Caryn Rivadeneira – School Prayer Doesn’t Need a Comeback

prayer in school

Note: I absolutely love this article, which tries to bring a little  bit of rationality into a debate that was marred by fanaticism and the sick presuppositions of the ‘cultural war’ pathological obsession of the Religious Right in the United States.

I will paste here just a few quotes, as a teaser. I hope I will succeed in making you interested to read the entire article, which you can do HERE. The bold passages are my emphases.

* * *

It was a mistake to read about Janine Turner’s push to bring prayer “back” to school so early in the morning.

Then came my next mistake of the day: reading what Facebook commenters had to say about the article. “It’s about time we put God back in school.” “No coincidence: schools got violent when we took God out of them!” Likes all around. These self-proclaiming Christian people were apparently totally comfortable with the idea that we are powerful enough to remove God from the world he created. Fine with this blasphemy that we can take God out of schools, just like we can take Christ out of Christmas.

This conception of God, though, is not one that I can get behind. I object to any mission to bring prayer “back” to school because I can’t support the faulty theology—downright heresyof implying God is only around to hear our prayers when the building sanctions his presence.

Prayer never left schools. And God never did either. To suggest otherwise should make us shudder.

Though I understand it’s pleasant for some to hearken back to a day when a tight-bunned teacher led children through a crisp Pledge and a Prayer (no matter what her heart, mind or soul actually believed) as somehow holier, better, safer, they weren’t. Schools with teacher-led prayer refused to admit black children. Schools with teacher-led prayer burnt to the ground. Students were still bullied. They still had sex, got abortions, and got high. Homes were still broken. Kids were still confused and frightened by their sexuality. Even back then. Even with all that prayer.

So what are we really hoping for pushing for prayer’s triumphal return to school? Sometimes, it seems just a fight.

And what a shame that is.

Because if we really cared about kids praying in school, we’d focus on teaching our kids to pray in school. If we really worried that God wasn’t present in public schools, we’d focus on teaching our kids to be Jesus in the schools—to turn cheeks, love neighbors and enemies, to be kind, to tend to the “least”—and to notice God everywhere in those schools. Especially since he is.

One of the great joys of parenthood is teaching my kids to notice God, to see and taste and hear and smell and feel God in the everyday, in the special and the regular, in the weird and the wonderful, in each other and in the world at large. And the best thing about noticing God with us, is realizing we can talk to him—bring him anything. Anywhere. Any time.

Kids don’t need a teacher to lead them in forced prayer. They don’t need 15 minutes in a prayer closet. They just need to realize God is there, with them, holding them, delighting in them. And their classmates. And their teachers. And that they can talk to him. Maybe not out loud—God doesn’t want us disrupting our teachers or keeping others from concentrating. But they can offer something else: silent prayers during class, shared prayer-time with friends in hallways, at lunch, or even out-loud public prayers on the playground, by that flag pole public-pray-ers have become fond of.

But I suspect this is much less fun for some. It’s a whole lot sexier to decry persecution, to pretend we’re being bullied and battered by big meanies with the power to remove our God.

So let’s stop acting like God left. If we—or our kids—miss him and if we’ve stopped talking to him, we need to take ourselves—not the school board, not the Supreme Court—to task.


Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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