iStock_000004934408SmallOn May 5, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court released its opinion in Galloway v. Greece (click for text) that since opening prayers are permissible as a tradition of Congress and state legislatures, Marsh v. Chambers(1983), they are also permissible at town council meetings so long as they don't condemn or try to convert people who are not members of a particular religion.

Justice Thomas agreed with the opinion, written by Justice Kennedy, but added that he did not think the case should have been heard at all because, in his view, the First Amendment's Establishment Clause only applies to actions of the federal government, and that the states can establish religion insofar as they do not actually force somebody to go to church or pay taxes to the church.

Justice Kagan dissented, arguing that America is religiously diverse and that the prayers in the town of Greece are "explicitly Christian" and that the town should work harder to find clergy from different faiths to give prayers rather than select mostly Christians.

Regardless of the outcome, this case would have not changed the fundamental character of American politics. True Christianity is not enhanced through generic legislative prayers, but rather through personal integrity, honesty, and love for humanity. Cloaking oneself in religious phrases and piety while ignoring what Jesus called the "weightier matters of the law" (Matthew 23:23) is not a great selling point to non-believers.

Jesus described what really matters in Matthew 25 (NIV)

31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37 "Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40 "The King will reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'

In a world that is hungering for authenticity, the culture wars will not change direction when symbolic prayers and displays of crosses are no longer challenged.  Symbolism without the message of the selfless grace of God only leads to false external shows of piety and ultimately persecution of those who do not go along.

America is based on two main pillars, the first is the Protestant concept that each person stands directly before God – there is no "middle man" who can judge whether or not you will be saved. Thus, there's no reason for government to interfere in the way that people worship or don't worship because true piety is a matter of the heart.  Because external works have no part to play in salvation, but are a reflection of what God has already done, the state is not put in a position of trying to use all means necessary, including torture, to get people into the kingdom.  (This philosophy is gradually changing as America is pressured to emulate its medieval European counterparts- a trend that I will be addressing that in an upcoming newsletter.)

The second concept is that there's a rule of law – there is no divine right of kings. Everybody is equal in the eyes of the law, and neither success nor failure is a birthright.

These two pillars create amazing opportunities for both freedom and faith, and despite all the challenges we face, faith is strong in America – much more than in the increasingly secular European nations where church and state have leaned on each other for centuries.

Generic public prayers are not going to "move the needle" when it comes to American Christianity, but individual Christians who engage in personal devotion and emulating the love of Christ for both friends and enemies will truly begin a process of change.

I'll close this note with James 1:27 (NIV):

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

It really is that simple.

 

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