Who would have thought my little town of Point Pleasant Beach would be the site of a separation-of-church-and-state controversy? It's all about the Borough Council's desire to continue its practice of opening Council meetings with a public recitation of the Lord's Prayer.
An article in today's newspaper tells of the appearance of some local citizens who interrupted the Council's newly-instituted moment of silence by praying the Lord's Prayer aloud.
I've written this letter to the editor of the Asbury Park Press. We'll see if they publish it:
To the Editor:
Reading about the controversy here in Point Pleasant Beach about official use of the Lord’s Prayer in Borough Council meetings leads me to wonder: how did the Council choose the particular version they’re using?
Their “forgive us our trespasses” version – favored by Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists and others – comes from William Tyndale’s Bible translation of 1525. The “forgive us our debts” used in my own Presbyterian Church is based on John Wycliffe’s translation of 1395 as well as the King James Version. A 1988 ecumenical alternative seeks to foster Christian unity by introducing “forgive us our sins.”
No one ever wrote down the Aramaic words Jesus himself would have spoken, but of course, there’s always the original Greek of the New Testament. Somehow, though, “aphes humin ta opheilemata hemon” doesn’t have the same ring to it.
By beginning their meetings with an explicitly Christian prayer, the Council is already flouting the First Amendment’s prohibition on “establishment of religion.” I think we citizens have a right to know which expression of Christianity the Council has chosen to establish, and why.
Of course, the Council could avoid all this complexity by simply deciding to introduce a moment of silence instead. That would be truer to Jesus’ original intention in Matthew 6:5-15. Matthew says Jesus taught his disciples this simple prayer so they could use it in private – not ostentatiously, in public, for all to see. That seems to be what this regrettable political debate is all about, isn’t it?