On the day the nation got word that the number of Americans no longer affiliated with any religion had reached an all-time high of 20 percent, Myrtle Beach City Council passed a standardized pre-meeting prayer designed to be more inclusive and pass legal muster.
It is a tough balancing act in a society that is becoming more diverse, to respect and recognize the rights and wants of those of various faiths, those who choose not to adhere to any particular faith’s teachings, and those who don’t believe in God.
I understand why some argue passionately in favor of keeping some formal recognition of faith during public meetings.
Their personal faith has transformed them into human beings who strive to be better, to treat others with kindness, to endure during the darkest moments.
But an opening, formal prayer at City Council and other public meetings is not necessary for individuals, or society, to hold fast to those important principles.
God won’t disappear because an official group of people doesn’t bow its head in unison before a rezoning petition is considered.
“I would ask that you not take out the prayer,” former Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride told council. “The only reason I’m here is because of my faith.”
But his faith – nor anyone else’s – is not a function of the government or any of the government’s business.
His life won’t be diminished; his relationship with his God would not be severed if there no longer was a prayer before a city-sponsored event, no matter how much he and others might believe otherwise.
It doesn’t take a formal prayer for individual council members to bow their head before proceedings begin, or for members of the audience to choose to do the same.
Let’s be frank. There have been City Council and Horry County Council meetings that began with a prayer for guidance from the Almighty God, Creator and sustainer of all that is or will ever be and still included ugly accusations and underhanded dealings that didn’t honor God’s image.
In a lot of ways, the formal, public prayer has become an empty ritual, a fig leaf of faith, an escape hatch for many who too frequently don’t make decisions centered on a “What would God want me to do?” basis.
The Jesus many people say they are trying to emulate wasn’t shy about admonishing people who commit to ritualized prayer in public but don’t walk it out in their own lives. And if a person of faith is walking it out in their own lives, a formal, public prayer is even less of a necessity.
And in some ways, the ritual itself has become an idol that people cherish more than the relationships they are supposed to be establishing and nourishing with people who don’t view God in the same way they do, or those who believe God is evidence of a mass delusion.
It has become another way, not to honor God, but to honor ourselves.
That isn’t to say public prayer should be banned. It is not an imposition to ask those who don’t want to participate to sit respectfully while one is being uttered.
But at some point we should ask ourselves why we continue this tradition.
Is it really necessary?
Has formal prayer elevated meetings where they have become sacrosanct?
If not, what does that say about God?
Contact ISSAC J. BAILEY at 626-0357, email@example.com or via Twitter.com at @TSN_IssacBailey.