So…I don’t know if you’ve heard, but all over the country students and teachers are returning to their regularly scheduled programming. Among other things, at our house that means no more staying up until 9pm watching a movie, or sleeping in to ridiculous hours like 7:00 or 7:30am.
Apparently, this is also our cue to once again light up the Facebook with “like and share if you’re against the war on religion in our schools.”
There are certainly places in this world where there is a war on religion. I have a friend from Nepal that was hunted down and nearly killed because of his Christian beliefs. There are people who gathered for worship Sunday knowing full well that if the government found out they could be arrested or worse…yet they gathered all the same. We have some other friends who have just left to serve as missionaries overseas. They received training on what kinds of things not to say on the phone when they called home, because someone will be listening and there will be repercussions.
Christianity may be losing SOME of its privileged and protected status in our culture, but a) that isn’t the same as war and b) that may not be such a bad thing.
I’m concerned with our tendency to make a big fuss over things like the removal of Christian prayers from the morning assembly in schools – and somehow equating that with the removal of prayer from school.
One of the Facebook guilt trips shows a picture of a little girl, apparently praying to the American flag with the slogan “Like and Share if you support prayer in schools.” And of course, the poster adds the obligatory, “not all of my friends are brave enough to post this…”
What does that even mean?
I’m just old enough to have grown up in world where we still had these prayers over the PA system – in class, before football games, at some large school assemblies – and I gotta tell you…if that’s what we’ve lost, we haven’t lost much.
Do you remember those prayers? At our schools they were perfunctory, white-washed, civil religion speeches with an “Amen” at the end. From conversations with others, I think I probably had the better experience since ours weren’t typically xenophobic judgmental tirades against the godless infidels (you know, democrats and foreigners).
Even in places where these public prayers were amazingly rich, deeply meaningful expressions of worship…did they represent the full life of prayer for our Christian students? I surely hope not. If they didn’t, then would their removal constitute a removal of prayer from the school? A teacher friend recently reminded me of the saying, “as long as there are math tests, there will be prayer in schools.”
This issue of naming everything as a “war on religion” is ridiculous and we need to stop it.
As I hinted earlier, it belittles the fact that today there are people engaged in an actual life-and-death struggle because of their faith.
It also makes us look incredibly insecure, combative and fearful – none of which are characteristics of Jesus’ disciples. In fact, regarding the prayer issue, Jesus told people to get out of the spotlight and into their closets to pray anyway.
But the dangers here go beyond how others perceive us. We are being shaped by our rhetoric…or actually, we’re being misshaped. We are communicating to our children – and to one another – that our prayer life is controlled by our access to public platforms. We’re basing our religious freedom on the right to force non-Christians to listen to us pray… and expecting secular institutions to lead us in these prayers.
We’ve turned prayer – and our faith – into reality television.
What if, instead of focusing all of our attention on battling the Supreme Court – or school board – about the placement of a plaque listing the 10 Commandments, we turned that energy toward not coveting our neighbor’s stuff?
What if instead of lobbying for legislation, we focused on sitting down with the outcast and showed them a little compassion in the midst of an otherwise crappy day?
What if our teens and children made it their goal each day that, as long as they are present, nobody eats alone, plays alone or gets bullied without someone to stand up for them?
What if we encouraged them to look for the dark places in their school and to work together (with one another, and with God) to be light?
What if they didn’t need special recognition of prayer time and instead saw each moment as sacred and worthy of being lifted up to God?
You know what? Forget “what if” – this is who we must be. Now. Today.
And it isn’t some idealistic pipe dream. I know some kids that are living this way, and I’ve seen the impact it can have. If you tried to tell these kids that “they” have taken prayer out of the schools these kids would look at you like you’ve lost your mind.
Nobody has removed God from our schools, our nation or anything else. God doesn’t need permission to love God’s creation. God is in the schools, the abandoned places and the market places. And the people of God should have eyes to see. We are called to see the darkness and to see the ways that God is dispelling the darkness.
So long as the people of God are fully present, there can be no removal of prayer, no lack of mercy, no shortage of compassion, no extinguishing of light, no destruction of hope.
Because we are more than conquerors – we are something much greater than combatants – we are the Body of Christ in this place. We are ambassadors of a kingdom where the captives are set free, the naked are clothed, the hungry are fed, the oppressed are lifted up and the forgotten are called out by name.
If these things are not taking place, there’s no need to accuse the government, the secularists, the atheists or anyone else…we need to ask, “Why are the people of God not fully present?”
We don’t need to throw a temper tantrum and pass new legislation. We need to see the good we ought to do and do it.
If we want to engage in a war, then let it be the war within – the war against apathy, indifference, and fear.
No more hiding behind our religiosity and sense of entitlement. It is time to live as a signpost of the kingdom that is already among us.
God is already in this place… Are we?