“District won't allow prayers over PA” was the headline article in our local paper. At odds were the school district administration and a state legislator over whether the school district could allow ministers to have prayer before a football game over the official Public Address system. This conflict spilled over onto social media. Many see it as an attack against freedom of religion, while others argue the First Amendment anti-establishment clause.
Many of us grew up with this invocation being a regular part of the pre-game ceremonies. In recent years, I have seen this done before games at state universities such as Clemson and the University of South Carolina. Our school district stopped this practice in 2003 when the US Supreme Court upheld a legal challenge to the practice of official prayers at public school sporting events over the Public Address System. As you can imagine, there have been some strong opinions about this issue.
I do have sympathy that the state should support the one true religion, and for many years Christ was honored because the nation was predominantly Christian. However, this is not the case anymore. We as a nation should recognize Jesus as King, yet our motto, “One Nation Under God,” is a far cry from recognizing Jesus as the head of our nation. In spite of the multitudes of blessings the Lord has poured out on our nation we continually snub our nose and refuse to give honor to Jesus.
My first concern over this practice of public prayers revolves around who would be allowed to pray. Many opposed to these public prayers state that continuing to allow them would mean non-Christians, such as Muslims, Jews, and even Satanic groups, might be included in the rotation of those praying. While this is an obvious problem, I am just as concerned about those coming to offer prayer who identify as Christian in name only. There is a major difference between the prayer of a Bible-believing Presbyterian, Baptist, or Non-Denominational pastor and prayersof liberal mainline pastors who attack the veracity of the Bible and preach a different gospel from orthodox Christianity. What message does this send to the world about Christ?
Another issue is with the prayers themselves. We have all heard these prayers. A ministerial colleague calls these “performance prayers.” They are more civic than religious in many cases,giving good thoughts and vibes before the game or event. Some are just silly. Many may remember the pastor praying thanks toGod for his “smoking hot wife” before a NASCAR race. Google it. I’m not making that up. This is just a famous example of the often bad prayers given in these situations.
Maybe the biggest concern is hypocrisy from the believing church. Again and again the lines between politics and the church are blurred. Here we see many people ready to go to battle over a fairly pointless prayer which is often dishonoring to the Lord, yet where is our zeal for God in other areas of life? If we want to pray, should there not be consistency in all of life? Should we not make worship a priority, keeping the Sabbath, and living the Christian life? I fear that too much of what is driving this issue on the pro-prayer side is a desire to hold on to the idea of American Christendom; the sentimental idea of America being about God, baseball, and apple pie. However, this was always a facade. It was never real.
I am always amazed at how many see the great fall of the church in America as the result of prayer and the Bible being taken out of School. The problem, to me, lies much closer to us than we care to admit. It is when prayer and the Bible stopped in the home that we found ourselves in trouble. Regularly professed Christian families miss church for a whole host of unnecessary reasons. Travel ball takes families out of church. Teens work unnecessary jobs on Sunday. Families lack a strong commitment to worship so that whenever anything better comes along they miss being at their church. The real battle is not over public prayer at a high school football game. It is not over trying to hold on to the fading remnants of Christendom in our society. The battle is for the hearts of Christ’s people to be serious and committed about the faith. Here is where we should be putting our efforts and calling each other to repentance and faithfulness to Christ.