During the recent Presidential Inauguration, Reverends Sam Rodriguez, Paula White-Cain, Franklin Graham, and Wayne T. Jackson all concluded their prayers “in Jesus’ name.” That four of the six clergy involved in the ceremony would say those words at the end of their prayers may not seem very significant to most Christians. However, on other such occasions, those offering prayers have often appeared hesitant to even utter the “J” word (Jesus). They were no doubt aware that many folks believe doing so violates a protocol of political correctness. References to a generic “God” are considered appropriate in the public square, but mentioning “Jesus” is often seen as offensive to those who are not Christians.
Over the years, I have offered multiple prayers in a variety of public settings and have always concluded with “in Jesus’ name” or something equivalent. I cannot speak to the motives of those who prayed at the Inauguration on January 20th, but I believe it is appropriate (and sometimes important) for Christians to offer prayers “in Jesus’ name” in public settings.
Praying “in Jesus’ name” is not intended to be offensive to those who do not embrace Christianity. It is simply how many believers in Jesus pray. In John 14:13, Jesus encourages His followers to “ask in my name.” The Bible teaches that God hears and answers the prayers of Christians because they approach God, not on the basis of their own merits, but because of what Jesus has accomplished for them through His death and resurrection. When a Christian prays, it should be no surprise if he or she prays “in Jesus’ name.”
Though we may wish otherwise, there does not exist any generic God who can serve as the center of a public religion which everyone will embrace. Every religion has specific ideas of who God is and what God is like. It is those beliefs which determine how an individual will approach God in prayer. A Christian can be expected to pray differently than a Muslim, who will pray differently than a Jew, who will pray differently than a Hindu, etc. When a Muslim, Jew, or Hindu offers a prayer at a public event I expect that individual to pray differently than I would. When a Christian prays in public, it is unfair to expect him/her to pray as someone other than a Christian.
“But,” some ask, “why in the world do we have people praying at public events? There is supposed to be separation of church and state.” Well, prayer has been part of public events throughout the history of our country. Both tradition and our courts recognize that such prayers are protected by our Constitution’s guarantee of the “free exercise of religion.” Hearing someone pray in a way which is different than what we would do is no more a violation of our rights than hearing someone express political opinions different than our own. The reality is that many, if not most, people prefer hearing prayers at public events, whether it is a Presidential Inauguration, a Memorial Day program, or a City Council meeting. As a pastor, I am always happy to offer these prayers, just as long as I am allowed to pray “in Jesus’ name.” That is, after all, how I pray.
Rev. Dan Erickson
Senior Pastor, Chisholm Baptist Church