Praying at a football game. On inclusion and good witness.

If Mary, the mother of Jesus, came to take Communion at a Catholic church, she would be refused. She wasn’t even baptized as a Christian. She was Jewish.

If she showed up as a potential church member, an unwed mother, she would be shunned in most churches. Tongues would wag.

How many times have we as a church turned away someone because they didn’t measure up to our standards? How many times have we not acted in a Christ-like manner because we think someone isn’t acting “Christian” enough?

It isn’t for them to act Christian. It is for us to. And Christ was radical about inclusion.

I recently mentioned about Mary not being able to take Communion in a Catholic church and a Catholic friend stopped and thought about it and realized I was right. She’d never had to think about this before, had never even thought about the exclusionary rules. Of course not. She was in. The rules don’t affect her. She hadn’t had to think about it.

This reminds me of when I attended a public high school and the majority of my friends weren’t Christian. They were either Jewish or Hindu. I felt so awkward for them when we had prayers before football games. The principal of the school would come on the intercom while we were in the bleachers and pray to God and Jesus before a football game.

I noticed that he never did this before tests or anything else that really mattered.

I’ve never understood public prayers before football games. Sure, it is good to be mindful and hope that they play safely and with respect. But not everybody there is Christian. It is strange for the principal of a public school to pray to God in a situation where everybody has to be there. We didn’t have a choice. It was mandatory attendance at these gatherings. It isn’t like it was just for the Christians, or those who chose to be there. I felt bad for my friends. They couldn’t leave. I wanted to leave as well, and I was Christian. This guy, this authority figure, didn’t represent me. It just didn’t feel right. It felt like some line had been crossed.

What would parents have said if the principal had been Wiccan and said a prayer before the game? This is important to consider. If you feel there is a difference if it is one faith or another, then think about that for a moment. Why is it different?

Remember, this was a public school, not a faith-based one.

I can hear one of my coworkers now saying “If they don’t like it, they can go back to where they came from. It is our country.” She says this about us having a Christmas tree set up in our public library. I’m opposed to that too. If we have one image from a faith, we need to have all of them, or none.

She says “our” country quite possessively. She gets very defensive about this.

The problem is, it isn’t “our” country if “our” only means one group. “Our” means all of us. Remember how the Puritans came over the sea to America to have the freedom to practice their religion as they wished? Remember the first sentence in the first Amendment to the Constitution – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

This also means we have freedom from religion. We don’t have to practice anything.

For Christians to force their viewpoint and their faith on others or to force them to listen or participate in public prayer isn’t Christ-like. Jesus never did this. It is insensitive.

I don’t care if they think they have “it” right. When Christians do this, they are doing it wrong.

Sure, you can pray in a public school. Nobody is taking away that right. Anybody can pray. You just can’t pray in a way that forces other people to participate. You can pray privately. You can pray with a prayer group. You can pray with your friends. You just can’t pray over an intercom to the whole school, or pray in a classroom to the whole class.

Not everybody is on the same page. Not everybody shares the same belief system. And that is OK. In fact, it’s not only OK, it is wonderful. It is part of what America is supposed to be about.

Forcing your belief system on someone else isn’t going to turn them into converts. In fact, it is going to turn them off. It does the exact opposite of what you want. It says that Christians are more interested in sharing a message than in having a relationship. It says that Christians are more interested in talking than listening.

The best way to get people interested in the message of Jesus is to live like Jesus. Be kind. Be loving. Welcome the stranger. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick. Work for justice and peace.

Let your life be your testimony.