family of people who have died for their faith around the world. Knowing the loved ones of martyrs changes your perspective of the term religious freedom.

What would our nation be like if we spent on private prayer all the time we spend filing litigation to protect our right to pray over public events?

What will Americans do if we are ever really faced with the loss of religious freedom?

2 thoughts on “Thinking Aloud About Praying in Public

  1. I appreciate you trying to think more deeply about this situation in lieu of just giving an emotional response to it. More of that type of analysis could be used in many situations.

    Let me add a few items:

    Regarding Matthew 6: I think we need to be careful to not take Jesus out of context. In that statement, he was condemning the Pharisees who pray in public–for the sake of being rewarded by men. Jesus never forbade public prayer (for if so, He broke His own teaching), he was asking that it be done so for the right reason.

    Remember, Jesus was rescuing us from the constraints of the Law. The Pharisees, as keepers of the law, wanted to show how religious and be seen by men and receive their praise…and their hearts were wrong in that.

    Jesus showed us that we can pray to God and be rewarded from Him.

    I believe the latter is true in this case. No one “praises” UTK for hosting this. Accolades aren’t handed out because of this public prayer. Fans do not go home talking about the fact a great prayer was had on the football field today. Instead, it is a small moment that reflects who we are, for the most part, in Tennessee.

    It is a truly awe-inspiring sight to witness 103,000 people be silent, especially in this day and age, while someone thanks the Creator (which, to be honest, I think counters your very crude assessment that a moment like this doesn’t display God’s glory and majesty).

    Why should that very unique, very strong (and very quick) moment–reflective of Tennessee’s (the state) makeup and heritage–be done away with, even if for a more politically-correct moment of silence?

    Keep in mind, no one is captive and attendance is voluntary. The exits are all open as well as the vendors inside Neyland. In other words, this isn’t compulsive. All are free to come and go as they please.

    Finally, and this is written with all due respect, why is it that atheists and groups like the FFRF see fit to attack that which is unrecognized by them? Why are they so consumed with stamping out every last remnant of the Lord from the public square?

    I find their resolve perplexing, especially in cases like this, for it seems they are consumed by the very thing they deny even exists.

    The Founders did not envision this when they placed the free expression clause immediately after the establishment clause. They wanted a public square where religion thrived, not where it was wholly removed from sight. They wouldn’t recognize that America.

    I appreciate the sentiments of the FFRF and its followers. But tamping down on the free expression of people at a football game proves they have really minimized themselves and undermined their mission. I know I will be praying for them.

    • Great thoughts, Frederick. Thanks for sharing. I completely agree with what you said, “he was asking that it be done so for the right reason.” That’s the direction I was tracking when those verses came to mind. For many I have heard (and they were emotional reactions, as you said), the response has been more “We’ll show you that we can pray!” And I have struggled with praying in public when it seems to be an act of defiance.

      You are right about the powerful impact of 102K+ people, bowed in prayer. Respectful prayer such as those that typically take place at ball games are the classy moments the South is known for.

      As far as the comment being crude, it was directed toward the prayer liked in the sentence; the NASCAR prayer led by Joe Nelms. That was completely devoid of both respect and majesty.

      The prayers being attacked have normally been simple, “nonsectarian,” and respectful. The reaction to the recent challenges are what have me concerned. I have no doubt that most, and UTK especially, will carry on exactly the same as they have before.

      I just pray that all those who pray will continue on as before and not use the prayer as a platform for polarization. Our Gospel is polarizing enough without us adding to it.

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