Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Public Prayer and the Name of Jesus


I'll start by saying that I've never taken the opportunity to pray for a government function; in fact, I'm not totally comfortable with the idea in the first place. I've always wanted to preface my prayers, by asking the gathered leaders whether they will actually be listening for God's direction? That said, I have prayed at numerous interfaith gatherings -- so I have some experience in public prayer when others that are not Christians are present.

The question that always arises when one prays on such occasions is how one should frame a public prayer -- that is, when you pray in a public setting do you see yourself offering a blessing on behalf of God as you see God, or are you carrying the prayers of all the people to the divine?

This issue will likely emerge once again when the already heavily criticized Rick Warren takes the podium and offers his invocation at the Barack Obama inauguration. The critics are already after him, believing that Warren's likely use of the phrase "In the Name of Jesus" should disqualify him. Now the invocators/benedictors at the GW Bush inauguration used just such a phrase and it raised the hackles of many. The response is that when one prays in public, one should pray as one always prays, in accord with one's religious views.

As a sidebar to this discussion, I want to first say to those who are clamoring for a rescinding of this invitation -- don't get your hopes up. It ain't going to happen!!! If he were to comply he would not only show weakness, he would likely inflame the passions of others. As to the use of the phrase, "in the name of Jesus," I think we must first give Rick Warren the benefit of the doubt that he will pray in a way that recognizes the nature of the event. Maybe he won't, maybe he will. We won't know until January 20th.

Now, as to the prayer. I've taken the view that when you are praying in a public setting like this, you are leading prayer. Thus, you need to be cognizant of everyone present. That means that you should give your prayer in a way that would allow everyone present to give their affirmation, their Amen. If you're Jewish or Muslim, and I pray in the name of Jesus you will find it difficult to give your Amen.

I know that even here there will be those unable to participate, but I think you have to be as broad as possible in your appeal. At least that's how I'd do it.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sadly this debate is just like the diversity movement at my employer. We encourage everyone of every different backgrounds to come together. HOWEVER, please don't bring up your God, politics, or your opposition to certain positions.. in fact, it sounds like conformity under the title of diversity. This conversation seems to say.. we are glad you are Christian.. but just don't mention Jesus... or we are striping you of your identity.

Franklin Graham was once quoted saying "if you don't want a preacher to use in Jesus name, don't invite an evangelical to pray." Great point.. I can't imagine Jesus being asked to pray in public would tone down his prayer.

-Chuck

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Chuck,

Regarding the Graham quote -- some in this debate would say: exactly, why do we keep on inviting evangelicals to pray at these things.

My sense is that there would be fewer qualms about people praying in the name of Jesus if the one's doing the praying represented a broader cross-section of the American populace. Billy Graham prayed at most of these functions from the 1960s to the present. Rick Warren is sort of his successor.

If you're going to have prayers at these things -- why not have 2-3 different religions represented. Maybe a Jewish and a Christian invocation, with a Buddhist and a Muslim benediction.

Of course, I'm not sure that having a religious leader bless these things makes all that much sense anyway!

Chris Brundage said...

I am occasionally asked to pray at county commission meetings. I use a prayer from the Book of Common Worship and end it 'in your holy name.'

The furor over Warren baffles me. It seemed an acceptable choice, especially when paired with Joseph Lowery. The anger, I think, stems from a general animosity toward evangelicals.

As to the larger issue of whether religious persons should pray at such events, I'll confess I do not know.

Peace to you today.

John said...

I think Christians should welcome both the opportunity to pray at such events as well as the opportunity to invoke God's presence into such events.

As a Christian I think it scandalous that other Christians would seek to prevent or sabotage a prayer.

If a Christian preacher invokes the name of Jesus, I can't say anyone should be surprised or disappointed. That a Christian preacher would fail to say an inclusive prayer is a disappointment but we can hope those those who are left out are close enough to God to overcome the lapse.

After all, prayer, in any circumstance, is not a political statement, and those who misuse it as such or seek to limit it to such abuse, fail to grasp the truth of the matter.

God is a great God, capable of overcoming any human obstacle to the divine will, so I don't worry too much if we don't get it quite right - the Holy Spirit is there to aid us with sighs to deep for words.

John

Anonymous said...

I just fall on the side of saying.. failing to say Jesus is actually being "fake", rather than trying to blend in. Its like saying.. Bob, we know you dedicated your life to Christ in seminary and your church, but can you please leave Jesus out of it. In a sense.. its fulfilling what Jesus said.. that people would hate you b/c of your name.

Now.. all that said.. remember, Obama invited Rick, its not some law that says you have to have an invocation. Could Obama invite a Muslim or Buddhist.. of course? The question there should be, why didn't he? Historically.. the US has had many blessings, its on the recent generation that has sought to eliminate them.

-Chuck

John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

Sharon Watkins, the General Minister for the Disciples of Christ, is to give a Washington Sermon for the new President on January 21, 2009.

See:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/11/us/politics/11minister.html?_r=1