As part of my Baptist history class, we were asked to participate in an online discussion board. I tend to lean towards the idea that the church today has it easy, what we think of as suffering is nothing like what persecuted churches go through around the world, and as a result, in many ways have grown too comfortable. Others of my classmates took a different stance, suggesting the American church is heavily persecuted, with some pointing to prayer in school being removed as the opening salvo. This was my response:
The only place where you [my classmate] and I really diverged from each other was in response to the last question and the continuing legacy of the church today. I think in America what we label suffering discounts the actual suffering of Christians elsewhere in the world. We risk being mocked or skipped for promotions in the workplace, a minor inconvenience in comparison to our brothers and sisters in the Lord who are being tortured and beheaded. I think part of our challenge is that our natural inclination is to want things to work best for our set of beliefs. The church in America is upset that prayer is no longer in schools – but I have a hard time wanting public schools to reinstate it. I don’t want non-believers leading my children in prayer time.
I love that students do have the freedom to bring Bibles, to pray privately or with their friends, and to even use school facilities for their Bible study groups. All of this is without state control or managing, and equal access is given to all faiths – which our Baptist forefathers fought for. If the state actually did coordinate prayer in schools, as it once did, then by virtue of our nation and not favoring one belief over another, we would have to expect the state to mandate other faiths as well; Islam, Judaism, Native American faiths, Buddhism, etc. Even further, if the government did rule on facilitating prayer in schools (because prayer is currently allowed, it is just not led by the school), what type of Christian prayer is the correct one? We tend to assume our way is the way everyone would gravitate towards, but what if it wasn’t? What if it was Catholic prayers? What if it was prayers from a denomination we don’t agree with?
I was horrified to read about Baptist parents in America in the 18th century being fined for “parental cruelty” because they would not baptize their infants, instead believing in believer’s baptism. The laws were “Christian,” but they were based on a denomination that Baptists did not agree with, and so Christians were punished for not being the right kind of Christians. Ultimately, the real need is for the church to reignite it’s evangelistic fervor that the Baptists were so well known for in the 18th century. If we reach our nation for God, whether or not the government leads prayer in schools, our schools will be full of praying students because their hearts have been changed – not because the government forced them to pray.