The Church of England hit the news this weekend after they released a tweet on social media which stated ‘prayers for Richard Dawkins and his family’. The tweet has seen some backlash from some members of the public who felt it was provocative. Richard Dawkins is a well-known atheist, and some have seen it as a pop by publicly showcasing that they are praying for Dawkins.
When I first heard of this story, it made me think how difficult it is as a Christian to do the right thing with the right motivation. If the Church of England are indeed praying for Dawkins and his family, this is a good thing. In fact, we could say it is even a biblical concept.
“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” – Matthew 5:44
In their decision to pray, the CofE has been faithful to Jesus and one of his commandments. Praying for others, even those who oppose the faith, is a good deed and they should not be criticised for this. The issue is whether they needed to make their prayer life public.
In Matthew chapter 6, before giving us what we call the ‘Lord’s prayer’, Jesus has this to say on the subject of prayer.
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:5
Prayers for Prof Dawkins and his family https://t.co/KxBBkBrECk— Church of England (@c_of_e) February 12, 2016
Now there is no doubt that there is a difference between corporate prayer and our own private prayer time. Contextually, this verse was speaking to the Pharisees who were known for doing things out in the open to showcase their ‘holy than thou’ nature. I don’t believe that this was the heart of the tweet as I do think the CofE have a genuine concern for the situation. I also believe that the CofE as an institution has every right to let its members know that it is praying for an individual and corporately invite its members to do so.
At the same time, they could have communicated this to members through an alternative channel. Some have also said that they haven’t publicly stated prayer requests for any other individuals in recent times, so to do so for someone who is known for his opposition of faith could be seen as patronising and inflammatory.
For the Christian, doing the right thing is not always black and white. Praying for Dawkins is definitely the right thing to do, but whether it was needed to be said publicly is another issue. What is important is the spirit in which it’s done. For example, the gospel informs people of their current relationship with God and lets them know how repentance and believing in Jesus can change it. Still, beside its good message, if it is not preached with love and a sincere heart, it could be ineffective. Therefore as Christians, we must match doing the right thing alongside using the right motivation.
In an age where every act can be scrutinised on social media within seconds, our actions are under the microscope more than ever. This is hard terrain for Christian’s to navigate, so we must strive as much as possible to have the right motivation, even if we believe we are doing good.