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04 May 2009

Prayer in Schools - Sickness or Symptom?

My 10-year-old daughter received an e-mail with a poem lamenting the absence of prayer in schools and talking about the general state of the nation today where its outlook on God is concerned. You've probably received an e-mail like it. After she read it, I asked if I could talk to her about it. My perspective is a little different from that of many people (shocker, I know). I offered my daughter a parallel that I hoped would help her to see it in a different way.

My story came before the wave of medical caution had begun to spread through the United States and began to impact our local community (many schools closed last week and remain closed today in an effort to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus).

Here's my analogy: when a child is sick, often she'll be taken to the doctor. Once the doctor has gone through a battery of tests to determine what exactly the sickness is, he'll offer his diagnosis and recommended treatment. Say the symptoms are fever, chills, sore throat, fatigue, and cough, and the doctor determines that it's the common form of the flu. The doctor's medical expertise is going to give him the wisdom to prescribe something to attack and destroy the virus. While he may give something to treat the symptoms, too, it's likely that he won't send the patient away and treat only the chills, recommending that she bundle up with a heavy blanket.

This is what I believe we're prone to do with issues like prayer in public schools. I've heard many, many people say that America entered into moral decline when prayer was legislated out of public schools. While I have no great argument that this moral decline happened to coincide with the removal of prayer, this wasn't a cause/effect situation.

The standard logic seems to be that if we could somehow get prayer and the legal mention of the name "Jesus Christ" legislated back into the school system (or at least allowed again), things would begin to look up again and all eyes would begin to turn back to God. In reality, the removal of prayer from public schools was a reflection of the spiritual condition of the leadership in (and the population of) the United States of America.

This idea that the removal of prayer from schools was a catalyst rather than an effect causes many Christians to take a leap into attacking politicians, parties, and political philosophies. It necessarily becomes a battle of religion vs. politics, and the reality of a personal relationship with Christ -- the very thing that could give the situation hope -- is left as an "Oh, by the way" issue at best. It's as if we're trying to convert a political party, and our method of "conversion" seems to be more like a bloody crusade than Godliness, prayer, and meekness.

1 Timothy 2:1-4 (NLT) says this:
I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.

I desperately want America to become a Christian nation. It isn't one. The "conversion" of America will not happen by bludgeoning politicians with a Jesus stick or a forced movement of the "religious right". It can only come as individual hearts are changed and hearts and eyes are turned to Christ. It can be started and helped along by Christ-following men and women serving God in positions of political influence. But neither morality nor Godliness can be legislated.

To be clear, I'm not advocating that we shy away from all political issues. We cannot sit idly and allow state-sanctioned, legalized abortion to continue, for instance (and this is not the only issue). But for Christians who are content to simply hurl stones at people in political office and expect it to somehow turn hearts to God, look for yourself to see if this kind of activity is supported Biblically. If it is, keep it up. If it's not, stop it. God has a purpose for you -- a particular way He wants you to participate in seeing His will accomplished here and now, and in the future -- and I'd contend that it's not found in that sort of action (or inaction).


Jeff M. Miller said...

I completely agree, Dean. I've even had conversations with people about this, and pointed out to them that the right to pray has NOT been taken away.

Are the people griping about the lack of communal prayer in schools "prayer warriors" themselves? Do they teach their children to pray at home?

I've often pointed out that there's really even no need for a scheduled time during the day for prayer, or a need for a "moment of silence." When will these parents and others who are supposedly so concerned with prayer teach the children they can prayer anywhere, anytime.

They can pray in the middle of the math lesson, "Lord, please help me understand this." In the middle of history, "Lord, be with our leaders and our citizens and help me to be a light in this world."

Bah, I'm ranting. Truth is, even if we woke up in some horrible situation where prayer were banned completely, how could they stop us? I can pray driving down the road, during my work, while in the shower, etc. How would the powers-that-be even really be able to take that away from me?

Dean Lusk said...

Thanks, Jeff. That's exactly the kind of thing that underlies the situation, but you put some specific words to it that I didn't.

Leroy said...

Right on!!!

Jonathan said...

I think it’s a tragedy that there have been situations of trouble for individuals who have had a moment of personal prayer in the public school system. However, it does not seem to me that Christians will have much evangelical success by forcing a public prayer time into the school system. Non-Christians (like me) will respond to that as imposing religion on other people, therefore taking away individual liberty to abstain from certain beliefs. I don't want to be part of a prayer to a god I don't believe in, and Ill be much more inclined to listen to the God who doesn't force his name into the schools, but is lovingly represented by an individual's faith and daily walk through life. School is not a gathering of the saints, or at least I don't think it is anymore.

Andy Rogers said...

As an outsider (from N.Ireland) I think this is one of the most intelligent perspectives I've read on the prayer in schools issue in the US.

I travel in the US most years and sometimes, not always, see an underlying assumption that if the moral tide was turned then the Kingdom of God would prevail.

I see the same thing in my own culture here where 'religion' and politics sometimes make for a heady cocktail.

The sometimes genuine followers of Jesus find that they're waiting for 'someone else' to change things instead of discovering the adventure of living out a creative missional life.

"Pray where you are" - The Lost Dogs

Dean Lusk said...

Thanks much, Andy. The non-American perspective is good to hear.

I think that the biggest problem may be that Christ-followers don't think the whole thing out. Otherwise I think many more people would understand that we can't somehow turn people to God by forcing them to do things that seem Godly.

Jake Woods said...

I also would like to add (abeit, very late) that the majority of our founding fathers were Deist, not Christian.

Oh the detail i could go into on this one. But i'll wait. There will be many, MANY interesting conversations this summer, Dean.

Dean Lusk said...

Jake, I didn't touch on that aspect of this topic. The post would've gotten unweildly in length if I had. I've found that people on both major sides of that issue cry, "Revisionist history!"

Looking forward to the summer!

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