PRAYING--AND SINGING HYMNS--IN PUBLIC
The following is the content of a letter I sent to the editor of the Indianapolis Star yesterday [update: the letter was published in its entirety on December 6th]:
PERSONAL SENSITIVITIES. Both Lynette Herold’s letter to the Editor (December 1) regarding Garrison Keillor’s generous use of hymns at a recent ISO event and Judge David Hamilton's ruling to ban the naming of a specific deity, specifically “Jesus Christ,” in prayers offered in the state legislature speak more to our offended personal sensitivities and less to our rational public sensibilities.
PUBLIC SENSIBILITIES. At a personal level, I may be as offended at the prospect of not being legally permitted to name “Jesus Christ” in a prayer before the state legislature as Ms. Herold is at Christian hymns being led by Keillor at ISO. But at a public level, rational sensibility helps me participate congenially in public prayers that do not name specific deity or in occasional public singing that names a deity in whom I do not personally believe or identify with.
WE KNOW BETTER. For the most part, clergy know better than to use our privileged positions in the public arena as petty bully pulpits. And if we do not know better, it is time and past time to learn and discipline ourselves. For Christian clergy, it is worth noting that prayers offered which intentionally or unintentionally exclude some, divide people, or trump others’ faith are not in any sense Christian to begin with.
TWO EXAMPLES. Some may find public prayer to an unnamed deity perfunctory and empty, but it need not be so. Read the U.S. Senate Chaplain prayers of Peter Marshall or Lloyd John Ogilvie (both conservative Protestant ministers). Neither of these respected ministers found it necessary to rub the noses of non-Christians in the salutations of their heart-felt and influential prayers.
SPIRIT AND PRESENCE. It seems to me to be less important when I pray publicly to name a specific name than to reflect an unmistakable spirit and presence that can transcend the divisions and pettiness that seem to pervade present politics.
SOMEBODY PRAY! Of course prayer in and for our state legislature--and for all who serve in the name of the public good--is desirable. Please--somebody keep praying! Pray for wisdom. Pray for fairness. Pray for insight and compassion for the plight of our most vulnerable residents. Pray for conciliation among decision-makers. Pray for forgiveness. Pray for peace on earth and goodwill to all!