The other day, I wrote about the lady who was arrested for silently praying outside an abortion clinic. Some commentary made it sound as though a random person, simply passing by and praying had been arrested for a one off, incidental event. The reality was that their arrest followed a series of actions on their part as part of a campaign, which they were heading up.
Now, whilst the additional information changes our perspective on events a little, it doesn’t change the fact that a situation where peaceful protest can lead to arrest is concerning. I personally would question the wisdom of the particular protest. It suggests a misunderstanding on their part about what prayer is all about. However, the act of silent peaceful protest should not be outlawed so easily. In fact, it suggests to me a growing ignorance on all sides about what prayer is about.
It is helpful to think about things this way. If Isobel believed that she was being targeted for silent prayer as a thought crime, then she had two options regarding how to respond to the police. First, she could have taken the time to explain to them what happens when we pray. She could have talked about the importance of committing all situations to her Lord and Saviour. She could have said that prayer is such a natural part of her life, that she is in fact praying in her head at all times. She could have explained that, yes, she was concerned about all those vulnerable lives at risk from abortion but she was also praying out of love for all involved in the clinic. What an opportunity.
Her other option was to make it a little harder for the police. She could have asked the police “What do you mean am I praying? What gives that impression?” The conversation would have moved to the folly of attempting to second guess what is going on in someone’s head. This would have helpfully demonstrated the problem of attempting to police thought. We cannot police thoughts because we don’t know what is actually going on in another person’s head.
However. I suspect that the police were not really that interested in what was going on in Isabel’s head. The issue wasn’t the content of her thoughts and prayers. They remained concerned about outward actions. It was the posture of standing with head bowed and eyes closed. This was what they were concerned about. Now this is deeply troubling because as we’ve seen on other occasions, the law makers and law enforcers have accepted that faith and religion is primarily about the outward symbols.
Now, the other concern is that we have a situation where the simple act of bowing your head and closing your eyes is seen as intimidatory. Perhaps, this will help people to understand more why their suggestion that taking the knee is an aggressive act is so bewildering for the many doing so (and vice-versa).
The outward symbolisation of praying should not be seen as aggressive or intimidatory and yet it is increasingly being seen that way. Yes, prayer is a powerful weapon but a weapon to be used in spiritual warfare not against flesh and blood. So why have we reached this situation. Well, a lot of responsibility lies with those legislating and campaigning. Ignorance and misrepresentation are both problems. However, perhaps we bear some responsibility too. If we’ve used prayer passively aggressively, as in “well I’ll be praying for you” or we’ve allowed prayer to be appropriated by protest movements then we need to take responsibility for how prayer has become so deeply misunderstood.
My priority as a servant of the Gospel is that when I offer to pray for or with people that they might see this as a positive and good thing.