Evangelism v. Religion “For Show”

The Supreme Court ruled that a club in New York State could hold meetings on school grounds after hours. The club, as you might imagine from the headline, is of a religious nature–specifically, it is a non-demoniational Christian prayer group. I’m conflicted slightly about this, but I think SCOTUS ruled correctly.

But for me, there’s a big difference between fairness and justice. I think that SCOTUS levied justice here: the students’ right to free speech and assembly were being denied. But the bigger issue to me, personally, is the question of evangelism here.

I’ve been a member of these prayer groups. Where I’ve been involved, they’ve been closed societies. Sure, they’ll let anyone come on in, but you know, it’s hard to make that entry. It’s always felt to me to be more of a “let’s publicly show that we’re Christians” event more than a “let’s try to show people what Christians do” event.

I would prefer to get out in the community and serve my fellow man. I’ll be doing that next week. Every year I go to Mission Fest, I’m asked by someone I serve, “Why are y’all doing this?” I usually answer quickly but politely, “To show the love of God to others.” If they’re interested, they’ll ask for more–and they have. Some folks turn up their nose at God, finding Him to be distanced from their lives. As Marcus Borg notes in The God We Never Knew, the notion of God in supernatural theism as a being “out there” is difficult to deal with when we’ve got suffering right here. [Borg’s commentary on what he calls “panentheism”, literally “everything in God”, is for another day, mainly when I’ve finished his book.]

I’m glad these kids want to meet to pray about things. Prayer is a Very Good Thing[TM]. But do we have to pray publicly in schools? I would say no; as Christ noted: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

In its own peculiar way, IJSM is evangelism. I’m doing this publicly, so my actions and criticism here may seem at odds with each other. Perhaps they are. But I don’t bring my prayer life into these pages; that would be too personal for me to share to a group I cannot see. [The notion of praying to a God I cannot see is a matter for another day as well.] I hope that what I’m doing here is evangelism and not religion for show. I hope not to shout, “Look at me! I’m such a great Christian example for you!” Rather, I hope to quietly say, “Look at me–God can love even someone as messed up as me.”

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