Are some local pastors missing an opportunity because of their municipal prayer protest?

By Contributor Philip Stine

Should a Christian minister accept an invitation to give a nonsectarian prayer at a public meeting?

This week some ministers said no.

One is quoted in the StarNews as saying, “I am a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and feel I would be denying him if I didn’t pray in his name. What happened to freedom of speech and religion?” Another minister said, “If you ask me, as a Christian pastor, to come and pray, I could expect you to hear a prayer in my faith’s tradition.”

In many parts of the country, but perhaps especially in the South, it has been a tradition to open public meetings of civic bodies such as city councils and county commissions with clergy-led prayers. But recently in North Carolina, a district court ruled that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was violated by prayers that discussed specific tenets of Christianity and referenced Jesus Christ. Hence, the policy of nonsectarian prayers.

I think the ministers quoted above may be missing a good opportunity to answer part of their calling.

First, it is an occasion to set the work of the commission or council in a proper theological context. Surely it is the duty of all Christians to pray for those in positions of power and authority.

In Romans 13, for example, the Apostle Paul recognizes the temporal authority of governing bodies, within the context of God’s ultimate authority. Regardless of the political party or position of the elected officials, a minister praying at a public meeting has the responsibility of reminding them of the limits of their authority and the requirements that they provide just government.

Accepting the invitation to pray does not give approval to the civic body, nor is it an example of collusion. Rather, it gives the minister an opportunity to remind the civic body of its responsibilities to serve all with justice.

A second reason to accept the invitation is it provides an opportunity to give a word of hope. The minister can remind the authorities and the public that we are a people of hope, that God’s Spirit can work through them and all of us to build a just and peaceful society.

Third, a prayer could also acknowledge and foster a good partnership between civic and religious authorities. It is a sign of good will between church and government, proof the two can and must work together to provide social services and work for the betterment of the lives of the whole community. Both the public and the civic authorities need to hear that.

All this can be included without necessarily praying in the name of Jesus. Praying to God as Creator is no less “Christian” and certainly can be a witness to the work of God’s Spirit in this world.

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4 responses to “Are some local pastors missing an opportunity because of their municipal prayer protest?

  1. Mr. Stine, IMHO, you make the same mistake that most Christians make when it comes to government in these United States – you appear to believe that all ministers/religious leaders/spiritual leaders are Christian and that all citizens subscribe to religious tenets of one sort or another. That is not true. You also seem to think that everyone prays to your god. That also is not true. So it is not hard to understand that your thesis is that if Christian “ministers” accept the opportunity to pray at governmental meetings, they will “set the work of the commission or council in a proper theological context.” Obviously, you have not read our Constitution’s First Amendment, but regardless, that is exactly what that Amendment seeks to prevent. I do understand that you are addressing Christian ministers, Mr. Stine, but I personally do not want Christian or any other theological leader to “bless” my government. If a moment to reflect at the beginning of a governmental meeting is needed, a moment of silence whereby each of us can choose our source for such guidance can be all that is required. I have some problems with your second and last position as well, but suffice it to say, that “hope,” as well as “love,” “peace,” etc., is not limited to the Christian faith or any faith, and it doesn’t take a prayer at the beginning of any governmental body to foster good relationships between church and state. Good relationships between church and state will be just fine as long as the two elements of human life do not converge.

  2. Thank you for your enlightening comments as always Nan!

  3. As a pastor, i would certainly support prayer at any governmental meeting. If they asked, I would come. That being said, I would not be willing to accept an invitation if i was forbidden to invoke the name of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I could be spitting hairs here, but to me there is no “Christian faith” without Christ. We are specifically told that we should pray in Jesus’ name (John 14:13-14). That’s exactly what Peter did in Acts 3:

    “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” (Acts 3:6).

    As a result of that act, the apostles were brought before the high priest and commanded to not invoke “that mans name” again. Peter told those guys straight up:

    “…let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole” (Acts 4:10)

    And when threatened again, Peter noted: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

    Sure, the constitution forbids the ‘establishment’ of religion; there should be no ‘state church.’ But it also states that the government shall not ‘hinder’ the practice of religion. We should be just as free to practice it in a publicly funded government building as we are on private property.

    My point is that I don’t believe it violates the constitution to HAVE prayer at a meeting, or to NOT have prayer. I’m really fine either way.

    But if a counsel is going to ask a Christian minister to pray, they should expect to hear the name of Jesus (I can tell you if they asked a Muslim, they would hear the name of Allah!). It is what we are called to do as ministers of the gospel.

    How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Rom 10:14)

  4. Question to you all – is it more of a cultural or a spiritual practice to have a prayer to open public meetings? In other words, how much does the prayer affect the hearers of it?

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