Open Forum: Why Pray Before Government Meetings?

The prayer case in Greece, NY and the one in Maryland I mentioned yesterday started me thinking about why such prayers are being offered and contested. I recognize the First Amendment implications of such cases and have interest in preserving religious liberty without establishment of Christianity as a preferred religion. However, I also thought of the matter as an evangelical and reflected on the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 6:

5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners [a]so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

7 “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. 8 So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

In light of this teaching, I asked myself why conservative evangelicals like Commissioner Robin Frazier in Maryland want to pray in public. Perhaps government officials who want to pray should pray at home before the meeting. Probably those who pray in public for effect should reflect on the meaning of these teachings.

Perhaps such Christians feel God will bless meetings more if prayers are offered. I’ve been around long enough to see bad decisions come out of meetings which began with prayer so I don’t think there are any guarantees. That kind of thinking seems to treat prayer like a lucky charm or magic incantation.

I wonder if evangelicals who want to pray before public meetings would be so keen on the practice if the officials were praying prayers of another religion, like this Buddhist prayer:

Metta Karuna Prayer

Oneness of Life and Light, Entrusting in your Great Compassion,
May you shed the foolishness in myself, Transforming me into a conduit of Love.

May I be a medicine for the sick and weary,

Nursing their afflictions until they are cured;

May I become food and drink, During time of famine,

May I protect the helpless and the poor, May I be a lamp,

For those who need your Light, May I be a bed for those who need rest,
and guide all seekers to the Other Shore. May all find happiness through my actions,
and let no one suffer because of me. Whether they love or hate me,
Whether they hurt or wrong me, May they all realize true entrusting,
Through Other Power, and realize Supreme Nirvana.
Namo Amida Buddha

I imagine that would be meaningful to any Buddhists present and I can build a bridge to my own beliefs but is it necessary to decide zoning questions or approve development projects? I can imagine that some Christians who want to pray in Jesus’ name would be offended by a prayer realizing “Supreme Nirvana.”

I realize I may be missing something so I invite your respectful and gentle comments.


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