Unconstitutional prayers


They happen all the time, these small displacements of Christianity from the public square, like the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal's recent slapdown of Forsyth County, N.C., commissioners for beginning their meetings with prayers "endorsing Christianity to the exclusion of other faiths." I confess I don't know whether to boo or applaud or be indifferent.

My first thought is that the commissioners' endorsement of Christianity to the exclusion of other faiths is simply evidence of sound thinking. Who in his right mind endorses Christianity while embracing other faiths? In this age of wishy-washy, unprincipled politicians, ought we not applaud elected officials who are consistent in at least one thing?

Furthermore, I think that journalists covering this story are inviting me to adopt a wrong worldview, in which all religions have an equal claim on the truth, and equal likelihood of being valid. But that's a silly worldview. The only religions that accept this idea are the spiritual social clubs, like the college-town Unitarian churches where attendees sit around affirming one another's personalized conceptualizations of God.

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But then it occurs to me that while I believe the Christian faith is true, and all other religions are therefore misguided, if I tolerate public officials weaving their religion into government business, I'm setting a precedent for the time when my fellow citizens begin electing apostates and heretics and infidels.

Not that such a thing could ever happen, of course.

But suppose it did. By embracing a constitutional interpretation in which elected officials can in effect choose a religion to endorse, might I be sowing the seeds for Christianity's destruction?

On the other hand, when the day comes that we're routinely electing non-Christians to the majority of public offices, we may well be cooked anyway.

And so I go back and forth in my thinking, like the wishy-washy politicians I was making fun of earlier. Yet I realize that through all these considerations, I reason from the standpoint of a Christian, as someone who doesn't care nearly so much about whether county commissioners make wise decisions or whether non-Christians have their feelings hurt as I do about what protects Christians and advances the Kingdom of Christ. Maintaining that worldview is, I believe, essential for all of us, because we are so often tempted to view these questions through the secular mindset of fairness and neutrality. The Christian understanding is that it's not a matter of fairness to reject other gods but of truth. And to embrace God is to eschew neutrality, by definition.

We certainly must afford everyone-Christian and non-Christian alike-dignity and freedom of choice about his or her faith, just as our Savior has done, speaking truth but forcing no one to follow Him. This doesn't equate, as the secularist wishes it did, to privatizing our faith. To do that is to adopt a very different religion, humanism, which can be summed up in the faith that mankind will not behave as he has for most of his history, by murdering and dominating his fellow humans as he crafts false idols to fall down and worship, but will instead be reborn-by the grace of public education and enlightened legislators-a tolerant, productive, non-judgmental citizen.

In other words, we can never have a faith-free, value-neutral society. Even the people who pretend otherwise are peddling their own kind of faith, their own religious values. So the question is, which set of rules best affords Christianity room to flourish, while treating non-Christians as Christ would have them treated by His followers? And how does open prayer by public officials fit into that? Should we condone it, condemn it, or get over it?


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