Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Our dialogue over prayer at the inauguration (here, here, and here) has been subconsciously playing in my mind. Is a prayer in the name of Christ at the inauguration a sign of the President’s faith, the nation’s faith, or both? And, what difference does it make? To fellow believers? To those outside the faith?
In an earlier post, I said that a prayer in the name of Christ expressed the President’s faith. Rob responded: “[A] lot of Americans cherish the Christian prayer and oath-taking at the Inauguration not as an expression of the President's personal faith, but as a collective expression of our nation's faith.” Steve Shiffrin concludes that in either event such prayers are “inherently discriminatory.”
My thinking on the subject has developed over the last week. I now agree with Rob that in addition to expressing the President’s personal faith a Christian prayer also expresses (and possibly is meant to express) the nation’s faith. I do not, however, find this expression of faith in and of itself problematic or “inherently discriminatory.” Here are some preliminary thoughts.
First, we must keep separate the concepts of “state” and “nation.” We have a “secular state,” but that state must govern with values developed elsewhere. Where the government is “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” these values will or ought to come from the people. Second, are we a “nation”? Do we have some semblance of a common culture? Common values? If the answer to that is “yes,” I suspect that the commonality is rooted in western and Christian values. It is in this sense that we are a Christian nation. Third, if we are in some sense a Christian nation, what is our responsibility as such? Should we pretend that Christ teaches nothing of relevance in how to govern or live communally together? Or, should we privately and publicly acknowledge this relationship with Christ and embrace fully His light and love as we humbly discern what this means for the nation? Fourth, and this gets to the crux of Rob and Steve’s posts, how do we treat those who are “outsiders” in the sense that even if citizens they do not share a common foundation with the majority? Do we gloss over the differences pretending that they are unimportant? Do we acknowledge openly and honestly the differences? For me, the answer might come from Leviticus where God instructs the Israelites: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” I have referenced this passage many times in my immigration work, but this morning it dawned on me that this passage could also apply to those who live among us with alien beliefs and values.
What do you think?