Why is the National Day of Prayer so Offensive?

In the wake of a ruling by a Federal judge a few weeks ago that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional, many Christians have been up in arms at the possibility of the cancellation of future Prayer Day events. This brings up a couple points.

  1. Christians don’t need an officially recognized day to pray for our nation. We ought to be doing this all the time.
  2. While I believe we should desire (and work to produce) leaders who share our vision for this country and, more importantly, for God’s Kingdom, our Constitutional liberty to worship freely and openly as Christians is dependent on the liberty of others to worship (or refrain from worship) freely and openly as they choose as well. The Founding Fathers (even the devoutly Christian ones) were quite explicit in their writings in this regard. A distinctly Christian National Day of Prayer would be both unconstitutional and ultimately detrimental to our freedom to worship as Christians in this country. This is not what we have, though.
  3. An ecumenical Day of Prayer which treats all religions (including non-religion) as equal and invites each to “pray, or otherwise give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences” (source: President Obama’s NDP Proclamation, April 30, 2010) should not conflict with the Constitution in any way. If it mandated or forced folks to pray, it would be a different story.
  4. This ecumenical version of the NDP is certainly not new to the Obama administration. George W. Bush held annual prayer services with proponents of various religions each of his eight years in office, as did his father. Clinton did not formally observe NDP at the White House, but called for citizens to pray, “each after his or her own manner” (source), which is nearly identical to the wording used by Ronald Reagan (source). Do we see a pattern here?

The point I’m trying to get at is that even IF the National Day of Prayer had been canceled, as had been rumored, it really shouldn’t have been a big deal for Christians. As Christians, it should concern us more that we have a day that promotes pluralism, and blurs the distinction between mutually exclusive systems of belief. Even the expressly Christian National Day of Prayer Task Force (honorarily chaired by Franklin Graham) claims to be based upon “Judeo-Christian” principles (source), which has become something of a pet peeve for me because the term itself is pluralistic.

The National Day of Prayer, as an American event, does nothing to advance the Christian faith or to exalt Christ. If Americans weren’t so eager to be offended, there would be nothing offensive (for Christians, atheists, or any other group) about what the courts, Congress, or Presidents have said about the NDP since its inception in 1952.

All that being said, it is a GOOD thing when God’s people pray for their nation. It is a GOOD thing when we do this corporately and publicly. It is a GOOD thing when Christians set aside denominational differences to come together in large numbers to pray for our leaders, our churches, and our countrymen. It’s even a GOOD thing to set aside a specific time to do this annually. The simple fact is, though, that we ought to do this as Christians, not as a nation.

It is in this spirit that I direct you to an intercessory prayer for our nation offered by R.C. Sproul. When Christians commune together in prayers such as this, it can only result in God being glorified in our communities and in our nation.

A Prayer for Our Nation, by R.C. Sproul

P.S. — My browsing of the website for the National Day of Prayer Task Force raised two additional observations.

First, this year’s theme verse is Nahum 1:7, which reads “The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him.” This is a great verse of comfort, but I wonder how many who read it will realize that it comes in the context of one of the most striking examples of God’s righteous wrath in all of Scripture? We certainly do tend to concentrate on His attributes of mercy and love more than on His justice and holiness. I wonder, though… is the Task Force making a veiled assertion about the current status of our country? Do they see America as a modern-day Ninevah? Not saying they’d be right or wrong if they do, I’m just curious. Take some time to read Nahum (it’s short) and tell me what you think.

Secondly, I think the Task Force has greatly misrepresented Thomas Jefferson when they use the following quote to justify a National Day of Prayer (source):

“Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the time for these exercises, and the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and right can never be safer than in their hands, where the Constitution has deposited it.” Thomas Jefferson, 1808

This quote comes from a letter Jefferson wrote to Reverend Samuel Miller, which you can read here. Depending on what he meant by “religious society”, he may have been advocating something similar to what I’ve suggested (i.e. — individual religions organizing their own days of prayer), but in the context of the letter he likely means that only states should be able to have a day of prayer, and even then he is very hesitant to say that it ought to be done. What is made exceedingly plain, however, is that he was wholeheartedly opposed to the idea of a national day of fasting or prayer.

Christian organizations do themselves (and the Christian faith) no favors by resorting to this sort of deception, whether intended or otherwise.

2 comments on “Why is the National Day of Prayer so Offensive?

  1. Adam Ely says:

    Good Post. Its kind of like what you were telling me the other day about the Republican congressman Lynn Westmoreland being interviewed by Steve Colbert. He was campaigning to get the 10 Commandments posted in all government buildings but when asked what they were he could only name three. It seems like a lot of people are up in arms about this, but I wonder how many even remembered to actually pray for our nation today.
    Interesting observation of Nahum as well. I doubt they had that in mind but it is fitting…

  2. Michial Lewis says:

    Congratulations on a clear, concise, well-crafted and well-documented article. Hear! Hear! You should update and post it every year on NPD. Thanks for posting this for us to see.

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