Last night while on Facebook I came across a post that a friend posted to their FB page about a Chick-Fil-A manager in Murfreesboro, TN who asked a homeless man if he could pray over him in exchange for receiving food. This was done during lunch hour in a busy Chick-Fil-A. But it doesn’t stop there. The whole incident was captured in a photo by a customer and posted to FB. The man who took the photo was ecstatic that his young daughter was witnessing a Christian carrying out a truly Christian act. But was it really a truly Christian act? Or was it abusing the sacredness of prayer? The media reports that I read on the internet portrayed the incident in a positive light while others were out right horrified. This question created quite a bit of debate of my friends Facebook page. The responses ranged from calling the incident religious abuse to approving of the manager’s actions.
When I read through the two articles that I’ve linked to the article my mind immediately went to spiritual abuse. When I posted my thoughts on my friend’s FB page some people didn’t agree with me while others did but I was approaching this issue from the Anglo-Catholic tradition that I come from that warns members of the tradition from attention seeking public proselytizing. Essentially avoiding carrying out religious actions that puts one in the center of attention. Part of this comes from the Episcopal teaching that to proselytize one should carry out good deeds and if a person asks why you have commit to positive actions you are to tell them that Christianity tells instructs you to do so. This is a better way to bring people to the Church and God will do the rest. Second the Bible tells (Matthew 6:5-8) Christians that praying in private is much better than committing to public prayer that is self seeking. Other than the blessings one receives from praying in private rather then in public, prayer is also a sacred dialogue between the worshipper and God and should be used with thought and discretion.
This brings me to the question if what the manager, who forced a hungry man into prayer in exchange for food, was using prayer in an appropriate manner and if his actions can be considered spiritual abuse. The minister who wrote a piece condemning the actions of the manager certainly thought so as well as a few of my friends. I have the same opinion, too. While I don’t agree with the manager’s actions I would like to know what Evangelical Christians think of the actions, as I see their practice of Christianity as being more public rather than private. Should would the action violate Evangelical teachings on prayer?
So, I will get to the bottom of why this bothers me so much. Prayer should never ever be used as a bargaining chip or as a means of exercising power over another person. This is why the action could and should be considered spiritual abuse. It is also cheapening prayer in that it is no longer being used as a communication between God and man but as a means for a man to put himself in God’s place. We also have to consider how the sanctity of prayer was being violated by the manager. When prayer is used as a means to exercise power over another person the sanctity of prayer is violated because it is not being used for holy means but for self gratification. The New Testament is very clear that when people make a show of prayer to draw attention to themselves, whether it be in public or in a house of prayer, that these people should be called hypocrites and that they have already received their reward in full. I take this to mean that God will ignore your prayers because the prayers are not sincere. But if one prays in private and is committed to meaningful prayer, then God will listen and prayers will be answered. When prayer is used in a proper way then blessings will follow.
But not everyone agreed with my assessment by saying that there was no where else for the man to pray to in a busy restaurant. But is this really the case? No. The manager could have pulled the man outside for prayer or into a corner and this could have been done quietly in a way that doesn’t draw attention. Putting your hand on a man and loudly proclaiming the Lord in prayer is not a modest way of praying and should be avoided. And prayer, no matter what, should never be used to exercised power over another being. It would have been better if the manger promised to pray for the man during a quite time during his day. This is something that is ignored by so many Christians who proclaim to know the Bible inside and out and should be changed.