Last night I went to our local high school graduation to see seven of our students graduate from Norwin High School. It was a great night where 401 seniors graduated taking their first steps into this whole new world. The one frustrating thing was the time of prayer they had at the beginning and end of the ceremony. Now don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that they included a time of prayer at all, especially during a public high school commencement ceremony. But that wasn’t the problem. The problem was with the students they had ‘praying’. It was pretty clear that this was one of the few times these students have ever prayed period. The closing prayer included a quote and a joke. They really weren’t prayers at all, but rather speeches. I believe God should be a part of school activities such as this, but an interesting thing happens when we try to secularize that which was meant to be sacred.
In 1963 Pittsburgh’s own, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, effectively removed “coercive” public prayer and Bible-reading at public schools in the United States. Since that time many within the church have been fighting, debating, and working to bring public prayer and Bible-reading back into our public schools. As admirable as this may be, I think if that were to happen, it would be an incredible crime and disservice to all that we hold to be sacred and holy. It was common in the late 50s and early 60s for teachers to be praying or reading scripture in a way which was either mocking the very thing they were doing or at best devaluing it. Secularizing the sacred will bring the downfall of any society. Just look at what took place during the Crusades in Europe. The sacred became secular. The message of the gospel is meant to be proclaimed throughout society and in the marketplace. But in so doing, we cannot allow the sacred to become secular! Thomas Jefferson explained this well, “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” Allow the sacred to be experienced by the secular, but do all you can to keep the sacred from experiencing the touch of the secular.