While watching football and visiting with a good friend last week, our conversation steered in the direction of a recent court case in which a public high school coach was ordered to stop asking his players to pray with him on the field after games. My friend, (an unabashed, Christian conservative), didn’t see any harm in allowing a coach and his team to give thanks to the Lord after a hard fought battle.
“Imagine that on a team of forty or more Christian players, there is one young man who does not believe in God,” I, (an unapologetic, atheist liberal), offered. “This kid, from the very first time he realized that he did not subscribe to a set of beliefs that most of his peers did, has always felt like an outsider. Different. Alone.
“Now imagine that this young person has finally found a place where he feels like he belongs: the football field. He is a hard worker at practice and an excellent teammate. After years of longing to fit in with his peers, he finally does—until the coach tells the team to take a knee and pray.”
“No one is forcing anybody to pray if they don’t want to,” my friend replied.
“That’s true,” I said. “But can you imagine how conspicuous and alienating it would be for that young man to be the only person on the team not participating in a group prayer? How do you think that kid would feel standing off to the side, all by himself, while everyone else on the field shares a spiritually intimate moment together without him?”
My friend took a moment to contemplate this, and he agreed that it would probably make a kid feel pretty lousy. “Besides, the Constitution calls for a strict division of church and state,” I continued. Government-funded institutions such as public high schools (or their employees) cannot endorse any religion. When a Christian coach in the Bible Belt asks his team to pray with him, the odds are low that there will be any objections, but imagine the furor that would erupt in that same community if a Muslim head coach asked his players to kneel and pray with him to Allah. (Never mind that the God of Christianity and Islam is one and the same.)
I’m grateful that my friend and fellow football fan took seriously my arguments supporting the court’s action against the coach. I love that we can respectfully discuss hot-button issues like religion and politics without resorting to name calling. If only that were the case with everyone.
Recently my father felt compelled to end a friendship after being verbally abused and branded a “snowflake” by a person with whom he disagreed regarding the current political climate in America. Dad posted a well-worded response on social media that I’d like to share with you:
“So, because I disagree with you, I’m called a ‘snowflake.’ This, despite my service as a combat Marine. My father served in World War II, my grandfather in WWI, and my brother (in Viet Nam). (We) volunteered because we wanted to preserve the ideals of democracy for ALL the people. Yet despite your hate-filled name calling, I do agree with you that our democracy is imperfect and Washington could do much better. However, for Washington to do better, we as individuals must also do better and do the right thing while keeping in mind that which is best not merely for the Anglo-Saxon majority, but for all members of our society. We must act with love in our hearts, not hatred. As in this instance, we must at times speak out even if it costs us friendships. I dearly love this great country, and at this time of grave division, I truly pray to God to bless America.”
There is room in this great nation of ours for respectful disagreements among friends. My football buddy and I are proof of that fact. To anyone who may be tempted to cross the line of civility when arguing with those holding opposite views, before you type an angry comment on the internet or shout derogatory names at a peaceful protester, please take a moment to consider the person who will be on the receiving end of those spiteful words poised at the tips of your fingers or tongue. Whether the people with whom you find yourself at odds are Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, pacifists, or decorated veterans, remember that like you, they are human beings with human emotions such as fear, pride, anger, and sorrow. They are fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters with dreams of a better future for themselves and those whom they love. “They” are no different from you or me.
Actually, there is no “they”. It’s just “us”. And all we need to do to help us get along better and make America great again is take the advice of my combat-hardened, snowflake father and act with love in our hearts.