Traditionally prayer has been an important part of the American way of life since our inception. Not content to pray solely in churches, people typically have showed their devotion in public life, with public prayer being held in schools, by public officials, and before football matches. Not anymore. With the influx of a wide variety of religious groups and atheists into mainstream America, praying "in the name of Jesus" can offend some. What to do?
The case of public prayer has attracted so much attention in the past few years that there's really no need to state the obvious here. From lawmakers to private citizens to organizations such as Americans United For Separation of Church and State routinely challenge religion's place in public life. I'd like to play devil's advocate and say, why not? What's so offensive about public prayer, as long as it's an inclusive prayer that doesn't mention any specific dieties in favor of others?
The first issue that comes to my mind as I grapple with this question is why pray in public at all? Isn't it a mark of hypocricy, or even downright lying? For public meetings or events at least, in which prayer is closed, I feel that it can lead to positive feelings within the group, helping to focus motives and goals, and invoking some sort of devine help in the discharge of responsibilities. There are many way that such prayer can be made inclusive, such as making sure non-specific terms for the devine are used, such as God or Creator, upon which all major and minor religions are agreed. Some may feel that this is compromising their faith, but in my opinion it's a sign of being open and inviting, making sure that all feel comfortable in the group.
We live in a multi-faith society, and instead of fighting over something that is important in all faiths, perhaps it's time we became flexible and realized that God is listening to us, no matter what name we call Him with. Take a vote in your group, and if everone agrees, start the meeting with a short prayer like the following: "O God, Creator of us all. We offer our thanks for everything You have given us, and seek Your help in all our matters. May this meeting be fruitful and blessed, and may we make decisions that are good for our fellow human beings. Amen." Or something like that...
Kristen Adams is a freelance writer and a student of all religions. She lives in Katy, a suburb of Texas. The views expressed in this post are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of Interfaith Houston.