TO: Sunday School Scholars
FROM: Bill Swart
RE: Prayer in School
TRUTH IN THEOLOGY
Mark Twain asserted that truth is a precious commodity, so we should
economize it. (Truth is, it was Samual Clemens who asserted that). And we do economize it, don't we? There ought to be a law! Truth is there are laws.
Truth-in-lending laws require interest rates to be expressed in per-annum
terms. Some lending institutions which used to charge 3% per month now have
to charge 36% per year. The shock value of 36% is good for us.
Truth-in-advertising laws prevent a hearing aid maker from claiming that its
model will filter out background noise in a restaurant. I have one in each
ear (hearing aid, not a restaurant), and, oh my, what they do with a
two-year-old's screech at the next table.
And, Lord, we need a truth-in-theology law. Some preachers (in truth,
pastors are preachers), say they want prayer in schools. That's not the
truth. Any theologian, even a seven year-old Sunday school theologian, knows
that it is impossible to prevent prayer in the school, on the playground, on
the bus, even in church.
A child who has been paying attention in Sunday School knows that God is
quite gifted. He's multi-lingual. He understands all the Chinese dialects,
Swahili, English, even Mis-ippi English. And He doesn't need a hearing aid. His acute hearing can pick up a prayer that is merely a thought.
Later, upstairs in the church, the child might learn of Matthew 6.5 and 6.6,
where he says that we should not do show-and-tell praying, but should pray in
private, and God will hear in private. Matt doesn't see God with rows of
angels taking prayer messages to answer when He gets back from fishing.
(Could be he fishes for fish as well as for men.)
The truth, as everybody with an IQ greater than 2:00 p.m. knows, is that what
those preachers want is for teachers to conduct ritualistic prayers, and to conduct that preacher's particular brand of prayer. Brands of prayer?
No matter that much ritualistic prayer -- at the supper table, before the
game, even in church -- is about as genuine as the ritualistic 2.5-second
soapless hand-washing seen in gas station rest rooms. No matter that a
sophomore's pre-math-test prayer, and a soldier's fox-hole-prayer are more
genuine than most preacher-led Sunday morning prayers.
Well, maybe ritualistic prayer can improve behavior. I've never attended a
Ku Klux Klan meeting -- wouldn't be caught alive at one -- but I've been told
that Klan meetings begin and end with prayer. And I've noticed that Klan
members don't seem to use the demeaning labels "spic," "hebe," and "nigger"
as much as they used to -- at least not on camera. Some would attribute that
to their PR sense, but maybe, just maybe, it's because they pray, and fire up
the cross to transmit their message of love.
Some folks, even some theologians, hold that conducting a period, perhaps a
minute, of silent prayer at the start of the school day would suffice. Since
no one (except God with his acute hearing) could tell whether a child
actually prayed during that minute, the policy would prevent embarrassment
which might be felt by an atheist or an out-of-grace student who chose not to
pray. And, of course, the teacher would welcome a minute of silence any time
Seems to me that all we need to do to solve the prayer-in-school problem is
to have all Sunday school teachers, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and
scoutmasters make sure that the child knows three things. One, God is a mind
reader. Two, God has a huge landfill (Some think it's on planet Uranus,
others think it's in North Dakota.) where insincere prayers are tossed. And
three, God is not fooled by how you bow your head, close your eyes, or hold
Let us tell them that, no matter what our constitution says, they should go
right ahead and pray, in secret, and, as Matthew says, God will hear them
Big question, though. What should we suggest they pray for? God has heard
the Lord's Prayer often enough that He must be weary of the clutter.
A caution, however: St. Matt doesn't suggest that a student who has not done
the homework can expect God to slip him the solution to a quadratic equation
during an algebra test. The best bet is that sincere prayer can help the
student resist the temptation to peek at a classmate's paper for the
solution. That's prayer worthy of a believer, even of an agnostic who is
hedging on his philosophy.
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