This latest conflict certainly isn’t the first and it won’t the last, but does demonstrate some of the problems when prayers are offered in political settings.
I have been asked to do prayers for council meetings, but I’ve never been asked to submit a written prayer for approval by the members of the council in order to make sure I didn’t say anything offensive. Then again, I was living in the SOUTH. It’s not an opportunity I sought out, and did so out of a sense of support for friends on the council. I can appreciate this particular minister agreeing to pray for that reason, and also his surprise at being rejected for closing the prayer with “in Jesus name.”
Our nation has a great deal of religious diversity, and I respect that. I also appreciate the ceremonial aspect of religion in the public arena, and for this reason believe that council meetings and other gatherings should either NOT have a prayer at all or allow the person praying to pray as he or she wishes. There is no way you’re going to be representative of the entire gathering anyway, and someone will be offended as was demonstrated in this situation.
The whole notion of telling someone not to pray in Jesus name completely sanitizes the content and intent of the person offering the petition. This isn’t a speech, but talking to Almighty God. When we allow persons to censure that content in order not to offend people, then this language ceases to be a prayer but a hollow, religious exercise. I’ve attended council meetings that opened with a prayer and when it ended looked nothing like what had been mentioned in the invocation.
I turned down an opportunity to offer a prayer a few months ago at a rally for a political candidate for the reason illustrated in this article. When it comes to mixing the church and politics, the church will lose just about every time. Interestingly, I found this article about Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and their new pastor. He’s taking a different approach than his well known predecessor, D. James Kennedy. It’s worth reading.