In the state of Washington a football coach has been placed on administrative leave because he kept praying at midfield. This seems pretty straight forward. Religious discrimination. A violation of the first amendment, and typical of the growing anti-Christian sentiment in our nation.
At first I was hooked and outraged (quietly outraged) that this could occur in our nation. The coach did not ask anyone to join him. He did not coerce any of the players into doing this. Some players decided on their own to join him. So what is the problem?
I suppose someone or a small group complained and so he was asked to cease the praying at midfield. He could still pray but in a place where no one could see him. Apparently he tried to meet with the school officials over this, but could only talk over the phone with their lawyer. Not getting anywhere he continued to pray at midfield after the games. He is now on leave, pending investigation. It basically means he is out of job.
Couple of thoughts about this case …
- What was the coach’s motivation and purpose for praying at midfield? Was it to draw attention to prayer? To himself? To remind people as to what matters in life? Was it to simply give honor to God and to keep his focus on what matters, win or lose? This is the most important question and the one that only the coach knows the answer.
- Was the schools’ instruction to their employee (the coach) violating the man’s religious beliefs? I think of Daniel in the OT. The Persian King passed a law that forbade any prayer to any god other than to the King himself. This violated Daniel’s belief in the one true God. He stilled prayed to God, and was thrown into the den of lions as a result. Daniel prayed in the privacy of his home, although he was seen through a window. Did the schools instruction violate this coach’s faith?
Regarding the first point, Jesus teaches us in Matt 6 that when we pray we are not to stand on the street corner to garner attention and approval as we pray. It is not authentic prayer when one is seeking approval for others, when one is supposedly talking to God. It is better to go into an inner room, where no one sees you, and pray. Our Father knows what we need, and approves of our going before him.
The second point is valid in that we are to submit to those who rule over us in authority. We may not like the rules, but do those rules violate our faith? Romans 13 speaks of where governments gain their authority (from God) and how we are to respect it. Also, in Acts 4, the Apostles are confronted by the Sanhedrin, and told not to speak in Jesus’ name. But they throw out the question, who should we obey? God or man? The answer is obvious: God. When man’s law comes into conflict with God’s teaching, man’s law is ignored, and God is obeyed.
So can this coach pray privately? Before and after the game? Is this school’s request unreasonable? In fact, I think the schools request is in line with what Jesus taught. Go to an inner place and pray. That is what the school asked him to do! It also does not violate his faith. He can still pray. He brought much attention to prayer by making national news. Perhaps it time to simply return to the inner room, to keep praying, and abide by the wishes of the school and let God work as only He can through the faithful prayers of His people.