I can admit that I’m really sensitive to all things unecumenical (is this a word?). I get irritated easier than most by people and/or groups that assume we all pray the same way and teach that we should be wary of religious traditions that differ from ours. That’s why I’m divided over the current National Day of Prayer debate.
I don’t mind the idea of a National Day of Prayer but I think it really tests the fine line that is the separation of church and state and although I believe our current President to be more ecumenical than the last, I still believe that there is an assumption that Christianity is the national religion. I felt this way even before I converted and now that I’m a Jew, the feeling has only grown stronger.
Quite some time ago, I attended 12-step meetings. They served their purpose for that time in my life but the one issue that really bothered me was the strong Christian influence of the founders of the 12-step program and how that influence played itself out during meetings. Nearly every meeting I ever attended ended with the “Our Father” – not exactly a Jewish prayer (or a Muslim prayer, or Buddhist prayer, etc.). Most meetings began with some type of prayer that referenced G-d or Jesus in some way. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Hey – 12-step stuff is supposed to be void of references to G-d because every person is free to choose a Higher Power of their understanding.” On the surface that sounds great – the same way a National Day of Prayer sounds ecumenical. The only problem is, just like 12-step meetings, the National Day of Prayer can’t seem to remove itself from the influence of Christianity. If things are hammered out in the courts and the Day of Prayer actually happens, watch the news that evening. I can almost guarantee that what is covered will be billed as a meeting of “many different faiths coming together as one,” and yet listen carefully – at one point or another, someone will say, “We ask this in Jesus’ name,” or will quote some Scripture passage from the Christian bible.
One of the Rabbis at my synagogue (yes, I can now say “MY” synagogue 🙂 ) is an active member of our county’s Inter-Faith Council. Because I know the Rabbi and I know he wouldn’t be involved with anything that isn’t truly “Inter-Faith,” I trust that the event the Inter-Faith Council is hosting will be free of references to any one tradition. I wish I could say the same about other events around the country.
So what will I do on this National Day of Prayer, should it happen? Most likely, I’ll do what I do every day – recite the Sh’ma upon rising and before turning in, study some Torah in the evening before bed, and take care to notice G-d during the day. As for public gatherings where prayer is the focus? The jury is still out. I’m still divided on the issue and as long as I’m a student in the academic study of religion and a Jew (both of which I plan to be for the rest of my life) I think I’ll struggle with a National Day of Prayer. Perhaps the courts can make sense of the issue, although I really doubt it.