Prayer at Ground Zero
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, writes in a USA Today opinion piece:
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision not to invite clergy of any faith to commemorate the anniversary Sunday at Ground Zero is a mistake. The move is deeply offensive to the many Americans who find solace and healing in prayer.
In an open letter to Mayor Bloomberg Mr. Sekulow calls this a “damaging policy” and argues that “prayer is a powerful source of comfort for many who are still suffering—and it should be a part of the 9/11 anniversary.”
Michael Horton observes that “It’s not a question of whether prayer at public occasions of this kind is sanctioned by our Constitution, but, for Christians at least, whether we can participate (much less encourage) such acts of ‘non-sectarian’ worship.”
With regard to Sekulow’s critique, Horton thinks it “betrays assumptions about prayer that, in my view, can only trivialize this sacred act in the long run.” He asks:
Is the purpose of prayer mainly therapeutic: personal and national catharsis? Is it basically horizontal-human-centered (whether in individual or national images)? Or is it a solemn act of “calling on the name of the LORD” (i.e., Yahweh, the Father of Jesus Christ)? Does such an act have a personal object? Is that personal object the God who is revealed in Scripture as the Holy Trinity? Is the prayer directed to the Father, through the mediation of the incarnate Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit by whom we confess “Jesus as Lord”?
Imagine Elijah calling for a revival by trying to negotiate a public prayer or perhaps series of public prayers led by the prophets of Baal and the prophets of Yahweh. Israel, after all, has always been a religious nation. Isn’t it more important for the nation to acknowledge its piety than to become too obsessed with the theological specifics? The nation was divided, after all, and the point is to bring the people together through prayer, to bring them consolation in the face of national disaster. Of course, this isn’t how the story plays out at Mount Carmel, as the God of Israel proved that he alone is God and Baal is a helpless idol.
We don’t live under the old covenant, driving the prophets of Baal through with the sword. Rather, we have the privilege of religious freedom for true and false worship in this country. Nevertheless, we do not expect the state to create opportunities for the advance of Christ’s kingdom through his means of grace. . . .
Prayer is also an act of witness. What are we testifying to when we seek state acts of generic devotion to the Unknown God? To what-or whom-are we witnessing when we give the impression that people can find consolation from any “God” apart from the Father who is known only in his Son and is otherwise a judge who will not let sinners go unpunished? True prayer arises as a Spirit-given response to the Word that proclaims God’s righteous judgment and gracious forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
You can read the whole thing here.