My Brown County Supervisors are discussing whether to have an advisory referendum on whether there should be prayer before their monthly meetings. I first heard about it in an interview Brown County Supervisor Patrick Evans gave on WTAQ 97.5FM. In the interview, Patrick Evans invited citizens to express their opinion. As a confessional Lutheran pastor, I feel we should revoke all public invocations in government. No prayer publicly at all in government. It’s an odd position for a pastor to take, I know, but it is in defense of prayer.
Prayer is an awesome spiritual exercise.
As a Christian, I celebrate that I have the freedom and confidence to pray to God. This freedom and confidence is not earned by me, but given to me because of what Jesus has done. The Bible reassures me that God hears me wherever I am–whether the prayer is out loud or only in my thoughts–and God promises to act on my prayers for my good. Prayer is an awesome privilege I don’t use nearly as often as I am able to.
Prayer can be an expression of unity.
When individuals who hold to the same beliefs about God pray together, it unifies them. Prayer said in a group reminds the group that they are a part of something bigger than themselves, and thus, they are not alone. This is powerful, yet this unity is not without its bumps and bruises. I once had a troubled rancher in Montana start up with me after church saying, “I couldn’t say ‘amen’ to your prayer today.” It was the middle of a dry spell, and I had prayed for rain. He was harvesting his hay, and didn’t want the rain to come. It opened my eyes to see how prayer could be seen as manipulative of another’s faith, and that it takes honest work to bring about and keep true unity.
Public prayer in a government meeting is dishonest.
Not all those who go to the meetings share the same views on spirituality. Instead of acknowledging that some express their spirituality differently than others, a prayer at the beginning ignores these differences, perhaps even tramples on the spiritual beliefs of others, in a superficial display of unity. This makes a mockery of the hard work that is needed to bring people together. Finding common ground takes work, and we belittle the work of those who serve in government by mandating a superficial expression of spiritual unity that doesn’t exist before they do the work we have elected them to do.
Even those who are unified spiritually may not be unified politically or be unified on a particular issue. I serve as pastor of members who are of different political parties but yet are unified in their spiritual beliefs. On the flip side, those of different spiritual beliefs can also be unified politically or be unified on an issue as well, but it doesn’t happen by cheapening the power and purpose of prayer.
Public prayer in a government meeting can be manipulative.
While I have not been to any Brown County supervisor meetings, I have heard public invocations that were not prayers to a deity but instead were sermons to those listening. It made me uncomfortable, and I understood better what it was like for that Montanan rancher wanting to harvest his hay and hearing me pray for rain. When a person you don’t know prays for you in the public square, you don’t know what they are going to say, and if you are joining in prayer with them, you are giving assent (albeit passively) to the content of their prayer. That’s like agreeing to “Terms and Conditions” where the Terms and Conditions haven’t even been written down yet.
Granted, when I worship at another church of my church affiliation, I may not always know the content of that particular pastor’s prayer, but since I know the confession of that pastor, I’m confident the pastor isn’t going to manipulate us to do something against our confession. He’s not going to pray that God make us all Chicago Bear fans, for example.
If individuals pray publicly at government meetings, what is there to stop someone from manipulating another’s soul through that prayer? Even if you ask clergy to pray at Brown County Supervisor meetings, you are introducing an unstable element that may manipulate the rest. You don’t know what they are going to say or what they are going to advocate, and you are opening up to being manipulated by another or being manipulated by the group who assents to that prayer.
Let’s stop having all public prayers at government meetings. God will still be there.
People don’t all share the same spiritual views. When they come together to do the business of governing; let them govern. They can even center themselves spiritually as they wish before the meeting, but when the meeting starts, let it be about the business of governing. God will still be there. As individuals do the business of governing, individuals will show concern for the welfare of others by expressing proposals and opinions, individuals may even pray privately and to themselves (without anyone noticing even) for composure and patience as the meeting goes on, and individuals will vote and make decisions for the good of others.
Eliminating prayer from doesn’t eliminate God from government. I believe He still is at work there even if He’s not acknowledged. Eliminating prayer respects those of different beliefs, and encourages those of different spiritual beliefs to look elsewhere for religious and spiritual conversations that lead to spiritual unity, conversations which I pray are done in honesty and full disclosure.