The neighbors in a bordering county are not happy. I live in Vance County, N.C. That is about 40 miles north of Raleigh. At one time Vance County had textiles, tobacco and Roses Variety stores. Now they are all gone. This is a rural, poor county. Next door is Franklin County, a little closer to Raleigh and the Research Triangle but still rural, Southern and struggling.
A few nights ago the high school had its awards banquet for its sports teams. They opened with a Christian invocation. Shortly thereafter a lawyer for the ACLU wrote to the school board and complained. The complaint mentioned the up-coming graduation exercises scheduled to be opened with another invocation. The School board voted to cancel the prayer.
The neighbors in Franklin County are not happy. There are some who think the predictions of Orwell are beginning to come true. These people see it, as Jimmy Buffet might say, as "love in decline." But there are really some positive aspects to developments like this.
Our country was founded by people who came seeking a place where they could exercise their faith free from government support or suppression. The establishment of religious freedom meant to them that government would neither help them nor harass them. The fact that most of them were Christian people did not determine their principle. There was a variety of Christian traditions that needed protection from other Christian traditions.
The great news is that we as a nation are continuing to honor that principle. We are growing into that principle as our country becomes more and more diverse. As the number of different religious groups grow, the decisions are being made to recognize and honor that diversity.
At the graduation exercises of Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., this year, the ceremonies ended with six different benedictions. Representatives of six different faiths all said a benediction. Having said a number of benedictions in my life, I am sure that most of these representatives gave more than the standard benediction as each took about three minutes to say her benediction, but Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Native American all concluded the graduation ceremonies.
The removal of the public support for the Christian faith is good news for the Christian community. As the official recognition of the Christian faith decreases, as the schools no longer have Bible reading in schools, and sporting events no longer begin with a Christian prayer, as government meetings no longer begin with "in Jesus name we pray, amen," the impact will be a decrease in the number of nominal Christians. It will mean that no one will show up at the church because it looks good. No one will get married in the church because it is the thing to do. Today's society pages announce weddings and about half of them now are in places other than the church.
The great news is that Christianity will have to be important to a person to practice it. Sunday School and the home will be the places where the Christian faith has to be taught because it will no longer be taught in the public square. Christmas and Easter will have to be important in the Church because Santa and the Easter Bunny will be all that the public talks about. This is going to make being a part of a Christian community important. It is the way that Jews have been staying alive for centuries. It is the way that Catholics survived in the South for decades. It is the way the early church endured until the 300 A.D.
My neighbors are not happy. The citizens in my county have watched our city council discuss this issue and voted to continue the prayers in Jesus' name, but they are resisting the incoming of the tide and the Christian faith will gradually become one among many faiths in this country as it is in Europe and for many of us that will be a new thing, a different thing and for many a good thing.