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Part 1 of series: Should Christians Pray “In Jesus’s Name” in Civic Gatherings?
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Recently I was talking with a friend about praying in civic gatherings such as city council meetings or community luncheons. “When you pray in meetings like these,” he asked, “do you pray in the name of Jesus?”
When I was Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, I was called upon occasionally to pray in civic contexts. Sometimes I prayed before Irvine City Council meetings. Sometimes I prayed at community luncheons sponsored by secular organizations. When it was my turn to pray, I always made a point of actually praying, that is, of speaking to God and not using prayer as a way of addressing those gathered. I also made an effort to be relatively short. You may be surprised (then again, you may not be surprised) to learn that many pastors did just the opposite. They used their “prayer” as an occasion to preach. And they often went on way too long. One organizer of a community event thanked me profusely for being prayerful and brief. I expect this might account for why I got invited to be the prayer giver at many civic events. (Photo: Irvine City Hall, where the City Council meets)
I, on the contrary, believe that saying the words “in Jesus’s name” in civic prayer gatherings is something about which Christians may rightly disagree. I don’t think there’s one right answer to this question. Some of us believe that we should say “in Jesus’s name” at the end of public prayers. We should do this, they argue, both to in obedience to Jesus and to help draw people to him. Other Christians prefer not to say “in Jesus’s name” at the end of their civic prayers, because they don’t want to offend people or because they want to be more inclusive of those gathered, many of whom may not be Christians.
I fall in the second camp, in that I don’t say “in Jesus’s name” when I pray in civic gatherings. Yet I still claim to pray in Jesus’s name. This requires some explanation. So, let me address two questions:
1. What does it mean to pray in the name of Jesus?
2. Why don’t I say “in Jesus’s name” at the end of a civic prayer?
I’ll take on the first question tomorrow.