Friday, October 2, 2009

Prayer Punted in Georgia

In a small North Georgia town, the football team will have to take to the field without the benefit of Bible verses held up by their cheerleaders. The school board in Fort Oglethorpe, GA, has decided to ban signs at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School's football games displaying passages from the Bible. The district says it doesn't want to be open to lawsuits. As one might imagine, the residents in this town located near the Alabama-Georgia-Tennessee border are mighty peeved about this. According to the Associated Press, hundreds attended a rally in support of the signs, and students on Friday showed up to their classes wearing T-shirts with Bible verses and had painted passages of Scripture on their cars along with "Warriors for Christ" (The Warriors is the name of the school team).

"When you get a whole bunch of teenagers mad, this is what happens. We stand up for what we believe in!" said Shelby Rouse, a 16-year-old student attending a pep rally.

NOTE: I wonder if they used any of those lines out of the Psalms about burning up enemies and such on their signs to intimidate the opponents?

Needless to say, I am happy I don't live in Fort Oglethorpe, GA, as this is the kind of stuff makes my skin crawl!

I don't know if the district's school board had learned that someone was upset by the "cheerleaders for Christ" and that's what motivated the decision to ban the signs. And I can understand people being angry if they feel their First Amendment right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion is being dissed. But, like that "Wakulla Loves Jesus" billboard south of Tallahassee, there is the obvious issue of "What if you are not a Christian?" and where does that leave non-Christians when the rest of the crowd wants to end a prayer, "in Jesus' name." or claim that a victory for this high school football team was "in Jesus' name"? Would Jesus really want people who are coming to a football game to cheer for their team to be alienated because somebody couldn't simply leave "in Jesus' name" off the prayer? Even amongst my Episcopalian friends here, I am struck when I hear a prayer end "in Jesus Christ, we pray." It's not that I don't accept Jesus as Lord; it's just that I'm not used to Episcopalians saying, "in" and not "through" Jesus Christ. "Through", for me, gives a sense of what I believe Jesus was about: a pointer to God, the Father. The one through whose death and resurrection we have been brought back into right relationship with God, the Father. These are probably minor points, but--hey: lots of people lost life and limb and soul over what words got used in creeds and such!

I often wonder, too, if the people who are so attached to holding up signs like "John 3:16" at a football game have ever bothered to read and consider the rest of Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus? It's a fascinating back-and-forth as this Jewish man seeks out this other Jewish man for some ol' fashioned philosophical discussion and finds himself in a very challenging, mind-expanding dialogue about what it really means to be one with God anyway. Unlike other Pharisees, Nicodemus seems to be asking Jesus questions not for the sport of trying to trap him, but being intrigued by this new Rabbi on the block. And he gets more than he bargained for!

Where I'm headed with all this is that it's easy to say all kinds of great things about Jesus, and about God, and to wear a T-shirt or hold up a sign. But I think the demand is deeper than that. I think we aren't supposed to just take what is on the page and learn it by rote and "Repeat after me." I think we're supposed to really take all this in, wrestle with it, look at it from different angles, and then incorporate it into our daily way of being in the world. Perhaps some of that has happened in this North Georgia town. Perhaps this ritual of holding up placards with Scripture is an outward and visible sign of their inward and spiritual grace.

I don't think so. But I could be wrong.


Anonymous said...

I am not so sure it is the same thing as what we feel is an Outward Visiable sign, Susan. Somehow, holding up biblical phrases by the cheerleaders and having people in the stands yell them out as cheers doesn't really send me into ecstacy. As a matter of fact, I don't underestand it at all.


SCG said...

I don't get it either, Peggins!