There are many parts of the Christian bible that are somewhat ambiguous, unclear, or inconsistent. This reality is accepted by many Christians. Other parts of the Christian bible seem quite clear. Take Matthew 6:5-7 for example:
5. And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.This passage describes how hypocrites pray in public "that they may be seen" and admonishes the audience not to pray like this. Instead, the audience is encouraged to pray in private. Private prayer is good; public prayer is bad. Seems pretty clear, doesn't it? So why do so many Christians in the United States ignore it and engage in public prayer?
6. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
7. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
Who supposedly spoke these words in Matthew? Maybe it was just a minor figure Christians like to ignore. No, these words are attributed to Jesus himself. It seems like Christians would take the words of Jesus a bit more seriously, doesn't it? After all, this is the being with whom they claim to have a personal relationship. Why are they so quick to disregard his words about public prayer?
Matthew is one of the gospels, and it is found in the New Testament. It cannot be ignored or dismissed in the same way Christians are fond of dismissing the portions of the Old Testament which reflect poorly on their faith. And again, these statements about public prayer are supposed to be Jesus' words.
What does public prayer look like? Almost every time I go to a restaurant in Mississippi, I see someone praying before their meal. I can often hear their words too. Before nearly every exam I give at a state university, someone will insist on praying aloud. Many meetings are opened with organized prayer. When I reported for mandatory jury duty a couple years ago, the judge kicked off the jury selection with a lengthy sectarian prayer referring Jesus multiple times. This was imposed on all of us, as our presence was legally required.
As tempting as it might be to conclude that this is just Mississippi, just the South, or just the bible belt, such a conclusion is unwarranted. At the local, state, and federal levels, our politicians open legislative sessions with public prayer. These prayers are given into microphones and sometimes broadcast on television. There are well organized and well funded prayer breakfasts held across the country, including the big one in our nation's capitol. Prayer via amplification over PA systems. There are televangelists, massive prayer rallies held in stadiums, and prayer-related nonsense spewed all over Facebook. Public prayer by Christians is common.
Why are so many Christians disregarding what their bible says about prayer? Are they willingly embracing the form of hypocrisy Jesus allegedly warned them against? Have they decided that they know better than Jesus?