The police department said the chaplain could still pray – just not to Jesus. No, it wasn’t a police department in Tennessee; it was one in North Carolina. But with a growing list of governmental bodies in our state, most recently the Hamilton County Commission, being sued or threatened with suits over invocations, we need to ask ourselves a serious question. And perhaps an honest answer will help us develop a meaningful invocation suitable for today’s secular society.
The question is, “Who are we invoking if we do not pray the way we think we should?” This is not just a question for Christians who might be asked to give an invocation, but a question for every person of every religion who might be asked to give an invocation.
But this question, at least to my mind, raises another: If we don’t pray the way that we believe accords us access to God, was there really a purpose to our prayer? I mean, wouldn’t your prayer come back “undeliverable” like if you had a typo in a friend’s email address?
So the question is, “What do the “invocation police” really want when they tell you to leave out Jesus’ name?” What is the real purpose of the generic “secular” prayer that some in our culture seem to want (or think is required by the Constitution)?
Solemnity’s the thing.
Well, according to some of the model prayer policies being adopted by local governments to avoid the ACLU’s wrath, the purpose of the prayer isn’t really to invoke God’s blessings and invite His watchful eye, but to “solemnize the occasion.”
Certainly a prayer would seem to do that – if it’s a meaningful prayer in which we are really acknowledging that there is One in authority over us who sits as judge over our decisions and will hold us accountable for them. (Note: if all we want is “solemnity,” then we seem to have forgone the notion that there is One who can impart wisdom or who will hold us accountable).
If you believed such a thought reflected reality, then that would sober you up right quickly. And, by the way, I think that is exactly why our Tennessee Constitution says that “no person who denies the being of God or a future state of rewards and punishments shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.” Article IX, Section 2.
But the prayer that you think is most meaningful is the one that some, by definition, don’t want you offering, at least if you think it’s meaningful to pray in the name of Jesus.
The prayer we really want
But, if all we really want is a call to solemnity and seriousness, then why not offer an “invocation” like this:
Elected officials, I stand here today as a citizen who is registered to vote, and as such, I symbolize thousands of other registered voters. Therefore, on their behalf, I am solemnly warning you that if we don’t like what you do, one of us may run against you, put bad things about you in a mail piece or radio ad, and we will not vote for you again.
Seems to me that such an admonition would be about as effective in making most of today’s politicians realize the “solemnity” of the occasion as pretending we’re serious about invoking God’s blessing and inviting His judgment if we fail. And that’s particularly true if that elected official doesn’t really believe in that kind of God anyway.
At least this alternative act of solemnity would give recognition to what some today consider the real god. The expression, I believe, is “Vox populi, vox Dei” (The voice of the people [is] the voice of God).
And at least this “invocation” would be “real” for most politicians.
(Note: if you’re worried about my suggestion, please note that this is a piece of political satire)