Recently I had reason to revisit my strong belief in the separation of church and state. Which comes from my baptist heritage and my grandmother who once said, “I don’t want a teacher I don’t know praying with my child. What if she is methodist?” (A horrible thing in her mind.)
Well, let us see. firstly, saying God is not in schools is not true. People pray before football games all the time in San Antonio.
So. Civil Religion versus Authentic Spirituality.
Here is the problem. When we say “God in school,” we actually mean, “humans who talk about God and pray to God in schools.”
Because if you imagine that the God who is everywhere can be taken out of school by a mere law, I think you are mistaken. Psalms says God is even in Sheol. Surely he is in math class as children silently pray not to fail. 🙂
Laws don’t keep God out. They only stop individuals from peddling their own brand of God. A Pentecostal God, or Catholic one, or Muslim, or Wiccan. Laws don’t keep God out. They keep the people in charge from FORCING their own beliefs on others.
And if the people in charge try to be fair and do not share their specific beliefs, if they try to please every sort belief in God, then they share generic prayers and ideas about God. Which are rarely moving.
So it would be with school prayers. Public prayers cannot be specific.
What if a high school teacher thinks you have to speak in tongues to be saved, shouldn’t he then use his job to find time to pray in tongues with his class? Because what use is prayer with his class if they do not actually get filled with the spirit?
So my imaginary readers might counter, “No. I did not mean that! I meant just prayer in general!”
Well, if you let Christians who are a lot like you lead prayer in school, you also have to let ones you do not agree with pray in school. And if we let teachers pray in school, what kind of prayer?
Do you see the problem with civil religion? The pentecostal can’t pray in tongues. The Baptist can’t ask children to walk the aisle and accept Jesus. The Catholic cannot offer the body of Christ.
By its very nature, civil religion dilutes authentic experience of God. Because authentic experience of God is specific. That is why human made religion is so diverse. Same God, different ways to describe him.
The writer mentioned “exposing children more to a loving God changes one person’s life.”
I don’t think rote prayers would do much in that direction. So when do people’s lives get changed?
I can tell you when my life was changed. It was not the million times my family said grace. Or a public prayer.
At the age of 15, I met a man who made me realize God was real every day. How did he do that when my own family and church had not yet succeeded?
Because though I was actively religious, I did not know God. I had prayed a sinner’s prayer. I talked to God. But I never FELT God. I never experienced God. Not til I was 15.
Fred, my sunday school teacher, took me out to Pizza Hut for “just cokes and hangin’ out.” He showed me he cared. He did not talk about Jesus. But he acted and spoke Like Jesus. He truly cared about me. And that started a change in my life.
He was the first adult who ever wanted to know what I had to say. Though now I realize he was a nerdy sort of geologist in an oil town, to me he was the coolest.
And he was the one who invited me to the christian rock concert where I experienced God.
His witness was to bear witness in word and deed. He told me how his life was before Jesus and how it was after. He made me curious about God. His friendship and one on one time was what guided me after I first experienced God.
In midland they used to pray before football games, before we went to perform as a choir. And all the prayers were boring and generic. “Dear God, thank you for our director and bless all the hard work we did.” Upon hard reflection, do you think such perfunctory prayers change lives? I never saw anyone get filled with the holy spirit, or turn their lives over to God, or start believing in God after a football game prayer.
In Midland, TX, Teens started a Friday night midnight bible study. And among those radically devoted teens, I heard prayers that could make you sing or weep. We saw people get off drugs. Totally change their lives. That does not happen by giving God a 60 second infomerical of prayer said by the teacher just before she tells the kids what is for lunch. Midnight bible study was voluntary. It grew to 200 kids in six months. It was viral.
“Civil Religion” is rarely powerful. In general, I like my religion and my spirituality NOT WATERED DOWN.
And public displays of religion, in my opinion, actually inoculate people against real experiences with God.
Keep religion private, authentic, and intense. Want to bring God to school? Saying a rote prayer in school does not bring God to school. Loving others the way you have been loved by God is what brings God to school.