I recently received the following email from a friend:
I trust you are doing well, as I read your newsletters and see that you are still active in the ministry of the church and the chaplaincy.
Here's my question: Do you have a policy on nonsectarian prayer?
Every year for the last seven years I've been preaching/doing prayers at our annual Police Officer Memorial service sponsored by the local FOP lodge during the police memorial week in May. Currently, I am their only chaplain.
Last year was the first time that someone took the time to write a lengthy letter to the State FOP President, local FOP lodge president, and myself, asking that I do not pray in the name of Jesus as the person (who is a Vietnam veteran citing examples of his chaplains) thought it excluded the officers who are not Christian.
Now as we are planning this year's service, I've brought the question up at the last monthly lodge meeting. One of the members insisted I do not pray in the name of Jesus, as he claims that's a "National FOP requirement."
I'm not sure if I should "take a stand" with an ultimatum a la "I either pray in the name of Jesus or I won't pray at all." What would it accomplish, and what am I trying to accomplish with something like that?
Saw your chaplaincy newsletter in Facebook and thought, why don't I run it by Steve?
Appreciate your thoughts of wisdom on this, if you've got the time.”
Here is my response:
“Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord; so good to hear from you again.
In what at first may seem a somewhat odd practice, if I am praying in a recognized church setting I do not always pray in the name of Jesus, but when I am praying in public outside of church I always pray in the name of Jesus, and typically will pray a Trinitarian prayer ‘in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’ This policy is based on the best Christian and American principle, history and tradition. In the confused cultural and legal climate of today, as faithful Christians and patriotic Americans we must be faithful to both Christ and the Constitution, and exercise the precious “freedom of religion” rights our veterans—including your Vietnam vet friend—have fought to protect.
Regarding a church setting, the best example of a prayer that does not pray in the name of Jesus is of course the Lord’s Prayer. Additionally, I will often pray an “ex corde” (informal “from the heart”) prayer in a church setting that begins with “Lord” or “Father” and finishes with a simple “Amen.” In this environment I am not compelled to pray every prayer in the name of Jesus or the Trinity because it is already a Christian Trinitarian context, expressed in things like preaching and teaching, church name, worship folder doctrinal statements, Scripture readings, liturgy, and even sanctuary decoration such as crosses.
Logic says any prayer in a public setting will “exclude” someone’s beliefs, but whatever our beliefs we should ALL celebrate the freedoms we enjoy. The goal here cannot be to invent a “perfect” prayer that pleases everybody—an impossible task. And what if an atheist is present? Do we stop all prayer because he might be offended? This has actually been the unconstitutional stance of some, which I pray time, common sense, and proper constitutional understanding will correct. The exclusion of all prayer is not a solution, because that would be a denial of our First Amendment rights as Americans and our Gospel proclamation duty as Christians. Here we must point out that the First Amendment is a limitation on government, not a restriction of an individual citizen’s public expression of religious belief, including public prayer. Such a restriction would be a denial both of our country’s constitution and history extending from the founding of this country to the most recent presidential inauguration, when two different pastors each prayed a Trinitarian prayer.
We must defend our right to pray as we see fit in any setting—especially in a public one—and we should all celebrate the freedom we have in this country to pray according to our beliefs and conscience.
If this is a national FOP requirement, which I question, it is an unconstitutional suppression of religious freedom that flies in the face of the First Amendment, and should be opposed on principle. The president is not the only citizen who has a right to pray in public according to his conscience. Again, we either exercise our rights or lose the precious freedoms our patriots have fought to preserve.”