An Uneasy Agent of the State: Part 1, Prayer As Ceremony

Hello, my name is Todd. I am a professional pray-er. Once it is discovered I am a pastor, no matter the event, I become the de facto pray-er.

Once a month I am expected to pray at our regular City Council meetings right after the Pledge of Allegiance. The symbolism supports a bygone era, maybe even one the Church should have resisted long ago.

Many have written about the end of Christendom, a moniker denoting the major influence Christianity once exerted on Western Culture. It would be hard to argue against the end of this era and the increasing secularizing of our society. While not the intent of this piece, there is a difference between secularizing and secularism. In this post, my point is the rise of pluralism naturally creates a secularizing effect, or a lessening of Christian dominance, exposing at least two ways I have become an uneasy agent of the State.

Prayer as Ceremony

Don Byrd reported on the Supreme Court decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway. Byrd contended all nine justices considered prayer in legislative and government settings to serve a largely ceremonial role rooted in an historic tradition intended to lend gravity to public meetings that expressed widely held beliefs. So long as prayer did not cross the line, a line not clearly delineated in the divergent opinions, it would be permissible.

But Christians, and for that matter most religions whose adherents practice prayer as a religious piety, believe prayer is not mere ceremony. Prayer reduced to ceremony, by clergy or the Court, brings not gravity but vacuity.

Justice Kagan recognized prayer stripped of its referents, no matter the religion, fundamentally changes our Country,

Ceremonial references to the divine surely abound: The majority is right that “the Pledge of Allegiance, inaugural prayer, or the recitation of ‘God save the United States and this honorable Court’ ” each fits the bill. But prayers evoking “the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross,” “the plan of redemption that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ,” “the life and death, resurrection and ascension of the Savior Jesus Christ,” the workings of the Holy Spirit, the events of Pentecost, and the belief that God “has raised up the Lord Jesus” and “will raise us, in our turn, and put us by His side”? No. These are statements of pro­found belief and deep meaning, subscribed to by many, denied by some. They “speak of the depths of [one’s] life, of the source of [one’s] being, of [one’s] ultimate concern, of what [one] take[s] seriously without any reservation.” If they (and the central tenets of other religions) ever become mere ceremony, this country will be a fundamentally different—and, I think, poorer—place to live.

Even if the prevailing sentiment in a local community would allow for a more sectarian prayer, I am still left thinking my role as professional pray-er at such events makes me an unwitting, and now willing, participant in the secularizing of prayer. Such an act subverts any contention I might make in other contexts that prayer serves a role in Christian spiritual formation.

Currently I attempt to satisfy my own internal dissonance by praying wisdom for the Council in its pursuit of decisions that result in what is best for our fellow citizens. In that way I avoid a sectarian prayer that becomes preaching through prayer, a practice that results in the applause of many hoping the end of Christendom has been greatly exaggerated.

Next, An Uneasy Agent of the State: Part 2, Wedding Officiate

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

2 comments on “An Uneasy Agent of the State: Part 1, Prayer As Ceremony

  1. Bob Cleveland says:

    I think it was the Internet Monk who pointed out that, if Jesus is the real authority on prayer, then we’d want to pray (A) the way He said to pray, and (B)the way He actually DID pray. Neither of them was using prayer as a “starting gun” or “checkered flag” for meetings. When I was an active Deacon and my Sunday rolled around to “pray the invocation”, I’d remind the congregation of the Biblical admonition that we be silent and know that He is God; I would then suggest things the congregation pray for, and end it with one sentence and an “amen”.

    I was always fascinated by two things: One was the absolute silence when I did that, which was awesome, and the other is how many people who said how rewarding, personally, that time was for them.

    I’m the only one who ever did that, at our church.

  2. Bob,
    Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

    I have always found Internet Monk, both the late Michael Spencer and the current Chaplain Mike, to be a good read. Another way prayers is used is as a zipper. We unzip to get started and zip up when finished. Some may not like the analogy but it seems to be a very stark picture of making of prayer what it is not.

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