Contact on site: Peggy Nienaber, 202-236-0953
Today the Supreme Court will announce its decision in the case known as “Hobby Lobby.” Without rehearsing again all of the details, I’ll simply say that at the heart of it is the question of whether corporations have religious rights, specifically as they are protected by a federal law called “RFRA” (Religious Freedom Restoration Act).
I believe corporations do have religious rights and ought to be governed by them. In the case of the retail chain Hobby Lobby, the corporation really boils down to one family, the Greens of Oklahoma City. There’s another family in this, too, the Hahns of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, who, like the Greens, chose to incorporate their cabinet making business. The Court should have an easier time with these two entities because they’re not multinational operations with hundreds or thousands of stockholders. They’re made up of just two families that own each business, respectively, and entirely.
With each day I grow more confident the Court will rule in the favor of these two families, but I’m hoping it goes further. Christian investors typically want their business interests to reflect their most deeply held convictions, and the First Amendment protects them in doing just that.When someone starts a business it’s an extension of themselves–it’s a part of their being. For virtually all entrepreneurs, they and their businesses are one in the same. That’s equally true for conscientious investors of every stripe. There are even “socially responsible mutual funds” that assure clients their money will be used in ways that are consistent with their values. The Court should affirm all this in its ruling.
The Bible makes no distinction between someone’s private, personal life, and their business activities. Numerous passages address the moral and spiritual obligations that attend to business, such as Proverbs 11:1, “Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight.” The Ten Commandments apply equally to businesses and individuals. In his book, Why Business Matters to God, author Jeff Van Duzer writes, “[F]or Christians interested in advancing God’s agenda of peace, justice and reconciliation, a focus on business and its role in society is critical.”
After sitting through the oral arguments in this case March, it was clear to me that several of the justices understand this important principle of Christian business ownership. Others do not get it. I’m convinced, though, enough of them are skeptical of the government’s claim that the new health insurance regime requires forcing businesses to comply with the contraception mandate that they will strike it down in these two instances. But, if the right justice authors the opinion, we might get something a little closer to the biblical mandate on business ethics. That’s the focus of my prayer today. In any case, after 20 years observing court decisions, even if today isn’t so good for the First Commandment, I think it will be a good day for the First Amendment.
The House and Senate have passed a law directing that the famous D-Day prayer offered over radio by President Franklin Delanor Roosevelt be inscribed on the World War II monument here in Washington, DC.
Here’s the prayer:
My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.
And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas — whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them–help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.
Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.
Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.
And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.
And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.
With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.
Thy will be done, Almighty God.
As you can see, this prayer is no “quickie.’ This is a well thought out, well constructed, theologically deep orison. I suspect even the eloquent FDR had some help with it. If you know the older Episcopalianism of which Roosevelt was part, you may detect the ring of a bishop. Presidents rarely have time to craft their own words, especially presidents at war. Perhaps a call to the Washington Cathedral yielded a ready writer. In any case, Roosevelt did offer the prayer, in its entirety, and read it quite sincerely. It was a wonderful gift of faith and hope at the end of an exhausting, terrible, and very costly war.
I’m hopeful the current president (at war) will quickly sign the legislation and order up the engravers. There is a certain urgency about this. World War II veterans–the very ones the Commander-in-Chief prayed for in 1944–are passing away rapidly. They should be given the pleasure of seeing that beautiful presidential prayer for them incused on that breathtaking granite tribute to their many sacrifices.
The FDR prayer would also accomplish something else meaningful: It would telegraph a message that prayer is neither partisan (Democrats pray, too), nor alien. It has been part of the American experience and culture since before we were a Republic, and it has served us well in every way, particularly during times of crisis. Should the current president not sign this act, it will say something very different; something I’m sure he does not intend to say.
I add my “Amen” to the to the posting of the FDR D-Day prayer!
P.S. You can listen to the prayer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLnEmdXaFYE
It really grates on me. I cringe every time I hear a pundit or politician say, “An overwhelming number of Americans want this.” Equally irritating is, “The numbers are with us on this. It’s a no-brainer.” Maybe it’s because I spend my time on issues that are not numbers related. When it comes to questions of right and wrong, good verses evil, morality and ethics statistics are utterly irrelevant. This is even more true when it comes to the will and command of God. We don’t say something is right, or something is good, because a majority of the people think it is.
There are a lot of criteria for determining the right and the good, but they do not include, “Lots of people want this.” Jesus said, “For the gate is wide that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13b-14)
Often only a very few will represent the right and the good. In this country, the abolitionists were very small in number—until it became socially trendy to oppose slavery. The same was true of the patriots that advocated for separation from Great Britain. (In fact, as I read history, they remained a minority of the colonial population. Throughout the War for Independence, the vast majority either favored loyalty to the crown, or, at best, was apathetic.) Follow the patterns up to the present day: The temperance movement against alcohol and domestic abuse, campaigns against child labor, women’s suffrage, civil rights, pro-life causes—and now—religious freedom. All these have nothing to do with majorities of anything.
We can take for granted that majority numbers should certainly not concern ministers of the Gospel, but there are others for whom statistical advantage should be irrelevant. Among others, how about duly elected officials in a representative Republic? One of the biggest mistakes people make about our country, the United States of America, is to call it a democracy. It is not. Our nation is a republic—very different from a democracy. Democratic rule means majority rule. Majority rule can equate to mob rule. In a republic, we elect representatives that we the charge to use their best judgment to do what is right and good for the country—not simply do what we want. Just because the biggest numbers can get their way doesn’t mean they should get their way. And even if they manage to get their way, it doesn’t mean their way becomes is right way.
The rule on right and good and majority / minority applies everywhere, including at the United States Supreme Court. Observers like to say the federal courts are “non-political.” They are anything but non-political. If they aren’t the direct product of the political process, they most certainly have their own internal political dynamics. The majority / minority rule applies just as well to them as any other entity. Just because the majority says it’s right, doesn’t make it right—or good.
You may want to keep all this in mind as we await the big decisions of the Supreme Court this week and next. The two we’re most concerned about, McCullen v. Coakley and Hobby Lobby-Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius, are about the right of free speech and religious liberty, respectively; two issues that are never decided by majorities of anything.
Watch for more as I explore this question of right and wrong, good and evil, yeas and nays.
I grew up with the Beatles. That era wasn’t the best of times, but the Fab Four sure made it sound like it was. I still like the song that John and Paul wrote for Ringo, “With a little help from my friends.” Another British rocker–named Joe Cocker–took that tune way up the charts. What I liked so much about the lyrics is the simplicity of the message. After all, everybody needs help and everybody needs a friend. Even Jesus had friends. He told the disciples, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends . . .” (John 15:15)
One particularly profound moment in the life of Jesus was when he approached the tomb of his friend, Lazurus, who had died in Bethany while Jesus was in Jerusalem. By the time Jesus reached the village, the man who was the brother of Mary and Martha had been dead four days. This is when we get the shortest but one of the most meaningful verses in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) Based on Jesus’ complete life of holiness (Hebrews 4:15), everything He did was sacred. Jesus’ deep feeling at the loss of his friend was sacred. Jesus’ need for his friend was sacred. His healing of Lazurus, and His consequent raising of His friend from the dead were sacred.
Lazurus needed Jesus, but Jesus also needed Lazurus. Friendship, brotherly and sisterly love, the need for one another, are holy and powerful. These are the reasons why, here in Washington, my team and I practice what we call “the ministry of friendship.” Ironically, people that serve in high public office are often lonely and isolated. Washington is a difficult place to have friends. It’s highly competitive, combative, even cut-throat. People are often out to get others before others get them. It’s a tough place to trust anyone. So, my team and I spend a lot of time prayerfully building trusting relationships. Often, someone needs a Christian friend in order to discover that Christ is their friend. For my team, this friendship is an end in itself, but God often uses it for something even greater.
Last week we had a bunch of people in town that have invested themselves deeply in friendships on Capitol Hill, including in the Congress and at the Supreme Court. Over the twenty years I’ve been here, I’ve seen over and over again just how important this ministry of friendship is, especially in strengthening the resolve of those that hold to the principles and convictions that will truly benefit our country. We’ve seen the abundant fruit of this Christian bonding and will see more of it in the immediate days ahead.
Please pray for our friendly missionaries and for the friends they have made in this town. We’ll all soon feel the effects of their important work!
Looking out the front door of our ministry center last week, a visitor who grew up in Washington, DC, and knows a lot about this town said, “Wow. You’re really right here where it all happens!”
The visitor was actually looking at the Supreme Court which sits almost diametrically opposite of our building. Just beyond it, by one block, is the United States Capitol. To the right, by two blocks, are the three U.S. Senate office buildings, and just a short walk to the left are the three office buildings of the House of Representatives. Ten minutes to the northeast is the White House, and the Pentagon is just a 15-minute ride over the Potomac. The avenues and streets in between all these points are lined with the headquarters for most of the various departments of government.
Our visitor was right. We are “where everything happens.” I’m grateful to God for that. So much of the ministry we do in Washington is based on proximity. Just like a church needs to be near the community it seeks to reach with the Gospel, we need to be near those we seek to reach with the truth of God’s Word. Most top-level officials in our federal government are within an easy walk of our front door–not to mention the hundreds of thousands of employees that assist these officials.
I’m especially reminded of the importance of our location when June rolls around. The Supreme Court is in session October to June. As an unofficial rule, cases heard by the justices are generally decided and published in the term in which they were argued. (Although, technically, a case may be held over to the next term, ordered to be re-argued, or simply ignored.) Generally speaking, June is the last month in this term for decisions to be released. The later it gets in June, the greater the tension over impending opinions. And that means my team must be ready to respond at literally a moment’s notice. (I think I’ve posted before on how there is no advance warning of any Supreme Court decision.)
My team and I respond to Supreme Court cases because it’s our obligation to “speak the truth.” (Ephesians 4:25) You’ll often see me in front of the Court, with a bank of microphones in my face, addressing the media. That’s not as easy as it seems. People on the opposite side of every issue try to crowd out our voices. To be heard we need to be first in position. To be first in position we need to be right “where everything happens.”
Maintaining a center of ministry activity immediately across the street from the highest court in the land, just a stone’s throw from the center of federal government at the US Capitol, and in the corridor traveled often by the President of the United States is not easy or cheap. It is, in fact, costly in every way. That’s why we need you and your generosity.
This week I will host several extraordinary friends to this ministry for a very unusual visit to the U.S. Capitol and to the Supreme Court. They will see and hear things no tourist to Washington will ever be exposed to, and they will meet some of the main players in Washington. We do this as a way to demonstrate to our top supporters that their efforts are bearing great fruit for the work of God in the nation’s capital city.
It’s always frustrating to me that we can only bring a very limited number of people to these events. I’d love to include every person that has ever prayed for us or has ever given a dime to help us, but the powers that be just won’t permit it. Please know, though, that you and every friend of Faith and Action counts equally in the plan and purpose of God for this Gospel outreach to our top government officials. As our group gathers today and tomorrow, we will take time to thank God for you as a member of our extended missionary team. Please pray for us as we represent you as your missionaries here in Washington. I’ll be sure to send you a complete report.
Always thankful for you in Christ,
Every now and then I’m asked, “Why do you do it so publicly?”
The questioner is always referring to something they’ve seen me or or a member of our ministry team do covered in the media. Almost always whatever that thing was–prayer, preaching, commenting on an event or on an issue–happened in a very public space. A collection of media photos we keep in our Faith and Action office may indicate we are the most documented doers of things Christian in front of the United States Supreme Court.
There is a reason we do these things so publicly. First, because it’s good for everyone. After all, the Gospel is–well–the Gospel. “Gospel” comes from the Middle English, Godspel, meaning “Good News.” It’s important to point out that this term Gospel does not simply refer to the Gospels themselves, that is the four canonical books authored by the Apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Gospel also refers to the entirety of God’s salvific plan for humankind as revealed through all of Holy Scripture. So, everything we know from the Bible is also Gospel, as in “Gospel Truth.” So, heralding the Gospel is, indeed, Good News for everyone. Jesus even admonishes us to shout this Good News from the housetops. (Matthew 10:27) Housetops are pretty public places.
Sounding forth the Good News is also good for those that do it. There’s something very healthy for our spirits in sharing this soul-saving message of truth. In the process of spiritually building up others we are ourselves built up spiritually. Sounding forth the Gospel reaffirms what we have come to know about it ourselves–that it is the way of hope and salvation (Colossians 1:23). Keeping the Good News only to ourselves is consummately selfish and is condemned by Christ Himself (Matthew 23:13-14) The old saying is true, “Evangelism is just one beggar telling another where to find bread.” Sharing the truth about God, His saving grace, and the only hope of heaven is an act of generosity to our fellow human beings; and a generous person will be blessed (Proverbs 22:9).
Finally, we do public ministry because it’s good for everyone’s human rights. The free exercise of religion, as it is called in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, is the manifestation of the most fundamental of all human rights. Faith is the locus of our deepest and most personal convictions; it is linked inseparably to the conscience, to personal philosophy of life, to the most intimate thoughts and beliefs. If we are intimidated or mandated into not sharing these deep, personal, and intimate thoughts and beliefs, than we cannot be truly free. Most countries, even the most repressive, afford the private right to religious belief. In these countries people may privately “believe” whatever they want, so long as they keep it to themselves. In some of these countries, believers may meet together behind closed doors, but cannot meet openly or publicly. Few Americans would consider any of this true “religious freedom.” Declaring the Gospel openly, praying publicly, airing our religious opinions in the public square, strengthens this fundamental human right for everyone–believer and non-believer alike.
So, now you know why we do what we do so openly. May God preserve our right to do so.
My title plays on what Sarah Palin said in Indianapolis at the recent NRA convention about U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his proposition that gun owners wear bracelets to identify themselves. (But without inserting his proper title, as I have hers.) Now, I’ve always referred to the former governor of Alaska as exactly that, “the Governor,” out of respect for the office she held and the title she rightfully keeps for life. I would never refer to her publicly or privately by saying, “Hey Palin, you don’t want to go there, girly.” It would be demeaning, disrespectful, and ungentlemanly. So, instead of saying that about the Governor’s remarks on Baptism during her speech at the recent NRA annual meeting in Indianapolis, I will say with all due deference, “Governor, your remarks were highly problematic and I take great exception to them.”
Before I outline my controversy with the Governor, let me place them in context. First, I admire Governor Palin. I was on the stage with her in Dayton, Ohio the day she was announced as GOP presidential candidate John McCain’s vice presidential running mate in 2008. Instead of immediately approaching her, I went to the Senator to congratulate him on picking her, telling him, “Picking Governor Palin is the best decision you’ve made in this campaign, Sir.” I meant it and still believe it. When my wife, Cheryl and I visited the Palins in their home in Alaska, we observed her as the consummate mother, a gracious host, and a very smart and fun person to be around. She and Todd doted on their young son with Down Syndrome and made us feel like family. On that day I came not only to admire her, but to like her as a person. More than all this, Sarah Palin is my sister in Christ, which makes her closer to me than blood kin. We share in the same inheritance of faith–and that’s why I have a serious controversy with her over her remarks at the NRA convention.
Before I detail that, though, let me say one more thing: I was at the NRA meeting because I am a new member of the NRA. And, because I was a Ring of Fire Co-Chair at the event, I was offered a complimentary Life Membership. I was delighted to accept and can’t wait to receive my credentials. Regrettably, I had left early to return to Washington, so I did not hear her in person, but I did watch the entirety of the speech on video.
Now you know I’m not writing this as a contrarian, a dupe of the liberal left, or a defector from the camp. I write this as a concerned citizen, brother in Christ, and minister of the Gospel, mindful of St. Paul’s admonition in Galatians 6:1. The Great Apostle instructs us that if we encounter a fellow Christian who is “overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” So, in meekness, and in the knowledge that I have made and will make the same kind of error Governor Palin made, I offer her these humble words of correction: On the doctrine of baptism, “Governor Palin, you don’t want to go there, Sister.”
If you don’t know what I am referring to, the Governor said in her talk about the treatment of enemy detainees, “If I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”
The Governor’s dark humor–if that’s what it was–is a serious fault indeed. It is theologically heretical, utterly sacrilegious, and supremely irresponsible. It contradicts the Gospel, it demeans Holy Baptism, and it possibly places the lives of Christians around the world at risk. I’ll explain . . .
First, baptism is a sign of the Gospel of mercy and grace, not punishment and coercion. “Waterboarding,” as an “enhanced interrogation technique,” is designed to extract confessions and information under frightful duress from prisoners of war. The tactic is meant to cause suffering and panic. In contrast, the Gospel comes from the Middle English, “Godspel,” a translation of the New Testament Greek word, “euangelion,” or, “Good News.” St. Paul says about this Good News, “For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received—that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) Baptism is our identification with this Good News, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) Baptism is associated with the Good News; waterboarding is associated with the worst sort of bad news. Baptism is a sign of merciful forgiveness; waterboarding is a sign of punishing condemnation.
Secondly, baptism is in the sole purview of the church, administered by the people of God, principally pastors, or shepherds of souls, within the community of faith made of voluntary membership. Waterboarding is an instrument of the secular state, administered by marshals or agents of that secular state, whose job is to punish, not forgive, and to compel–not invite–offenders to surrender their confession. So, waterboarding is in every way the opposite of baptism, not the equivalent to it. To suggest that an agent of the secular state can use a form of baptism to frighten an enemy to surrender is to commit an historic error perpetrated by Christians. St. Paul instructed the Corinthian believers, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4)
Lastly, to equate waterboarding to baptism is to place Christian lives at risk. It plays right into the hands of the very jihadist murderers that the Governor rightfully decried in her remarks. Jihadis propagandize their target populations, deceptively purporting that Christians are out to forcefully convert Muslims, compel them to become Christian Americans, and subjugate them to western imperialism. For Governor Palin to have made her reckless remarks against the backdrop of a gun convention that, among other things, asserts the rights of Americans to arm themselves against government, makes the message all that more confusing. I will not be surprised if her speech is used in jihadi videos to not only recruit more terrorists, but to declare “holy war” against Christians, especially in places where they are vulnerable minorities.
Governor Palin, my dear Sister in Christ, I admonish you in the name of the Lord to retract your comments about waterboarding and baptism and clarify what you were doing and trying to say. In the future, when it comes to sacred concepts such as Holy Baptism, I remind you again of what you said about the Attorney General’s wrongly conceived idea, “Don’t go there.”
Rev. Rob Schenck, D.Min, president and lead missionary, Faith and Action in the Nation’s Capital.
(For identification purposes only, Rev. Schenck, who holds degrees in Bible, theology, and Christian ministry, is chairman of the Evangelical Church Alliance, America’s oldest association of independent evangelical ministers, missionaries, and military chaplains.)
Today, Thursday, May 1, is by federal statute, the National Day of Prayer. This observance has a long and storied history that predates the formal birth of our republic. Regardless of what one thinks about the actual practice of civic prayer, its long presence in American public life says something about its importance. The prominence of National Days of Prayer has waxed and waned through the years, depending on the exigencies of the day, but it remains an important observance on every level of government. Events associated with the National Day of Prayer include those held United States Capitol complex, in state houses, county courthouses, and in village greens across the country.
Our Faith and Action ministry team will host a group of pastors for three important events today, including the only National Day of Prayer observance at the United States Supreme Court. Because I’m marooned up north by the bad weather (all flights to Washington cancelled due to the big storms up and down the east coast), my identical twin brother, Rev. Paul Schenck, will lead our prayer service atop the High Court’s plaza. Until recent years, it had been illegal to as much as bow one’s head in silent prayer anywhere on the Court’s property, but after a very civil and cordial exchange with court officials, that ban was lifted. Ever since, we have conducted this annual prayer time, reminding the members of the Judicial Branch of the One whom our Founders referred to in the Declaration of Independence as, “The Supreme Judge of the World.”
The earliest national document related to a day of prayer was issued by the Continental Congress in 1775, calling for, “a day of publick [sic] humiliation, fasting, and prayer,” to be observed by the “English Colonies,” to, among other purposes, “bless our rightful sovereign, King George the Third…” (Well, sometimes you can’t even get prayer exactly right!)
George Washington called for National days of prayer and thanksgiving, and Presidents Adams and Madison, and, most famously Lincoln, recommended days of fasting, prayer, and humiliation. Most famously–or infamously–Thomas Jefferson refused to issue proclamations on prayer. Personal notes scrawled between the lines of his still controversial 1802 letter to the Danbury Association of Baptists (from which the Supreme Court poached the phrase “wall of separation between church and state”) reveal his motivations for opting out of national days of prayer. In his own hand, the third chief executive wrote, “I have refrained from prescribing even those occasional performances of devotion, practiced indeed by the Executive of another nation as the legal head of its church, but subject here, as religious exercises only to the voluntary regulations and discipline of each respective sect, confining myself therefore to the duties of my station, which are merely temporal. . . ” Jefferson thought it was not the business of secular political leaders to direct the spiritual affairs of the American people. Something that ought to give all of us pause.
Jefferson’s break with tradition didn’t last, however. Many of his his successors took up the practice of issuing proclamations on prayer. Records indicate that presidents have issued 142 total calls to national prayer since 1789.
The matter of whether or not presidents called for national days of prayer was settled permanently in 1952 when Congress passed a bill, signed into law by President Harry Truman, that requires presidents to recommend national prayer days each year. Since then, every president has signed at least one National Day of Prayer proclamation. Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush, and Barack Obama signed multiple proclamations on prayer in the same year.
In 1988, Congress took an additional step and set the first Thursday of each May for observance of the National Day of Prayer. President Ronald Reagan signed the new law into effect and became one of its most avid proponents.
There are different feelings about government actors urging citizens to undertake sacred exercises. Some believe it is necessary, foundational to a good society, salutary, and in keeping with our American heritage and identity. Others believe it is an illegitimate imposition of religious belief on the citizenry; that it leads to bias on the part of government and marginalization of those who don’t conform to religious norms. Several major lawsuits have been fought over the National Day of Prayer. The most recent was initiated by the so-called Freedom from Religion Foundation. In 2010 a federal district court found in the group’s favor, striking down presidential proclamations on prayer as a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment, but a federal appeals panel overturned that decision on grounds that the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the suit. The question is likely to return to the courts. Still, courts, Congress, and presidents consistently uphold the constitutionality of this practice.
For now, the United States leads North American nations in its regular call to its citizenry to seek the help of Heaven for challenges that face us, for the many needs among the American people, for the comfort of those suffering loss, especially from calamities, and for our brave men and women in uniform that defend our freedoms every day.
The very first prayer offered in Congress expresses the deep and abiding sentiment of our American civilization. By today’s standards, it’s very long, but it warrants a read by every American citizen. I hope you’ll take time to examine it below and prayerfully contemplate its implications.
Remember our Faith and Action team, too, as they participate in three major National Day of Prayer functions today. God bless you and all yours on this important day, and may God continue to bless the United States of America as we turn our hearts to Him.
The First Prayer Offered in Congress, September 7, 1774:
O Lord our Heavenly Father, high and mighty King of kings, and Lord of lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all the Kingdoms, Empires and Governments; look down in mercy, we beseech Thee, on these our American States, who have fled to Thee from the rod of the oppressor and thrown themselves on Thy gracious protection, desiring to be henceforth dependent only on Thee. To Thee have they appealed for the righteousness of their cause; to Thee do they now look up for that countenance and support, which Thou alone canst give. Take them, therefore, Heavenly Father, under Thy nurturing care; give them wisdom in Council and valor in the field; defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries; convince them of the unrighteousness of their Cause and if they persist in their sanguinary purposes, of own unerring justice, sounding in their hearts, constrain them to drop the weapons of war from their unnerved hands in the day of battle!
Be Thou present, O God of wisdom, and direct the councils of this honorable assembly; enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation. That the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that order, harmony and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish amongst the people. Preserve the health of their bodies and vigor of their minds; shower down on them and the millions they here represent, such temporal blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come. All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior.
Reverend Jacob Duché
Rector of Christ Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
September 7, 1774, 9 o’clock a.m.