Apologetics, Questions, Issues
The 10 Commandments and Prayer in the Public Arena
by Ed Vasicek
Thanksgiving is around the corner. It is a great time to teach our children about the Christian convictions of the Pilgrims, about people starting life in a strange and dangerous land so they could serve God according to His leading. The spiritual vision set by these first European settlers influenced the American way of life for centuries, but that influence has waned.
I don't know if you noticed, but I have been conspicuously silent about the removal of the Ten Commandments monument outside that courthouse in Alabama. You also do not hear me bemoaning the absence of prayer in public schools. Is it that I am against the Ten Commandments or opposed to prayer? Certainly not! If you think that's the case, well, you do not know me very well! Is it that I think posting the Commandments or offering prayer is inappropriate in public institutions? No. I think posting the "Big 10" and leading children in the Lord's prayer is wonderful. I just do not think it is a good idea in our contemporary climate.
Before you consider me a traitor to the faith, let me explain myself. I believe that our founding fathers believed that the government should do nothing to discourage the free exercise of religion. But by religion, they meant forms of Christianity (and possibly Judaism). If you read writings from our not-so-distant past, the term "religion" and "Christianity" were used interchangeably.
But such is not the case in the collective mind of modern America. "Religion" refers to any and all creeds: Buddhism, Satanism, Islam, Native American religion, witchcraft, and Goddess worship. Not only are they all covered under the term, but they are viewed as having equal worth.
Tolerance used to mean putting up with other viewpoints—especially those with whom you disagreed. But you were free to disagree and criticize opposing religious viewpoints. Now the word tolerance implies believing that all viewpoints are equally valid and equally true. They are immune from criticism. It is considered intolerant to say that one religion is true while asserting that another is false. Yet, in contradictory fashion, modern "tolerance" will not tolerate folks like us who condemn certain religions as erroneous. You can believe anything you want as long as you do not disbelieve something else.
This strange shift in defining tolerance has been coupled with another viewpoint: everyone is entitled to equal time and exposure. Even though the majority of Americans profess some form of Christianity, the modern mentality says we should give all viewpoints an equal shot at things. As a matter of fact, we should give preference to minority beliefs to even out the playing field. If we allow a person to lead in a prayer to God through Christ, then we must also allow someone else to lead in a prayer to Satan or Allah. Let me ask you, do you really want this going on in our public school classrooms? If we make prayer legal in our classrooms, be assured, this WILL go on.
Already we are seeing Moslem clerics opening Senate sessions with prayer. Michigan has hired a member of Wicca, the witchcraft organization, as a jail chaplain. In those public arenas where religious practice is still allowed, albeit this is inconsistent, we will continue to see influxes of competing religions. The post office has already issued stamps to commemorate Islamic holidays, for example.
If America would choose to define itself as a Judeo-Christian country once again but practice old-fashioned tolerance toward other faiths, we could limit religious ministry within government institutions to Jews or Christians. But it is very unlikely that we will amend our constitution to make such a claim. Too many of us would view that as intolerant.
So if we indeed allow the posting of the Ten Commandments in our current climate, portions of the Koran will soon follow elsewhere. There was a time when the government was friendly toward the Judeo-Christian viewpoint. But we have begun and will continue to lose our "favored religion" status. And, based on current reasoning, the government would go out of its way to promote the minority religions to compensate for centuries of promoting Christian viewpoints. Our faith is considered no better or worse than witchcraft.
So which is worse, a school system or judicial system that promotes no particular religious viewpoint, other than belief in God, or one that promotes a hodgepodge of Christian, occult, Native American, Islamic, and Eastern religions?
But there is more than one reason why I am not a champion of school prayer or fighting to post of the Ten Commandments on public property (although where these things pre-exist and are not controversial, I say, "Shhh"). What bothers me is the premise that school prayer will somehow transform our nation, or that our country began degenerating because of a lack of school prayer. I think school prayer probably did have a slightly positive effect, but not a great deal.
The fact that school prayer was struck down as unconstitutional in 1963 did not start a spiritual decline, it was the consequence of that decline. If Americans strongly felt school prayer was important, they could have added an amendment to the constitution. Families stopped praying at home long before children stopped praying at school. The outlawing of school prayer was not the beginning of the disease, but a tell-tale symptom of a disease that was already well entrenched.
What bothers me is that all these are token matters. What children really need are parents who will stay married, live out their faith at home, and teach their children to pray, study the Bible, participate with others, and follow the Ten Commandments. I have long said that no one should fight for posting the Ten Commandments who cannot recite them. If they really valued those Ten divinely-given rules, they most certainly should be able to list them!
So what would be the ideal solution? If American Christians began taking their faith seriously, and if God used them to reach and disciple others, then perhaps we could re-establish America as a Judeo-Christian nation. At that point, it might be worth fighting over posting the Ten Commandments. But right now, I think no religion is better than false religion. And it is tragic that we have come to that.
Many European nations allow and incorporate the teaching of religion in their public school systems. Yet, in many nations like France, Germany, and Italy, less than 5% of the population attend church. In many nations like Italy, there are more Jehovah Witnesses than there are born-again evangelical Christians. Getting religion into schools will not reach very many people. Perhaps a few, but not many.
We have lost something precious in America, but we need to remember that Christianity is NOT about America. It is about Jesus. It is about glorifying God. It is about "reaching, connecting, and deepening." We had nearly two centuries in which the government was on our side. We should be grateful for Uncle Sam's support, but we must get back to our foundations. Uncle Sam is turning a deaf ear to us these days. It is the Christian family's job to instill spiritual and moral values in their children. It is the Christian's responsibility to share Christ, and, in conjunction with the church body, to make disciples. And that hasn't changed. It was true when kids prayed in school and it is more true today. That responsibility transcends all cultures and all eras. We do not need government to help us do our job. Our prayer is merely that the government will not get in our way, and that we can do our job and still live peaceful lives. And if we do our job well and bolster the percentage of solid Christians in our nation, the government will become friendlier toward us, because our government is made up of the people. It all comes down the grassroots.
Reprinted from the November 2003 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.
Highland Park Church