Mar

04

2008

Trevin Wax|4:05 am CT

Civic Prayers in Jesus' Name

irf_ap.jpgShould a pastor pray in Jesus’ name at a civic event?

Mark Roberts says “yes,” although he believes praying in Jesus’ name does not necessarily mean one will use that phrase at the end of a prayer. Mark goes on to explain his own practice of praying at civic events and his reasoning for not including the name of Christ.

When I have prayed in public, secular gatherings, I have not said “in Jesus’ name” because I knew that many of the people whom I was leading in prayer were not Christians. My goal was to include through my words as many people in the prayer as possible. I wanted all who had gathered to be able to pray with me, to join me in the “Amen” without hesitation. I didn’t want to leave some people out if I could help it.

I respectfully disagree with Mark’s practice. (And I do mean “respectfully.” I enjoy Mark’s blog and have benefited from his scholarship. It is difficult to judge a person’s “tone” when blogging, so let me say at the outset that my disagreement is intented to be expressed in brotherly love and with admiration for Mark’s ministry.)

First off, let me state my agreement with Mark’s belief that praying “in Jesus’ name” is more than a magic phrase we attach to the end of our prayers. Yes, praying in Jesus’ name means praying under his authority and according to his will. Mark is right to point out the danger of letting the words “in Jesus’ name” become a mere tagline at the end of our prayers, intended to bless whatever we’ve requested.

But I have trouble with Mark’s reasoning when it comes to civic gatherings. As stated above, Mark wants to make sure that he can include as many people in the prayer as possible. Though he writes that his public prayers are brief and are addressed to God (not to the people in the audience), he still exhibits a curious preoccupation with his audience if he is willing to forego the mention of Jesus’ name in an attempt to be inclusive.

What bothers me most about Mark’s explanation is his willingness to praying distinctly Christian prayers at interfaith funerals, where “representatives of different faith traditions pray ways that are consistent with their own religious convictions.” In other words, when there are more faiths represented and each minister is expected to pray accordingly, Mark does so.

Mark’s post on this subject reminds me of a conversation I once had with an Eastern Orthodox priest in Louisville. We were talking theology over coffee one morning when the priest recounted a similar experience. He had been invited to pray at a civic gathering, but the organizer had instructed him to not pray anything “distinctly Christian” and to avoid mention of Jesus’ name.

The priest asked the organizer, “What kind of prayer do you want me to pray?” 

The man replied, “Something generic.”

The priest answered back. “Then you’ll have to find someone else. I’m not a ‘generic priest.’ I am an Orthodox priest and if you invite me to your function, I will pray as a Christian.”

The organizer of the event backed down and my friend was able to pray as he wished.

I admire Mark’s sensitivity in not wanting to be divisive. Certainly we should avoid “preaching” in our public prayers. It is counterintuitive for a tone-deaf Christian minister to try and ram Christian doctrine down people’s throats during a civic ceremony.

But Jesus is divisive. Mark hopes that as many people as possible will be able to say “Amen” at the end of his prayers. But if the people in his audience are not believers in Christ, their “Amens” and their prayers are in vain. What kind of agreement do we have in our prayers with unbelievers if we are not agreed on the identity of God – the One who has revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ? 

Furthermore, the fact that Mark prays in Jesus’ name at interfaith services simply compounds my initial unease with his proposal. The idea that the mention of Jesus is less offensive when offered alongside prayers from Muslim, Jewish, or Hindu religious leaders simply reinforces the pluralistic, secularized assumptions of our culture that all religions are equal and valid.

I am not questioning Mark’s sincerity or his fervent faith in Christ. I am questioning the prevailing assumption in our culture that would have us celebrate our faith openly as long as we are celebrating other faiths at the same time or would have us mute our specific beliefs whenever the secular realm demands “generalities.”

When I am invited to pray at public events, I do so graciously. But I consciously tweak the last phrase of my prayers from “through Jesus Christ our Lord” to “through Jesus Christ the Lord.” That way, I have declared the lordship of Christ openly and publicly, without giving false hope to those who are not living under his reign. I feel it is the only honest way for me to pray at civic gatherings. So far I have not heard any complaints. But if someone asks that I pray more “generically,” I will follow the example of my Orthodox friend and suggest they find a “generic” minister.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2008 Kingdom People blog

Categories: Christianity, Politics

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