Public Prayer

I’ve been mulling over a situation that happened at an event I was judging this summer. The organizers are friends of mine. They are very outspoken Christians. References to their faith are all through their conversations. As a partially closeted Pagan I have to respect anyone who is that free with sharing what is important to them. But the problem at this event was public prayer.

The first night dinner was for officials only. There was a prayer said aloud over the meal. It was not some generic prayer either. It was of the “Dear Jesus, our Lord and Savior, who died for us….” variety. I looked around and knowing the people in the group, I was probably the only one who was bothered by this. But it happened again the next night at a dinner for all participants. In fact, the food line was already going for the buffet when they called for attention and had a prayer. That’s when the rumbling started. I overheard other people discussing how much it bothered them to have public prayers. What I found interesting was that the main person with the problem also sometimes officiates at events and she was worried about speaking up because she was worried that she would offend people and lose judging jobs.

Now, my friends will have events again. I would like to mention this. I didn’t do it at the time for two reasons. One, they are very emotional. They would have been crushed to think that they had offended people. There would have been sobbing and high drama that we didn’t need at the time. Two, they wouldn’t have understood. To tell them not to express their faith is like telling them not to breathe. Also, that feeds into the world view that they’ve been taught. If people are uncomfortable with Jesus talk then it means that they need to hear it even more.

I was reminded of this because of our foster/adopt classes. They started with asking why we were there. One man said that he was Christian and God wanted him to get back into fostering. That was accepted as an answer as it should have been but it made me wonder what would have been said if I had said that I’m a Pagan and the Goddess wants me to foster or that I did a tarot spread that lead me to that class. This same man also led a public prayer before lunch today. Again, I don’t think it is an attempt to be belligerent. I think it is that some people honestly can’t imagine that what they are doing is offensive.

How do other people handle this? Just ignore it (and possibly slide to the front of the buffet line when everyone else is praying)? Confront and/or educate the person?


  • Kati

    I’ve got no problem sitting down to a family dinner & dad saying grace over the meal. He keeps it short & sweet & relatively to the point (though asking for help & safety for loved-ones is also included). But, I would feel very uncomfortable if at a school event or a work event we were asked to bow our heads & fold our hands for a prayer (either saying grace, or a prayer asking guidance for our event). And even my dad (devout baptist that he is) expresses discomfort over certain folks praying. The guy who stands & prays loudly over his table at Taco Bell after sunday service, instead of quietly sitting & praying as a family. The folks who in a church prayer & praise time stand & loudly proclaim to “God” how devout they are….. Even my dad recalls Jesus’ direction to pray constantly, but not be like the hypocritical pharasees.

    My mom & I started discussing this at one point when she emailed me a “mail this on if you want prayer in public schools” chain-letter. I let her know that prayer in public schools has never been an option. All HS seniors pray as they’re taking their finals. Many of the christian kids I went to HS with carried a small pocket bible for reading in their quiet moments or bowed their head for a quiet prayer over lunch. (Hell, I did!) It’s the principal leading a prayer over the intercom, or the teacher forcing a prayer during class-time, that’s frowned upon. It’s a self-righteous kid standing over his whole lunch table & praying loudly that these sinners find Jesus in their lunchmeat. I also reminded her that I’ve got no problem if the school nurse sends up a “God help me” as she’s rushing to look over the kid who fell off the monkey-bars. It’s the teacher who’s devout catholic who would demand my child pray to mary or a favorite saint, or the baptist who spends 10 minutes of class-time chastising in prayer those who don’t go to church every sunday. I also reminded her that she would NOT have appreciated hearing about a Pagan teacher leading any of my (or my sister’s classes) in an invocation of the Elements. *wink* That kind of got through to her.

  • Lewis

    What? There would have been both “sobbing and high drama”??? I could deal with one, but not both! Prayer is individual. Not communal….at least in non-private-church situations.

  • Thomas

    I’ve never been bothered by public displays of faith, provided they are not undertaken with the intention of converting or discomfiting others.

    I’ve been taken to task for not bowing to pray at Christian weddings and responded that, if my declining to participate in a public prayer in a silent and respectful manner, somehow corrupts their prayer, perhaps it is their faith that is in need of work and not me.

    The real question might be, are you simply not asserting your Paganism publicly or do you want others to passively assume that you are Christian? Then again, I was raised openly Pagan and might not be fully in touch with your concerns.

  • Autumn

    I come from a family that prays a Christian prayer when there is a gathering. I just stand there and think of how nice it is to all be together and how thankful I am for what I have and let it go at that. It’s only about 2 minutes of my time and if it makes them happy, Oh well..Just smile and let it roll…They are only going to leture and preach if you oppose them anyway.

  • Fey

    I like to think that prayer is efficacious no matter who is doing it, or to whom. So, I just play along. Especially in situations like that one. We all know that if you’d spoken up, it would have caused undue drama, and no one needs that.

    I do like the Romans do, both to keep the peace, and to maintain my oaths which include not drawing unnecessary attention to myself. (Personal oaths). Unlike the more jealous Gods, ours don’t require public declarations of faith to be pleased with us, neh? Keeping your own counsel is sometimes the height of wisdom.

  • Nio

    There’s no easy answer to this.

    I, myself, raise my hands and head (instead of folding my hands and bowing my head) when prayer is being said to pray to my own deity. Then, depending on the situation and the personalities involved, I say something after the fact about how Christian prayer doesn’t reflect all of the ____ [participants, nation, whatever] and ask that either no prayer be said at the next event, or a prayer for every faith be said.

    However, I’ve never been successful. Mostly because I’ve come off with a wicked attitude about it, and also because others don’t care.

    Let us know if you decide to do something. I’ll be interested in hearing the results.

  • quiltpixie

    As a Christian I’m uncomfortable with public prayer unless its at a church function, someone’s home, or with a group of professed Christians (that is friends I know worship in a different church, but I know them well).

    My approach when confronted with public prayer is to, after the fact, approach the organizers or the person who suggested praying, and voice a concern/dismay over “my misunderstanding” that this event was open to all — including those of other faiths. I encourage the organizers to more specific if its to be Christian, as I had invited friends of another faith, but they’d been unable to join me (not always strictly true but hey…) and express my relief that I had not in fact been embarrassed by their attendance….

    Because I live in Canada which prides itself on its diversity, this is usually enough.

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