Earlier today, I was surprised to see my Facebook feed filled with links to stories about the signing into law of Mississippi Student Religious Liberties Act. Most of the links carried with them some note of praise, excitement, or providence. As a pastor from Alabama most would expect me to chime in on the side of victory, but I am deeply troubled.
As far as I could tell from the reports, the bill was signed in the presence of many Christian leaders and ministers. If those people were like the myriads posting on Facebook, I assume that they were there because they were excited about the fact that children in their Churches could now lead an entire campus in a prayer to Jesus. I am sure that in more than one of their churches the bill will be heralded as an incredible victory in "reaching the lost for Christ."
The problem is that America is no longer a Christian nation. While mainline protestant denominations are declining Mormons, Muslims, and the non religious are experiencing huge growth.
Since the First Amendment eliminates the possibility for a state sponsored religion, this bill can not specify that these prayers are Christian. On the horizon, there is a very simple problem: these Christian students will be led in prayer to Allah, Vishnu, and any other God worshipped by the students in their school.
Living in this area of the country, I can hear the response already: that would never happen. Some principal is going to be asked if a student can lead a prayer to someone other than Jesus and is going to say no while Christian students pray every day.
Apart from the resulting lawsuit, my concern is for that Hindu family that just was turned down by the principal. How is this evangelism playing in their world? How successfully is the church reaching them through this new law? Not very well as far I can tell.
That's just it. We are sailing into uncharted waters as a church. No longer are we the de facto religion, no longer do we have an assumed pride of place, no longer can we ignore the concerns of other faiths in our world. Because of our cultural prevalence, the church could get away with being disrespectful to other faiths. Our power shielded us from serious critique and allowed us to not love our neighbor. That is no longer the case.
I am afraid that this law is going to seriously backfire.
Rather than see a Jesus who loves all people of all faiths and calls them all to follow him, people will be presented with a disrespectful, unloving (and now litigious) Jesus who is as manipulative as the worst politicians. And that kind of backfire damages far more than a governor's reputation. I am afraid it will backfire on the person of Jesus and on those to whom he is calling. I am afraid the voice of the church will be isolated and shown to the door in the halls of power.