Civic Prayers

So the Satanic Temple won’t be leading prayers in city hall after all.

The Phoenix city council voted last Wednesday to end the practice of praying at its sessions and instead will offer a moment of silence so that people can reflect in any way they choose. Some of the Christians in the crowd at the public announcement were pretty bitter about the decision. So were reps from the Satanic Temple, which was ready, able, and willing to take its turn on February 17.

I suppose you would expect that as a Christian pastor I would be furious at the ending of civic prayers. Actually, not so much. I have always been uncomfortable with religious prayers at functions that are clearly civic. For a number of years, I was a member of the downtown Milwaukee Rotary. I loved the experience—met great people, heard some really outstanding speakers, and was able to support some worthy community projects.

But I was the only pastor in the 300-400 active members, and so I would often be tapped for the “invocation.” I am always happy and ready to witness for my faith, but I would squirm thinking about my Jewish friends in the audience. I also squirmed when the executive director gave orders to all the invocators that the words Jesus and Christ were off limits in the invocation and that we should go light on masculine imagery for God. We Christians like to end our prayers with “in the name of Jesus,” an expression that demonstrates our confidence that the Father will hear and answer our prayers. I don’t like being told what to pray about and have my biblical terminology censored.

It strikes me that civic religion like this is a relic of the days of the established church in the original 13 colonies. Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire established (i.e., gave official status to and supported with state tax levies) the Congregational church; and New York, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina established the Anglican (Episcopal) church. Even though there were plenty of dissenters and members of other religious groups in those states, all public civic ceremonies assumed a unity of belief, that everyone was praying to the same God.

Well, we aren’t. I don’t think we ever did, but now we really don’t. Many religions flourish in the U.S., but some have central deities that are far from the God of the Scriptures. The Satanic Temple website doesn’t talk about the devil, but it does promote its extreme libertarian philosophy and veneration of science; its logo features a goat’s head within the famous inverted pentagram (five-pointed star). Whatever it is they worship, it sure isn’t the triune God of the Christians.

Here’s a better idea—if you would like to invite God’s blessings on the sessions of your city council, how about having regular intercessions for your local government in your church?

Pastor Mark Jeske has been bringing the Word of God to viewers of Time of Grace since the program began airing in late 2001. A Milwaukee native, Pastor Jeske has served as the senior pastor at St. Marcus, a multicultural congregation on Milwaukee’s near north side since 1980. In addition, he is the author of six books and dozens of devotional booklets on various topics.

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