Kneeling Controversy and Freedom

Kneeling Controversy
During the U.S. football season in the fall of 2017, we have had a national kneeling controversy. It centers over whether the players have a right to kneel in protest during the national anthem. There have been enough varied opinions on this issue to fill a massive number of talk shows and ESPN commentary sessions. Many argue that “freedom of speech” is the issue, even though not a word is spoken.

This debate has ignored the right of coaches to kneel–including high school football coaches. Two years ago a Bremerton, Washington, high school coach named Joe Kennedy was fired for kneeling in prayer on the field after football games. There is no indication that players participated or were asked to participate. Kennedy appealed, and the Ninth U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against him, The court said he: “Took advantage of his position to press his particular views upon impressionable and captive minds before him.” Kennedy served 20 years in the marines, and he says, “I just want the same rights as everyone else. What applies for one should apply to every American.”

As the kneeling controversy continues, I know many middle school and high school coaches in my area who have a moment of silent prayer or meditation before a game starts. If someone objected, that would probably be forbidden also.

In a C-SPAN interview, Senator James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) said that we must “be able to determine where we are as Americans. If we are going to honor all free speech and all free exercise of religion, we need to be able to honor that universally.” We agree wholeheartedly.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Gathering to Worship

Gathering to Worship
Gathering to Worship
We get emails rather regularly from people denigrating worship. Some come from people who attend a church but “don’t get anything from going.” Others are from skeptics and atheists who describe worship as “a supreme waste of time and energy.” Both of these responses are at least in part due to a failure to understand what worship is and its purpose. The biblical concept of worship is not having an entertaining service by a skilled performer. James tells us in James 1:27 “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep himself unspotted by the world.” The purpose of worship is to help us do that and to be strengthened by our time together so that we can serve.

The Church we read about in the Bible did several things as acts of worship to equip themselves to do God’s will. Our problem seems to be that we don’t always understand how that happens. We are told to pray (Philippians 4:6; 1 Timothy 2:1; Colossians 4:2; Ephesians 6:18). Our prayers are not to inform God or to build up His ego. Prayer is vital for us to learn to focus on something beyond ourselves and to be able to petition God to help us have the strength to do what He calls us to do. We are also told that giving is an act of worship (1 Corinthians 16:2; Acts 20:35; 2 Corinthians 9:7). The giving is obviously not because God, the creator of all things, needs our money. Learning to give cheerfully is a grace that helps us learn how to get the most out of life in relationships and our attitudes. The best of love, sex, work, learning, and security comes when we learn how to give. Singing is another part of worship to help us get the best out of our relationships with each other and God. Singing is not to entertain ourselves or God but to express our joy, unity, and fellowship (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Romans 15:9; and 1 Corinthians 14:15). Our personal connection to God and to one another as we struggle with the problems of life is supported by our communion service, remembering the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16 and 11:23-28).

Worship is not to be entertained, but to participate. It isn’t to admire one another’s talents, but to be blessed with the opportunity to tap into a power beyond our own, and to learn how to live in a way that fulfills our purpose in existing. If someone is not “getting anything out of it”, the reason is that they came with the wrong expectations and for the wrong purpose. Worship is meaningless only if we do not have a relationship with God.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Illegal Prayers

Hands Of Praying
Hands Of Praying
Let me give you a hypothetical situation. In Irving, Texas my daughter lived near a housing development that was bought, built, and developed by a Muslim businessman. He did not allow any non-Muslim to purchase property or build a house within the development. This man even built a mosque on the property for the use of the residents. The development is run by a group of Muslim commissioners who manage the finances and make decisions about maintenance and new construction. This group meets once a month and opens each meeting with a prayer which is led by one of the commissioners.

So far this discussion is factual, but now let us suggest the hypothetical part. Let’s suppose that one of the owners within the development converted to Christianity. He goes to a development board meeting which is opened by a Muslim who leads a Muslim prayer. The Christian is offended because it was not a Christian prayer, and so he sues claiming that allowing the Muslim prayer is preferring one religion over another.

Now back to the factual. In an Associated Press headline dated February 16, 2017, we read “Court Says County Prayers are Illegal.” The board of commissioners of Jackson County, Michigan, begins each meeting with prayer led by one of the commissioners. All of the commissioners are Christians. One man who has been attending the meetings was offended by the prayers and filed a lawsuit. The man lost in U.S. District Court, so the case was appealed. What the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled is that “prayer invocations can be legal” but the Jackson County Board of Commissioners couldn’t just have Christian prayers. Suggesting that board members who are of one faith should lead a prayer of a different faith not only is somewhat ludicrous but would be offensive to most religions. If a Muslim ran for the board of commissioners and was elected, that person could lead a Muslim prayer. The offended man was described in one news story as a “pagan.” How would he not be offended by any prayer? Requiring that no invocation could be given would be tantamount to the government endorsing atheism. The founding fathers gave us the blessing of freedom of religion and the separation of church and state, but they never intended to turn America into an atheist state.
–John N. Clayton © 2017