09 September 2009

Raising the Wrong Sort of Flags

I received a letter from a local congregation promoting this year's "See You At The Pole" event. SYATP started in 1990 and has since grown to be a nation-wide event, purportedly encouraging students to pray at their schools.

For the record, I'm not opposed to students praying. I'm not opposed to students having prayer groups in schools. What concerns me is the language we use when we promote this stuff. For example:

How about you? Do you desire to see a mighty move of God on your campus? Are you pursuing God passionately? Are you serious about radical obedience? Are you determined to get rid of anything and everything that dishonors God and ready to challenge your friends to do the same?
We are indeed called to a public faith, but not in this way. Programs like SYATP can all too easily descend into the kind of Christianity satirized in the movie Saved:

"This is not a weapon." Sort of sounds like this: "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?" (Jesus, speaking in Matthew 26.52)

To my mind, faith and prayer are meant to transform from within, one by one, not by being imposed from without. This is exactly the sort of thing James rails against when he says "Faith without works is dead." Sure, we can pray outside our schools: the real challenge is this, to live prayerfully and faithfully within our schools, without becoming the sort of Christian who sees every disagreement as heresy and every question as damnation incarnate.

Language like that which was used in the SYATP flier makes me nervous because it sets up the Christian faith as an arena of domination and colonization. The flier invites adult sponsors to provide "prayer cover" at schools, as though this were an operation being undertaken by a boatload of Navy SEALS. It's no coincidence that the people who put it together for this year used the state religion of Josiah's reign as their operative paradigm. But shouldn't there be a way we can emulate Josiah's faith without tying the baggage of warfare and empire to it all?

Perhaps Paul has a better way for us:

16From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2nd Corinthians 5.16-21

Reconciliation, not domination. I can get behind that.

Grace & peace,


  1. Which is exactly why I no longer participate in the National Day of Prayer on the courthouse steps.

  2. Thank you so much for blogging. Your comments on things like this are very meaningful to me.

  3. As usual, well said, my friend. Or perhaps "amen" is a better sentiment. =)

  4. I remember the around the pole thing from when I taught and saw it as really harmless inter-denominational time. Thanks for giving another point of view on it. You are exactly right. However, if it gives one or two children pause and reflection time, maybe it will carry them through the school day and maybe they will seek faith when they haven't in the past.

    When I was in high school, so long ago, our Youth Pastor came and ate lunch with us. That was far more exciting to us and we felt honored and never got teased about it...though with 3000+ students probably the popular crowd never noticed.