Football Prayer: What Would Jesus Do?

By Kimball, Charles | Church & State, October 2000 | Go to article overview
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Football Prayer: What Would Jesus Do?


Kimball, Charles, Church & State


This summer's U.S. Supreme Court decision banning school sponsored or endorsed prayer before high school football games was not well received in many quarters. In towns and cities across the South, tens of thousands of evangelical Christians are organizing "spontaneous" recitations of the Lord's Prayer prior to Friday night games.

As an ordained Baptist minister, a parent of a high school student and a devout football fan, I am fascinated, confused and disturbed by this new manifestation of piety. Something doesn't add up.

Several leaders of groups like "We Still Pray" in Asheville, N.C., contend that they won't stand by while God is "excluded." They agree with those who suggest that God was removed from public schools in the 1960s. These folks are determined to bring God back into public life.

What kind of theological understanding is at work here? Devout Jews, Christians and Muslims understand God to be omnipresent as well as omnipotent and omniscient. Is there any place -- including high school football games -- where God isn't present? Surely God's presence doesn't depend on human invocation.

And why football games? Why is there no furor over excluding God from high school soccer games? Golf matches? Volleyball? Why is the Lord's Prayer deemed the appropriate public prayer before a football game? Because this is the only prayer many would-be participants may know well enough to recite in unison?

Many evangelical Christians these days wear a cloth bracelet with the letters "WWJD" prominently displayed. "What Would Jesus Do?" is meant to remind the person to reflect continually on his or her behavior in light of the teachings of Jesus. Perhaps a little such reflection prior to reciting the Lord's Prayer at football games would help. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had strong words for those who displayed their piety in public settings:

"And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:5-6)

Jesus then offers the Lord's Prayer as a model. Do you see the irony? Jesus teaches the Lord's Prayer after explicitly teaching how not to pray. This movement uses the Lord's Prayer in precisely the kind of way Jesus warned against.

So what is the message the organizers are trying to send? Do some see this as a collective act of defiance, a way to tell the government to stop intruding into our local communities?

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