The recent outpouring of concern over the prayer issue at Pickens County School Board meetings has been heartening in ways.
It has brought people to the halls of a governing board of our region who probably have never been there before. Certainly these folks have seen the school board face to face sparingly. The controversy has brought more comments to our Facebook pages and more letters to this editor than any issue in recent memory. Those are all good things.
The outpourings have created a stage for expressing some of our deepest held feelings. That expression tests us all on what we really believe and causes some to question what we believe.
Issues of religion are deeply held around these parts. One’s connection to a higher authority is central to his or her upbringing typically in places like Pickens and Anderson counties.
The issue was about prayer at the beginning of school board meetings and concerns by someone that the prayers were somehow a violation of the principal of separation of church and state. The response indicates a deeper concern, however. Restriction of prayer at the school board seems to have translated into someone stomping on prayer and God.
It is understandable that something so dear and important should be defended vehemently.
The debate is one that I have heard repeated in different places across the South for 35 years
The Rev. John Jeffers, a South Alabama Baptist preacher friend once took a view that I did not expect. Dr. John had preached in big and small churches across the state, had already defended and taught his cherished gospels for decades when I knew him in 1979.
When the issue of school prayer arose in those days, Dr. John preferred that government in the guise of schools stay away from prayer.
He could envision the potential for a change of the winds religiously.
His fear was that the government of his state would set a precedent by allowing and encouraging prayer that was acceptable to his Baptist brethren and then the winds would change.
Some other religious belief might – for reasons outside the control of conservative pastors – come to secular favor and dominate the political landscape.
Best to leave government alone and have allow everyone to pray in their own hearts for the right direct, he thought.