With the National Day of Prayer scheduled for this Thursday May 7, 2009, I wanted to look back at the history of this day, how it started, how it’s changed, and potentially where it’s going. I find it extremely interesting that our country, deemed no longer a nation of Christians by our current administration, had a National Day of Prayer dating back to 1775, as declared by the Continental Congress, when the dominant beliefs of the people were Christianity. This day was “designated for time for prayer in forming a new nation.” Since then there have been several notable declarations including a Congressional resolution of March 30, 1863 by which Abraham Lincoln declared for a day of fasting and prayer during the civil war. On March 17, 1952 President Harry Truman signed into law the annual National Day of Prayer. Building on this, in 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into bill the annual NDP fixing it on the first Thursday of May. President Reagan stated, “On our National Day of Prayer, then, we join together as people of many faiths to petition God to show us His mercy and His love, to heal our weariness and uphold our hope, that we might live ever mindful of His justice and thankful for His blessing.“ What’s important to note here is the new tone of the National Day of prayer to become inclusive, ecumenical if you will, to a multitude of religions. I realize that the office of presidency is in a very difficult position to take measures that avoid alienating people of other faiths, but at the same time, I believe progressive statements like this have opened the door for the declarations of today such as, “we’re no longer a nation of Christians.” Each year, the president signs a proclamation encouraging all Americans to pray on this day. Additionally, all 50 governors plus those of several territories signed similar declarations.
While this day should exemplify the freedoms that this country were founded on, freedoms to worship and pray as each of us see fit, it’s also important to realize that most of our “founding fathers did not mean for our government to be separated from our God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” just as the National Day of Prayer Task Force has argued. In fact, a statement from this Task Force’s website states:
“The National Day of Prayer Task Force was a creation of the National Prayer Committee for the expressed purpose of organizing and promoting prayer observances conforming to a Judeo-Christian system of values. People with other theological and philosophical views are, of course, free to organize and participate in activities that are consistent with their own beliefs. This diversity is what Congress intended when it designated the Day of Prayer, not that every faith and creed would be homogenized, but that all who sought to pray for this nation would be encouraged to do so in any way deemed appropriate. It is that broad invitation to the American people that led, in our case, to the creation of the Task Force and the Judeo-Christian principles on which it is based.”
Every year from 2001-2008, President George W. Bush, joined with James and Shirley Dobson (Focus on the Family) and several other prominent evangelicals to observe the NDP. In fact, there had been no event in the East Room of the White House for this observance until President Bush. As of last week, the Obama administration has yet to release whether any formal event has been planned at the White House, though there appears there won’t be. Currently, the administration seems to indicate there will at least be a proclamation which would be positive step, since there have been 56 presidential proclamations for NDP from 1952-2008.
It saddens me to point this out, but as Christians our challenge is great, even reaching to the highest position(s) in our country. If we are to have a nationwide revival, a modern day “awakening”, it has to start with the people. We can debate the deistic vs. theistic views of our founders or we can realize that it has always been “We the People”, not any specific group or government organization. To fully realize our Christian roots and the foundation on biblical principles that this country was formed, we need to stand together on this National Day of Prayer with prayers and petitions to God for wisdom for our leaders, that their hearts might be softened and that selfish ways and ideologies will depart and the true will of God will be sought.
“Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty of a Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” – John Jay, Founding Father