Sure wish I had a recording of the preacher man's welcome because I really can't do it justice by memory here.
'Twas one week ago, the 23rd of December, and I had both my children home together for the holidays. We went to church, back to the same one my girls were baptized in some years ago. At that time we had a jewel of a minister when it comes to exemplifying the love of Christ in his own life. No religious pretense, no pompous and judgmental air of moral superiority, despite his deeply held beliefs. A very humble man. No wavering from his beliefs but at the same time respecting and loving those who disagree or hold other beliefs, which is their right. And he just plain loves people. People of all sorts. My girls have loved him since they were little.
There's a different preacher there now. With it being Christmas-time, he began his talk with a welcome that was supposed to be funny and clever I suppose. He said he wanted to wish EVERYONE a Merry Christmas, that he was determined not to exclude ANYONE, that he was set on delivering a Merry Christmas welcome that would offend NO ONE, a message that no one could say was politically incorrect.
At first, I honestly thought he was going to poke some good-natured fun at both Democrats and Republicans for human failings which are, let us be honest, universal. However, it soon became evident that this was not an impartial welcome at all and that he was linking God to a particular political party, the Republicans. Good grief, had he learned nothing in the past eight years?
He began issuing a litany of stereotypical assumptions about liberals/Democrats using "politically correct" language in a mocking fashion that smacked of sarcasm. I cannot remember the entire list of issues he mocked liberals about. He did put up a power point presentation. He included the environment and global warming, the removal of prayer from our schools, the attacks on the pledge of allegiance, the attacks on the words "in God we trust" on our currency, and so on.
Finished at last with his smug mocking of Democrats, he said it was now time to deliver his welcome to the Republicans. He said he had but two simple words for them......Merry Christmas! There was some laughter.
Partly I wanted to walk out - my statement to him and the whole riduculous notion that God is on the side of the Republicans (or the Democrats, or any other political party for that matter). Partly I wanted to stand up and say, "Is Christ divided?" Partly I wanted to ask him if he finds it somewhat ironic that an administration that used family values and the Christian faith to gain political power turns out to be perhaps the most corrupt, divisive, secretive, dishonest, destructive, greed-driven, incompetent administrations in our nation's history?
And I wanted to ask him if he did not find it ironic that insofar as the scriptures record, Jesus never appears so angry as when confronting the leading religious rulers and zealots of his day with their religious pretense and hypocrisy.
And I would like to have taken just ONE of the issues he raised - school prayer for instance, and asked him how it is possible for prayer to be removed from public schools. No one on earth can stop a child or teacher from praying at school or anywhere else. Unless, of course, you mean the out-loud-in-front-of-everybody-else kind of prayer that might be uttered over a PA system, or some other organized venue.
From the scriptures, it seems apparent that Jesus made it a practice to go off by himself to a solitary place to pray. Sometimes he prayed all night long, alone.
And there are his words:
Matthew 6:5-6 "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."
I'm not saying I think Jesus or his apostles forbade public prayer, not at all. It is at times completely appropriate and the scriptures seem to indicate that as well. I think the issue is one of motive and sincerity.
I wanted to tell the preacher that in the 1962 and 1963 Supreme Court decisions, school prayer was in fact NOT officially (by law) removed from public schools. Students have always had the legal right to pray and hold meetings and devotions voluntarily during their free time and they continue to have that right. The justices simply (and very wisely) ruled that OFFICIAL STATE-SANCTIONED prayer had no place in public education. Personally, I suspect that God honors voluntary prayer many times over any officially induced type of prayer, although I'm certainly not saying that I think all organized prayer is insincere.
With the landscape of our nation having changed dramatically since its founding in 1787, our nation's public schools face unprecedented challenges as they open their doors to the most diverse population of students on earth. Given the incredible diversity of beliefs in American society, and given the need for our country to be united and strong despite our differences, the wisdom of the idea of a wall of separation between church and state seems greater than ever.
Nationally known pundits, some of whom are paid zillions to spout their opinions, often lecture us that the specific words "separation of church and state" are not found in the Constitution. No, they're not. But as we increasingly witness the divisions and the hostilities and the hypocrisies that ensue when faith is politicized, I'd say maybe it would be a darn good idea for us to put those words in there.
Without that wall, I think we're in a heap of trouble as a nation.
In my mind, it is not just that democracy is undermined. Faith itself (in this case the Christian faith) is cheapened and discredited in the minds of many when they see Jesus being used to advance a particular political ideology. I think the vast majority of Christians would agree that what Jesus taught transcends all political parties, all forms of government, all nations.
These are my views. Comments and insights from those who agree, those who disagree, and anything in between welcome.
There is a good online 'brochure' from Americans United for Separation of Church and State available about the role of religion in public schools. You can check it out here .