President Bush has proclaimed Thursday, May 1, 2008 as the 57th annual National Day of Prayer. All across the Nation, there will be privately-sponsored prayer breakfasts, prayer walks and prayer gatherings at state capitol buildings, city halls, churches, schools and parks. In Washington, D.C., there is a 90-hour prayer and Bible-reading marathon outside of the Capitol building leading up to the National Day of Prayer.
Similar events will be held in many cities and towns. Public events have been organized by churches and religious organizations in all 50 states. Liberty Counsel will be participating in the 41st annual Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast in Orlando, Florida, which is a Kick-Off Event for National Day of Prayer events throughout Central Florida.
It sounds like a serene and unifying time for Americans to be reminded of our deep and historical religious roots. However, whenever God is mentioned in this society, controversy cannot be far behind. Some groups like the pro-Muslim group, CAIR (Counsel on American Islamic Relations), complain that prayer events organized by Christians on that day are slanted towards Christianity, rather than being “inclusive” of other faiths. They want to hijack the traditional Christian prayer events and turn the national focus from a time of intersession into a watered-down version with moments of silence and reflection.
A California chapter of the anti-Christian group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is trying to undermine Christians by petitioning Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger not to support events hosted by evangelical Christians. The ultra-liberal Interfaith Alliance of Central California is actually holding a protest at a Christian prayer event in that state.
One radical group is insisting that “other faith traditions” be included in any public observances that are organized by the National Day of Prayer Task Force, which is a private Christian group that was started in order to coordinate events on the National Day of Prayer. The prayer coordinators sign a statement of faith in Jesus. There are recent indications that some with the Task Force may be bowing to pressures to try not “offend” non-Christians by praying in Jesus’ name. Honorary Chairman Ravi Zacharias plans to deliver a prayer at an interdenominational National Day of Prayer event in Washington, D.C. Instead of invoking Jesus’ name, his written prayer concludes, “In God’s Holy Name.”
Zacharias’ prayer stands in stark contrast to the first prayer of the Continental Congress, which was delivered on September 7, 1774 by Reverend Jacob Duché. That distinctly Christian prayer ended with the words: “All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior. Amen.” It is the name of Jesus that separates the Christian faith from non-Christian faiths.
This nation was birthed by Christianity and national prayers have traditionally recognized that fact. The National Day of Prayer was established by an act of Congress in 1952, but the origin of prayer proclamations pre-date Congress.
Here is a list of a just a few of this Nation’s many prayer proclamations:
• On June 12, 1775 the First Continental Congress issued a proclamation for a national day of “Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer,” held on July 20. This event set the precedent for future proclamations.
• Congress set May 17, 1776, as a “day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer” throughout the colonies. Congress urged Americans to “confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and by a sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease his [God’s] righteous displeasure, and through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain his pardon and forgiveness.”
• John Adams continued the practice of issuing fasting and prayer proclamations, when he declared May 9, 1798 for that purpose.
• Congress set the first Thursday in May, 1779 as a day of “Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer to Almighty God.”
• President George Washington declared Feb. 19, 1795 a day for prayer and public thanksgiving.
• President John Adams proclaimed May 9, 1798 a national day of “Solemn Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer.”
• President James Madison proclaimed a day of “public humiliation and prayer” in August, 1812 in response to a joint resolution of Congress calling for the proclamation.
• President James Buchanan proclaimed a national day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer for January 4, 1861.
• President Abraham Lincoln signed a Congressional Resolution calling for a Day of Prayer on March 30, 1863.
• President Harry Truman signed legislation in 1952 proclaiming a National Day of Prayer. The bill had widespread support and passed unanimously by Congress.
• In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed Public Law 100-307 which was passed by Congress to fix the annual National Day of Prayer permanently on the first Thursday of May. Vonette Bright, Co-founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, who headed the National Prayer Committee, proposed the legislation that was unanimously approved by both houses of Congress.
Days of prayer and fasting are a traditional and important part of American history. Prayer and spiritual renewal are necessary to sustain liberty. We need leaders in all sectors, both public and private, who are not afraid to acknowledge Jesus Christ. Christians should never forget Who gave us our freedom. Without Him, this Nation will not and cannot long endure.