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Appropriate Prayer?

Redwood City recently suspended all prayers at its city council meetings. This was in response to the complaints against a prayer of invocation that, among other things, expressed disagreement with the SCOTUS decisions concerning same-sex marriage, abortion, and other issues. Some objected that the prayer did not make them “feel safe” in that meeting. The council is meeting with Redwood City Clergy Network “to make sure prayer is appropriate for everyone.”

That last quote raises the question of what prayer really is all about. I believe that, at its core, prayer is about God and his will, not about human desires or demands. In particular, the prayer of invocation is about calling upon God, acknowledging his authority and seeking his help or blessing on a gathering or an endeavor. True prayer is about seeking God and then submitting to his will. Clearly, then, the appropriateness of prayer may be properly identified from the perspective of the God who is invoked, not from “everyone” else. It would be most inappropriate to think that prayer is about demanding that God adjust to our preferences. We may make a passionate plea for our concerns, but we cannot dictate to him what he must do. Otherwise, our utterances cease to be prayer.

Should prayer be part of public gatherings, such as a government meeting? I do not have decisive answers, only musings. Perhaps it would be proper to allow a person to pray in a manner consistent with his or her faith tradition. It would also be proper to allow those in attendance who have a different faith not to join in the prayer. Of course, differences will always have some element of “offense” to everyone involved. But we do not have to be in agreement in all things in order to “feel safe” in the presence of others.

To whom we pray matters. We only deceive ourselves when we attempt to pray “generic” prayers. As for me, I pray to the God revealed through Jesus, and to whom the Christian scriptures testify. I believe he is the one true God. There is no other. But other religions will pray to their own “supreme being.” One cannot demand that when I pray I should be inclusive of other gods, just as I cannot and should not demand others to pray to the God I worship. The only way anyone would start praying to another supreme being is for that person to acknowledge as valid any claim that that other entity is deity. Prayer is appropriate only when it properly acknowledges and submits to the One to whom the prayer is addressed.

     —Keith Y. Jainga

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