Note: Thank you to John Tsitrian for submitting this post. Please note that Stan is not taking a position on this issue, either way, at this time.
Why the Rapid City Council has to start its proceedings with a prayer drawn from the Judeo-Christian beliefs in the Holy Bible has never been clear, as I don’t recall ever hearing any of the elected officials on that body invoking God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit as a motivating factor in reaching decisions that are secular in character and design.
Much as tradition and ceremony have their places in public proceedings, the long-standing practice of beginning Council meetings with a prayer has turned into a point of contention among local taxpayers. With good reason, some citizens who support Rapid City, obey its laws, pay their taxes and generally behave as productive and involved members of the community believe the ritual should be ended.
That they don’t embrace the spiritual and moral imperatives of the Bible is no reflection on their characters, that they find its invocations imposed on a publicly supported gathering to be an unwarranted intrusion of the Church in the affairs of the community is no unreasonable point of view. That some feel excluded because their belief systems fall outside the parameters of the Holy Bible is a fact. That some bear malice to any organized creed is an altogether separate reality, but one that exists and should be recognized.
Our community also contains many individuals who have accepted the spiritual elements of the Bible but understand that within the New Testament there is an ongoing theme that two kingdoms co-exist, one a kingdom of mankind, the other the kingdom of God. As they see it, prayers have their places, government deliberations not being among them. And then, of course, there is a sizable flock who believe that elements of worship should be an essential aspect of human affairs, including those as mundane as City Council meetings.
I guess it’s a reflection of our culture’s evolution that the act of public prayer, with its function of fellowship and commonality, has gone the other way and turned into a divisive institution. I’ve looked around and sought out methods of resolving this multi-dimensional dilemma and found a few, some of them doozies.
One township allows prayers to God, but won’t let them include specific references to individuals or deities inside this divine umbrella. They can’t say Jesus, Mohammed, Vishnu, whatever. Another requires a disclaimer from an official in attendance disavowing the prayer as not endorsed by the community’s governing bodies. There are others. The common theme? A tortured bow to political correctness that probably satisfies few and offends many.
I doubt that there’s a muse or a divine force that can inspire a prayer or oral contemplation of any kind that can reconcile all the differences at play here. The resolution? Maybe just a moment of silence would do for now. I can’t think of any organized lobby or interest group that opposes it, and it certainly has a following among the spiritual. It’s at the core of the Native-American vision quest, highly prized as a communal moment in every church I’ve ever attended, and passes Constitutional muster, unless there are mandates requiring separation of silence and state that I don’t know about :-).
I hope the Rapid City Council gives it a go, if only on a trial basis. The existing squabble only stands to get more contentious and distracting. A little bit of a silent time-out might do everybody some good.