Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Praying in Public

December 8, 2010


Earlier this week I prayed for the work of the Atlanta City Council, something I have done once before. I have also prayed for the House of Representatives of North Carolina and the Senate of Virginia (who gave me a lovely small Jefferson cup to remind me of the occasion). There is something strange about offering prayer in such public legislative settings and I’m not sure what makes that so.

It could be strange because of the separation of Church and State business, but constitutional buffs tell me that a firewall between the two was never intended.

Or it could be the age old problem for Christians as to whether or not to pray through or in the name of Jesus. My standard with that question is that if I am allowed to be generous it is best to be so, and if there is some implied requirement that I be so, I prefer to pray with confidence in who I am as a Christian. (On this last occasion I asked that ‘whatever our tradition of faith we may carry out the work we are given to do in the assurance of your love for us, O God.)

It might be strange to pray in a legislature as a participant in some kind of meeting that needs a ritual but really doesn’t have a natural one. On this occasion the Invocation fell between the Call to Order and Roll Call of Council Members (a quorum for the 1 p.m. meeting was present by 1.15 p.m.) and the Pledge of Allegiance. This last is always tricky for a ‘resident alien’ who is unwilling to take the oath very reasonably required of U.S. Citizens. It currently reads as follows:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.

In no way do I wish to express any disrespect to my hosts, so I usually turn toward the flag, and, if in very public view, place my hand over my heart, and then remain silent.

That done, I was then ushered out, while a group was being recognized for completing a massive and successful food drive. Our need for ritual is real. This is particularly so for otherwise non religious people seeking to get married or families trying to mark the death of someone they loved but who requested ‘no funeral’. I see it most clearly a t a Presidential Inauguration. (If only they would let the church take care of that. At least we can usually organize a procession.)

All this is by no means terrible, merely odd.

1 comment:

ukebard said...

This reminds me of that saying, "Myths are what other religions have." I'd amend that slightly to, "Culture is what other people have." The truth is that people want to solemnize their lives, to feel that what they are doing has weight (it helps that I'm currently reading Kundera). Thank you for your witness and maintaining your own integrity.

Josh Bowron