Here’s something I read today on the blog “Between Two Worlds.” Let me just paste the whole article and you can follow the links if you like. The reason I am posting this is because I think it is a good way to think through issues such as prayer in the public square and the whole church and state relationship. So many people want prayer at public events just because it is tradition or for nostalgic reasons. And often times those same people give little effort to their own prayer lives. If the prayer is offered in the way Horton describes below, I am all for it. But if it is what Jay Sekulow is arguing for, I don’t think its healthy. Just to clarify, if Bloomberg had extended an invitation to a Christian minister to pray in Jesus’ name to the Triune God for biblical blessings and with biblical priorities then that’s great. I wished he had and sad he did not. But had the mayor extended an invitation to every minister of faith to offer up an vacuous prayer to an ambiguous deity in the name of political correctness, what’s the point? Read and think. You don’t have to agree with me, but think through the issue nonetheless.
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, writes in a USA Todayopinion piece:
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision not to invite clergy of any faith to commemorate the anniversary Sunday at Ground Zero is a mistake. The move is deeply offensive to the many Americans who find solace and healing in prayer.
In an open letter to Mayor Bloomberg Mr. Sekulow calls this a “damaging policy” and argues that “prayer is a powerful source of comfort for many who are still suffering—and it should be a part of the 9/11 anniversary.”
Michael Horton observes that “It’s not a question of whether prayer at public occasions of this kind is sanctioned by our Constitution, but, for Christians at least, whether we can participate (much less encourage) such acts of ‘non-sectarian’ worship.”
With regard to Sekulow’s critique, Horton thinks it “betrays assumptions about prayer that, in my view, can only trivialize this sacred act in the long run.” He asks:
Is the purpose of prayer mainly therapeutic: personal and national catharsis? Is it basically horizontal-human-centered (whether in individual or national images)? Or is it a solemn act of “calling on the name of the LORD” (i.e., Yahweh, the Father of Jesus Christ)? Does such an act have a personal object? Is that personal object the God who is revealed in Scripture as the Holy Trinity? Is the prayer directed to the Father, through the mediation of the incarnate Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit by whom we confess “Jesus as Lord”?
Imagine Elijah calling for a revival by trying to negotiate a public prayer or perhaps series of public prayers led by the prophets of Baal and the prophets of Yahweh. Israel, after all, has always been a religious nation. Isn’t it more important for the nation to acknowledge its piety than to become too obsessed with the theological specifics? The nation was divided, after all, and the point is to bring the people together through prayer, to bring them consolation in the face of national disaster. Of course, this isn’t how the story plays out at Mount Carmel, as the God of Israel proved that he alone is God and Baal is a helpless idol.
We don’t live under the old covenant, driving the prophets of Baal through with the sword. Rather, we have the privilege of religious freedom for true and false worship in this country. Nevertheless, we do not expect the state to create opportunities for the advance of Christ’s kingdom through his means of grace. . . .
Prayer is also an act of witness. What are we testifying to when we seek state acts of generic devotion to the Unknown God? To what-or whom-are we witnessing when we give the impression that people can find consolation from any “God” apart from the Father who is known only in his Son and is otherwise a judge who will not let sinners go unpunished? True prayer arises as a Spirit-given response to the Word that proclaims God’s righteous judgment and gracious forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
You can read the whole thing here.