I am not a fan of having government officials proclaim a “National Day of Prayer.”
If religious leaders want to proclaim such a day for their followers, that’s terrific — although Isaiah 58 ought to make them a bit cautious about the idea. That passage provides God’s sarcastic dismissal of such a proclamation.
And, yes, Isaiah 58 presents itself as the verbatim words of God, and God’s words there are dripping with sarcasm. You people want to have a special day to honor God? God says. Right. As if …
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgements,
they delight to draw near to God.
‘Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
(For the full impact of Isaiah 58, try reading the above aloud in a voice like the one Jon Stewart uses when he’s doing the Jersey Tough Guy shtick.)
So, OK, if religious leaders and their followers have already been busily loosing the bonds of injustice, undoing the thongs of the yoke, letting the oppressed go free, breaking every yoke, sharing their bread with the hungry, bringing the homeless poor into their houses, clothing the naked and remembering that we are all brothers and sisters, then such religious leaders should feel free to proclaim a National Day of Prayer.
And as for government officials, they have no business making such a proclamation. That’s not their job and that’s not their business.
I’m utterly opposed to the idea that such a day of prayer ought to be nationalized. Once the thing becomes nationalized and official and established it becomes another thing entirely. Prayer is not something to be rendered unto Caesar, nor is it something Caesar ought to be put in charge of, asked to bless, permit, allow or establish. A Nationalized Day of Prayer defeats the purpose and will inevitably wind up with pious posturing in which repentance and thanksgiving are transposed. Politicians offer pompous thanksgiving for national shames about which we ought to be begging God’s forgiveness while at the same time lamenting many of the things most pleasing to God. A Nationalized Day of Prayer — or a nationalized prayer breakfast — is bound to wind up backwards and upside-down.
Yet the National Day of Prayer has been an annual American ritual since 1952. It’s an annual American ritual that flagrantly violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, but that hasn’t slowed it down any.
Every year since 1952, every U.S. president has issued a proclamation of the annual National Day of Prayer. Here is this year’s, from President Barack Obama: “Presidential Proclamation — National Day of Prayer, 2012.”
Bookmark that link. In a few weeks, the Good Christian Bearers of False Witness will be telling you that no such proclamation ever existed because the evil, Kenyan, secret-Muslim atheist socialist in the White House is waging a war against the religious liberty of the righteous white straight people now suffering so much persecution.