Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Respect and building bridges

In an article posted this afternoon at the Washington Post web page, NBA coach Doc Rivers tells the story about the incident that led him to stop having his teams pray before games. It was 1999 and Rivers was the head coach of the Orlando Magic. He happened to look up when the team was engaged in its normal pregame prayer and he saw that one player, Tariq Abdul-Wahad, a Muslim, had his arms folded and he appeared very uncomfortable.

Rivers describes himself as very religious and he grew up in the Second Baptist Church of Maywood, Illinois. He says that he has prayed on his knees every night from the time he was a child and he still does. Even so, before the next game, Rivers made a point of telling the team that there were differing religious views represented among them. Instead of the normal group prayer, he asked everyone to close their eyes and he encouraged the players and other coaches to take a moment to compose themselves and to pray silently or simply to meditate as they chose.  

After the game, Abdul-Wahad came to Rivers with tears in his eyes and he hugged him and said, "Thank you. That is so important to me. No one has ever respected my religion. I'm going to give you everything I've got." 

It seems to me that when Christians insist on making a show of praying in places where non-Christians are present that we run the risk of burning more bridges than we build. Certain settings present exceptions, to be sure. But in most cases when we leave unbelievers with little option but to participate, actively or passively, in a religious rite that is not their own then don't we, perhaps inadvertently, express a certain level of disrespect for them? 

True faith can't be forced. Jesus rebuked his disciples every time they staked out a position of power. Sure, we Christians wish that everyone believed in Jesus. But Jesus didn't attract others to follow him by disrespecting them and I don't think his followers will either.  

Monday, May 5, 2014

Government instructions on how to pray

The Supreme court, in a divided 5-4 decision, today upheld the practice of public prayer before town board meetingsrejecting the notion that overwhelmingly Christian invocations violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. There is a lot that I could say about this ruling, and I probably will. However, for the time being, I found it very interesting that Justice Anthony Kennedy, in his majority opinion, gave some Supreme Court guidelines  for appropriate and inappropriate prayers for opening government meetings.

According to Justice Kennedy, prayer that is "solemn and respectful in tone, that invites lawmakers to reflect upon shared ideals and common ends" is okay.  (I suppose in future court cases we might look for the high court to become arbiters of what constitutes "solemn and respectful tone.") On the other hand, prayers that do things like "preach conversion" are not okay. 

That's one thing about government sanctioned prayer. In the end the government starts telling you what to pray and how to pray it.