Public Prayer and Implications of Agreement
Why do people make a big show of praying before meals in public, at restaurants? This is one thing about dining out with my family that makes me crazy. As a recovering former Evangelical I find the public prayer thing about as comfortable as when people embark on public displays of affection at the “get a room” level. Restaurant prayer is like a piece of performance art. If it was really just about the prayer itself and the need to appeal to God before dining surely it could be done silently and to oneself.
Given that this little ritual seems to be quite popular in some circles, it becomes important to consider what to do with your status as a conscientious objector when the time arises. How should you conduct yourself if someone in your dinner party assumes that it’s time for public prayer and does the “grab hands bow heads start reciting” thing in your presence? There is substantial peer pressure to participate. Yet, I really want to not participate.
At some basic level, I postulate that it relates to another issue which I find is quite pervasive in my family of Evangelicals. There is a tacit assumption that everyone in the room always agrees. There are a set of suitable beliefs, including megachurch-style Evangelical Christianity and a deep admiration for George Bush, and everyone is expected to have these beliefs. The participation in public prayer is just another of the unwritten behavior rules that govern the pack. Nod your heads, don’t question, vote as you are told.
I find the assumption of agreement quite surprising. My professional self would never assume anything about a room of people in terms of their religious or political beliefs. I tend to be quite cautious approaching these subjects except with my closest friends–and I mostly know their views on sensitive subjects.
This implies one of two things, either my relatives assume that we do all agree, or they know we don’t but they are purposefully ignoring the deviation. Is it simply that by saying these things as statements instead of questions, as definitive conclusions instead of open topics, that they are trying to reinforce the idea that their mores are incontrovertible truths? Is there some message they are sending each other about their Christian-ness by participating in the public prayer ritual? Or are they trying to demonstrate to the waiters and waitresses at the restaurant that they are pious? If so, why? What good does it do?
The fact of the matter is that the public prayer thing makes me twitch. I don’t really admire our current president. I have some real problems with the views of my family members especially as concerns this particular sect of Christianity. I value diversity of opinion and enjoy and encourage lively discussion. I believe in the validity of a conclusion to “agree to disagree”.
When dealing with my blood relatives, I feel under tremendous pressure to agree with them, including the enthusiastic participation in public prayer. And I don’t know how to stand up for my beliefs in the midst of this sort of pressure.