School Prayer Contradiction

School Prayer Contradiction December 30, 2012

I commented previously on some of the conservative Christian reactions to the Newtown school shooting, including in particular the attempt to connect it with the removal of prayer from schools. Today in church, as a longstanding public school principal who is a member of my church gave a children’s talk about prayer, my thoughts turned to the subject again, and I noticed a contradiction in one of the responses a conservative Christian made to one of my posts.

I suggested that it is ridiculous to think that some people in Sandy Hook Elementary School did not pray in the context of the situation that arose, the presence of a gunman in the school. A conservative Christian commenter replied that if those were not the prayers of believers, then it would not matter.

And there’s the rub, the contradiction that finally struck me. Would the presence of formalized, ritualized prayer in the school have made the children, teachers, and other employees in the school believers, in the sense of Christians with a genuine faith in Jesus? I doubt that any Christian who would answer that question in the affirmative. Indeed, most would emphatically say that it would not do so. Some might go even further, pointing out Jesus’ own teaching against formalized, ritualized, and/or public prayer. And so some Christians would also stand against imposed prayer in public schools as an expression of their faith. This could potentially not only be due to the aforementioned teaching of Jesus, but also for other reasons related to their faith. For instance, as Protestants, they probably would not want a Catholic priest to come in and teach their children to pray the Hail Mary.

You cannot have it both ways. Either the sort of prayer that Jesus taught, offered by people who are actually his followers, is the only sort that God listens to. In that case, formalized prayer will not help, while believers in the school will be praying without ceasing, privately and without show, as Jesus taught them. Or alternatively, maybe formalized prayer does indeed make a difference. But in that case, the rhetoric and stance of many conservative Christians will in fact have to change. You can’t deny the value of prayers offered in a manner contrary to Jesus’ teaching and by people who do not have a personal faith, and yet advocate for formal prayer in school, without ending up in a contradiction.

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  • thoughtful

    This idea may or may not be true. In Jesus time, Jews prayed many “ritual” prayers over meals, especially on Holy days, i.e. Passover. I feel sure that Jesus prayed those prayers. Jesus, in the context you reference, was speaking of prayers that drawl attention to one’s own righteousness. Yet, it is true that God hears the prayers on His own and not the prayers of the ungodly. The definition of ungodly would be God’s view not mine.

  • In every church there are always a few that are a little strange. It seems like progressive blogs are focused on straw men even though there are some who actually espouse the position of straw. Most conservative thinkers I know would not focus solely on prayer.
    Progressive Christianity is a deconstructionist movement. Most comments about conservatives I find to be primarily propaganda.

    • I don’t think that I anywhere claimed that conservative thinkers focus solely on prayer. Was your setting up of a straw man in a post about doing precisely that supposed to be satire? If so, I don’t get it.

      I also don’t get the connection you are making between progressive Christianity and a Derridean approach to literature. Could you perhaps clarify that as well? I suppose that there may be some connection, but for many of us, it has more to do with classic modern concerns such as historical criticism, rather than anything specifically postmodern.

      • I get the wit about deconstruction. I find progress-Christianity to be postmodern. I find that that most simply just hammer at current structures without having much structure of their own. But all is fair, but a lot writing about conservatives is simply a ploy of tar and feather. Most conservative scholars employ modern criticisms, most conservative laymen do not.

        • Christianity

          That’s sort of the point – Christianity doesn’t need, and in fact is directly opposed to, structure. Read what Jesus taught and said. I would go so far as to say the very nature of a Church contradicts Christianity, let alone a structured, organized religion.

          It’s not about following the rules and maintaining structure. It’s about Jesus, and that’s all.

  • Paul D.

    Conservative American Christianity is rife with contradictions. Another would be that many or most Evangelicals seem to be premillennialists in their eschatological expectations, yet they insist on denying the separation of church and state and trying to Christianize society through government fiat. This is traditionally the behaviour of postmillennialists, whereas premillennialism implies that such reform is impossible and might actually delay Christ’s return.

  • Kimberly

    I think the idea there’s an inherent contradiction in the idea that people praying can be separated into believers and non-believers. If you are moved to pray, you believe in something, if only for an instant. If you were truly convinced that there is nothing available to help you, you wouldn’t bother. In the moment, I think all the prayers of those at Sandy Hook (and in every other hostage situation) were sincere.

  • I am 58 years old and do not understand the whole controversy about prayers being taken out of schools. As a child growing up we never prayed in school. Never. Not once. It might have been interesting if we had. Mrs. Rosenfeld, Mrs. Liechtenstein, Mrs. Katz, and all the rest of my teachers were Jewish. We would have been praying in Hebrew. That might have been fun, although I doubt that is what conservative Christians have in mind.

  • Cal

    Check out is video called “The Inner Child” by Calvin Baxter Sr.

  • Rami Donahoe

    Waimea High School Student pray in Hawaii on the island of Kauai
    Please watch- we are stepping out:)