To pray or not to pray?

Dr. Malcolm Cross
Dr. Malcolm Cross

Recently it’s been proposed that the Stephenville city council open its meetings with a prayer, presumably to be said on TV.  This proposal is not new.  It was presented in 2005, but never adopted.  I opposed it, citing several reasons:

  • I saw no reason why council members should put their piety on public display, especially when the city council had functioned for years without public prayer;
  • In political systems with official state churches or with denominations strongly associated with the ruling classes, adherence to the official faith—Anglicanism in England, for example, or Lutheranism in the Scandinavian countries—normally drops (which is why a friend of mine, an atheist, jokingly said he favored government sponsored prayer);
  • Most importantly, Jesus seemed to oppose public prayer, prescribing private recitation of the Lord’s Prayer instead.  He said, in Matthew 6:  “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven…And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men…But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  Since I consider Jesus my Lord and Savior, my only mediator and advocate before God, I took His thoughts on the subject seriously.

I suspect that this time the city council will adopt public televised prayer, so rehashing my reasons for opposing it won’t do any good.  Moreover, not everyone who prays in public is necessarily a hypocrite, and when I’m at meetings opened with prayer, I maintain a respectful silence as a courtesy to everyone else.  Nonetheless, I do have a few questions for those, on and off the city council, who favor public prayer:

  • Given Jesus’s expressed dislike for public prayer, why do you support it?  Do you think Jesus was wrong?  Or has He changed his mind and now thinks it’s okay, even though the Bible doesn’t record that?  Or will God listen to you since you’re praying on television? 
  • Assume that two council members say the same prayer at the beginning of a meeting, and then proceed to vote different ways on the same issue:  How will we know which one was really listening to God, and which one is being a hypocrite—or worse?
  • Assume that a council member casts a vote you don’t like:  Will you change your mind on that issue, thinking that the council member prayed before voting, and therefore his vote is godly and worthy of your support, or will you think that his vote proves he is a hypocrite, if not in league with Satan?
  • What policies recently enacted by this city council do you think might have been different if council members prayed before they adopted them?  The policy of getting rid of experienced administrators?  The policy of cutting spending on traditional city services to free up more money to give as handouts in the name of “economic development,” or do you think God approves of what the council has done so far?  Is there anything the council has done of which God does not approve?
  • What if you discover a council member or candidate for city council is an atheist or a member of a faith you dislike, will you oppose his membership on the city council on religious grounds?
  • Assuming you do want more prayer, why not pray more yourself rather than urging the city council to do so?  Don’t you think God will listen to you as much as He’ll listen the council, even if it’s on TV and you’re not?

Aside from believing I would not vote against someone simply because of his faith (lack thereof), I really don’t know the answers to any of the questions I’ve raised.  So I’ll pray for wisdom on this subject, and hope everyone else does too.  Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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