With today marking the 65th annual National Day Of Prayer, it might be a good time to reflect on one of the more rebellious acts of an out-of-work carpenter who often ruffled the feathers of the leaders of his day. Imagine for a moment that you are a pastor, standing before your congregation, praying publicly for God to bless this, to fix that, etc… Suddenly a complete stranger storms in – shouting insults, demanding you follow his own rules, condemning your religious practices. Would the church take kindly to such a public rebuke? Not likely.
Now, just imagine the same scene in an era of almost unchecked power of the religious leaders back in Jesus’ day… He would make the naughty list (ie. crucifixion for sedition)! But, what does the Bible actually say about an “official day” of public prayer? Let’s find out…
Through a series of serendipitous travel mishaps a couple of years ago, I found myself sitting in a Washington D.C. coffee shop about a block from the National Mall with Agnes (who isn’t American but happened to be meeting clients in the area.) When I walked in, she was visibly excited – asking what was going on, why it seemed so busy, why there were so many protesters on the streets holding dramatic signs demanding everything from bans on abortion and gay marriage to the inclusion of prayer and creationism in public schools. Then it dawned on me – it was the first Thursday in May. The National Day Of Prayer, a religious holiday invented by the U.S. Congress and ratified into law back in 1952. A law written 161 years after our very First Amendment promised freedom of religion… Or lack thereof?
“The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.” – 36 U.S.C. § 119
Earlier that morning, President Barack Obama fulfilled his legal obligation by issuing an annual proclamation required by another public law 100-307, ending his otherwise abstract invocation with the final words:
“I join all people of faith in asking for God’s continued guidance, mercy, and protection as we seek a more just world.” – President Barack Obama, 2014
Of course, this is quite the departure from the first proclamation issued in 1952 by Harry Truman, a born-again Christian:
“Whereas from the earliest days of our history our people have been accustomed to turn to Almighty God for help and guidance… I deem it fitting that this Day of Prayer coincide with the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, which published to the world this Nation’s ‘firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence…’ [I] do hereby proclaim Friday, July 4, 1952, as a National Day of Prayer, on which all of us, in our churches, in our homes, and in our hearts, may beseech God to grant us wisdom to know the course which we should follow, and strength and patience to pursue that course steadfastly. May we also give thanks to Him for His constant watchfulness over us in every hour of national prosperity…” – President Harry Truman, 1952
“Fitting”? On the 4th of July? America’s day of celebrating independence from, among other things, the state sponsored Church of England? Make no mistake – given his history of labeling America as a “Christian Nation,” Truman is not inviting people of all faiths to join in prayer – just the Christians. This, in a time when it was seen as blatantly unAmerican and unPatriotic to not bow your head in prayer whenever expected to do so.
Sound Familiar: Where else do national leaders call out from the halls of power for their citizens to unite in a religious endeavor? Iran, perhaps?
I should point out that the primary organizing body, the National Day of Prayer Task Force is a private Christian non-profit organization out of Colorado. However, their patriotic logo and excellent marketing campaigns certainly give an air of “official business” to the countless Americans who might be heard boasting, “America is a Christian nation! If you don’t like it, get the f*ck out!” In short, the day is a big deal as tens of thousands of churches and partner groups come out across the country to join together in a public prayer that is broadcast from the taxpayer-owned Canon Office Building (between the Capitol Building and the Library of Congress), featuring Christian celebrities like Anne Graham Lotz (daughter of Rev. Billy Graham) and Dr. James Dobson (of Focus on the Family fame). The official verse for 2014 was taken from the Christian New Testament, Romans 15:6, “So that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
According to an April 8, 2014 press release, “The theme for the 2014 National Day of Prayer, is One Voice, United in Prayer, emphasizing the need for individuals to join together in corporate prayer, calling upon the unfailing character of God, who is sovereign over all governments, authorities, and men – the God under whom this nation stands.” So much for praying in private, eh? [UPDATE: The official 2015 theme is “Lord, hear our cry!” (I can’t even begin to dissect the rest of the myopic irony on this year’s National Day of Prayer web page.)]
We chose to illustrate a satirical perspective on the National Day of Prayer, putting the President on the steps of the Capitol Building at a massive rally. This did not happen. In fact, quite the opposite! In 2009 and again in 2010, gullible Christians LOST THEIR MINDS when hoax emails were circulated, claiming, “This year President Obama canceled the 21st annual National Day of Prayer ceremony at the White House under the ruse of ‘not wanting to offend anyone’.” – going on to spread all sorts of blatant propaganda about Obama being a Muslim, holding Islamic prayers at the White House, etc… I received the chain email from at least 15 very angry people.
IN OTHER NEWS: A 2014 study from Pew Research shows that “atheism” would be the worst negative against a candidate from potential voters in the upcoming 2016 elections – regardless of professional or political qualifications. In fact, a lack of belief in God was twice as damaging to a candidate as homosexuality or marijuana use. 70% of Republicans said they wouldn’t be willing to support an atheist candidate, while “only” 43% of Democrats would hold a person’s lack of faith against them. In short, if you don’t believe in God, you have no place in government. More clearly stated, if you don’t openly SAY that you believe in God, you can’t get elected.
QUESTION: I wonder if any politician has ever lied about their faith to get elected and/or hold their office? Nah – that would never happen! Let’s just hope that no sitting president would ever have the audacity of NOT fulfilling their legal duty to issue a proclamation of the National Day of Prayer on the first Thursday in May – as required under federal law.
With that, let us pray…
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Remember: Don’t blame us, it’s in the Bible! We didn’t pull any punches by adding this illustration and related commentary to our second book.