My Turn: A silent approach to prayer
By Gary C. Hauze
What if you had a fifth-grade boy who came home from school and said: “Today the teacher told us she was going to read from a holy book and I thought she was going to read from the Bible. But she read something I never heard before. Then, she asked us to pray with her and said, ‘O mother earth, we pray to you …’ ” As a parent you would be very upset and most likely would contact the school principal or a school board member. Eventually, you might learn that the teacher was a pagan, a follower of Wicca, and that steps were being taken to deal with her.
Or suppose you lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, or other places where Mormons are a majority, dominating most political positions, many workplaces and institutions. You might be regularly proselytized by missionaries and other members of the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter Day Saints. Mormons are not Christians, yet they are not a cult per se; however, they have strange practices and they are secretive. Mormonism is a relatively new world religion with unique American roots. My denomination has a college in Salt Lake City, and I had an aunt who before her death was a Mormon.
Or what if you lived in Bridgeport, Conn., where Rev. Sun Myung Moon bought a struggling college and many Moonies, members of the so-called Unification Church, flocked there? Suppose that the Moonies influenced your community, promoted their syncretistic religion openly, seeking converts to the cult? Gradually, you became alarmed as they sought offices in city government. In this scenario, if they had been successful in power seeking, it is possible that they would have insisted that prayers be offered in the name of a “god” of their own making. Mr. Moon, who is a billionaire entrepreneur (second largest exporter of Korean goods and owner of the largest sushi restaurants in the U.S.) and founder of the Moonies, is famous for holding mass weddings. Through one of his many fronts in Connecticut, he bought Bridgeport University, which the Moonies still control. In his 90s, he still believes that he is the “savior” of the world.
I read and reflected on the un-American behavior of our Rowan County Board of Commissioners and other fellow Christians who came out to the Presidents’ Day meeting and this past Monday’s meeting. These misguided believers think it is proper to pray in Jesus’ name out loud at public meetings. I disagree, and I think that most other Christians and persons of other faiths who together are in the “silent majority” would agree with me. Freedom of religion has to be coupled with freedom from religion for our religious liberties to be protected. The father of our country wrote a letter to the Touro Synagogue (founded by Jews who were immigrants originally from Portugal and Spain) in Newport, R.I., to guarantee the members of that congregation precisely that protection. In this paragraph, President George Washington’s words (written in 1790) ring the bell of such freedom:
“The Citizens of the United States of America have the right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
In his concluding sentence the president wrote: “May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.”
Praying by Christians, Jews, Mormons, Muslims and others in public is possible — but it should be done silently. Beginning my 47th year of preaching this summer, here I stand on this principle.
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Gary C. Hauze is a retired minister (United Church of Christ) who lives in Salisbury.