Generic prayers can’t be both

By John Pierce

Americans like the idea of having prayer at official public meetings — “as long as the public officials are not favoring some beliefs over others.”

Such was the finding of a recent national survey by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind. In fact, 73 percent of voters sided with that position.

On the other hand, only 23 percent agreed that “public meetings shouldn’t have any prayers at all because prayers by definition suggest one belief or another.”

I side with the minority — not because prayer is unimportant, but because it is too important, too specific and too personal to be generic.

According to a Religion News Service report on the survey, Peter J.  Woolley, professor of comparative politics at Fairleigh Dickinson University, said: “This has always been a praying nation, despite its very secular Constitution.”

Then he added: “People generally see generic prayer as harmless, if not uplifting, not as something that is oppressive.”

Harmless?

Was Moses’ prayer in the wilderness harmless?

Was David’s prayerful confession generic?

Were the prayers of the prophets harmless?

Is the prayer Jesus taught his disciples generic?

Was Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane harmless?

The more people try to use public prayer for coercive religious and/or political purposes or try to make official prayers generic enough for one size to fit all, the more it makes sense to heed Jesus’ call to enter the closet and pray to a very specific God in private.

Prayer should never be reduced to a weapon used to demonstrate one’s religious dominance over others. And any officially approved generic prayer gets watered down to the point of not being prayer at all.

Those who value prayer the most should be those least willing to have it used for lesser purposes than its divine intentions.

 

John Pierce

About John Pierce

John D. Pierce has been executive editor of Baptists Today since 2000. Previously he served as managing editor of The Christian Index and as a Baptist campus minister at Georgia Tech, Southern Polytechnic and Kennesaw State. A native of Ringgold, Ga., he is a graduate of Berry College (B.A.), Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div.), and Columbia Theological Seminary (D.Min.). He speaks frequently in churches, consults with congregations concerning communications and holds interim pastorates. He and his family are members of Highland Hills Baptist Church in Macon.

2 Comments

  1. AMEN!!!

    Reply
  2. I would go a bit further: Under God?.

    Reply

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