Tags: Fundamentalism, Liberal Christianity, Progressive Christianity, School Prayer, Pulbic Prayer, Religious Right, Conservative Christians, Religious Left, Traditional Values, Separation of Church and State
Right-wing religious fundamentalists often claim that since the Supreme Court allegedly "outlawed " school and public prayer that America has gone to moral hell. But before I express my views, allow me to confess my bias about prayer that result from the traditional family values that were handed down to me. Both my grandfathers were preachers. My father was a Holiness Baptist preacher who I heard pray every day that I knew him. Morning time, meal time, bed time, my father prayed anytime as needed, giving thanks and asking blessings upon the poor, sick and afflicted. That 's my family values that I am proud and grateful to carry-on.
I remember the time when we had sat down at the dinner table and grace had been said. My daddy asked me how my day had been at school. I told him that my 3rd grade class had gone that morning in 1960 to the First Baptist Church for a youth revival in my small southern town. He stopped eating, turned to my mother and asked her if she had given permission for me to go. She said that it was the first time that she had heard of it.
Then my daddy looked and me and asked me: "Son, did they make you pray? " I nodded yes and added that there had been an altar call from the preacher for us to come up and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
"Did they make that little Schwarz girl pray, too? " my daddy asked. When I said that they had, my daddy starting shaking his head and my mama started telling him to settle down.
"Son, " he said, "don 't ever let anybody ever make you pray. Especially don 't let the government. They haven 't got a bit of business in trying to teach you how to pray. That 's my job and responsibility as a father. You 've already got a church and are learning about religion. The school doesn 't need to be teaching you how to pray. They need to stick to reading and writing because they haven 't even got that right. God knows we don 't need the government messing up prayer like it has everything else. "
As a Holiness Baptist preacher, my father had some rather strong notions about strictly following the teachings of Jesus. So in that capacity he taught me about prayer as Jesus taught prayer. You 'll remember that Jesus said:
"And now about prayer. When you pray, don 't be like the hypocrites who pretend piety by praying publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. Truly, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, all alone, and shut the door behind you and pray to your Father secretly, and your Father, who knows your secrets, will reward you. "
As to what Jesus might say today regarding public prayer, permit Jesus to speak for himself:
"Woe to you, Pharisees, and you other religious leaders. Hypocrites! For you won 't let others enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and won 't go in yourselves. And you pretend to be holy, with all your long, public prayers in the streets, while you are evicting widows from their homes. Hypocrites! Yes, woe upon you hypocrites. For you go to all lengths to make one convert, and then turn him into twice the son of hell you are yourselves. "
My goodness, the words of Jesus still smartly bite the hypocrites some two thousand years later. Now, modern sanctimonious hypocrites who like to wave the cross and wear the flag want to use the name of Jesus to force us to pray in a manner that Jesus most explicitly put-down. Jesus taught to pray in private and not in public. The Bible contains not one single incident of Jesus leading anybody in public prayer. When he gave the Lord 's prayer, Jesus did so as an example of how to pray in private where no one could see you. I am rather repulsed when I hear the Lord 's prayer mindlessly recited in public.
Moreover, Jesus taught not to pray like a greedy child hitting-up Santa Claus. Jesus said that God already knew everything anyway so that it was redundant to beseech God. Instead, Jesus taught the values of being grateful and for listening. That 's right. The prayer Jesus taught seems to be more like meditation in that it involves listening instead of talking or yelling at God.
Jesus even told a story that made fun about people who think that they have to scream to get God 's attention. He told a parable of a friend who at midnight went to a friend 's house and woke him by screaming in order to ask to borrow a loaf of bread. Jesus clearly said that God is not upstairs sleeping and doesn 't need yelling to be woken up. Of people that do make such a fuss of prayers and piosity, Jesus said that the only benefits for them were the fleeting attention that they got.