Prayer in School and Other Public Displays of Religion

A couple years ago I did a Children’s Sermon about the 10 Commandments. Like most CS’s, this was aimed at the adults as much as the children, and it went something like this: I told the kids that a lot of adults wanted the 10 Commandments on buildings, like the schools they attended. I asked the children how many of them had the 10 C’s on the side of their houses, and of course, none did. I told them that I thought it would be a good start; then we can talk about their schools. Then I gave them a copy of the 10 C’s to put on their fridges. The adults got the point, as did, I think, most of the kids.

Like the 10 Commandments, prayer in schools has been a hot topic for decades, a sticking point for those who believe in the rule of law and those who don’t. Prayer in schools was struck down in 1962 (I was 2 years old), and yet, it keeps coming up. “Our country started to go down the drain when they took prayer out of schools (Christian prayer, that is), and we need it back!!” That’s utter nonsense; you can still pray in public schools, but it can’t be organized by the school during school hours. And while public support for this has been waning, 61% of Americans still want it back. That’s a curious number, since only 20-25% of Americans actively participate in a faith community. It seems that a lot of hypocrites – I mean good Christian people – want prayer in school; they just can’t be bothered to do it themselves in church.

What would happen if those who identified as Christians – 70% (a quickly diminishing number) – prayed in church and then followed through with good works? What if their public displays of religion were about helping people rather than condemning or complaining about the prayerless, godless, public halls of education? What if they actually followed the 10 Commandments, the Golden Rule, and the Greatest Commandment (love God and neighbor as yourself)? Imagine the kind of changes we would see: less road rage – more money to feed poor folks – fewer homeless – adequate education for every child – etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Jesus chastised people who were shiny and pious on the outside but were greedy and foul on the inside. Hypocrites really mad Him angry; like the person praying to God about how good he was, while giving thanks that he wasn’t like that Tax Collector over there. Meanwhile, the Tax Collector begged for forgiveness. Jesus chose the latter over the former.

I am really tired of people trotting Jesus out when they run for an office or want to pander to the shallow Christian majority. I am given hope when I see the good work being done in our communities by people who just want to make a difference. You can keep your shiny, pious exterior – I’ll take the person of questionable character who is trying to make a difference any day. That’s what Jesus did.

Prayer – Forgive us for our failures to love, share, and have compassion. Help us to be more like the Tax Collector and less like the Pious person. Amen.

Today’s picture is of the 10 Commandments at the Texas State Capitol.

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