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Bush speaks at prayer event attended by SBC leaders

WASHINGTON (BP)–It is important for Americans “to pause and recognize our help in ages past and our hope for years to come,” President Bush said in a White House event attended by a number of Southern Baptist Convention leaders on National Day of Prayer.

The May 3 ceremony included comments from Bush, as well as remarks and a prayer by former SBC President Adrian Rogers. It marked the 50th anniversary of the observance and was the first time such a Day of Prayer event had been held at the White House, NDP leaders said.

In his brief statement, the president said the American character is “strong and confident, but we have never been reluctant to speak of our own dependence on providence.”

“Throughout our history, in danger and division, we have always turned to prayer,” Bush said. “And our country has been delivered from many serious evils and wrongs because of that prayer.”

He acknowledged Americans cannot “presume to know every design of our creator or to assert a special claim on his favor.”

America has “many experiences of prayer,” Bush said, “but I suspect that many who pray have something in common: That we may pray for God’s help, but as we do so we find that God has changed our deepest selves. We discover that the most sincere of all prayers can be the simple words, ‘Thy will be done.’ And that is a comfort more powerful than all our plans.”

Bush said he recognizes many Americans pray for him as he makes decisions, and he considers those prayers a “gracious gift.”

Rogers, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in suburban Memphis, Tenn., and a three-time SBC president, prayed for the president, asking God to “give him the tongue of the learned and the mind of Christ.” He also asked for courage and compassion for Bush. He prayed for “peace to rest upon” the White House and the nation’s capital.

Several Southern Baptist agency heads, seminary presidents and elected leaders, as well as their spouses in some cases, attended the White House event: James Merritt, president of the convention and pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church, Snellville, Ga.; Morris H. Chapman, president of the Executive Committee; Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Robert E. Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board; O.S. Hawkins, president of the Annuity Board; R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky.; William Crews, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Mill Valley, Calif.; Phil Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Mo.; and Claude Thomas, chairman of the Executive Committee and pastor of First Baptist Church, Euless, Texas.

Also attending were Jerry Falwell, longtime independent Baptist pastor in Lynchburg, Va., whose church has been affiliated with the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia in recent years; Paul Pressler, retired Houston judge who was a leader in the SBC’s conservative resurgence; and Harold O’Chester, pastor of Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin, Texas.

Others attending included James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, and Christian musician Michael W. Smith. Also present were some members of Bush’s cabinet; several members of Congress, including House of Representatives Majority Whip Tom DeLay; and John DiIulio, head of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives.

During the 18-minute ceremony in the East Room, Shirley Dobson, chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, presented to the president Day of Prayer proclamations from governors of the 50 states and a painting commissioned for the occasion of a father reading the Bible to his two young daughters.

Afterward, Bush hosted a reception for the about 170 people attending.

Reccord noted that the president became very emotional and his eyes became watery when talking about his appreciation for the prayers of Christians. Reccord, in meeting Bush, said he was impressed by “his incredible humility and the authenticity of his faith.”

The White House event was one of about 20,000 prayer observances in the 50 states, according to the NDP’s Internet site.

The traditional observance in the capital was held before the White House event with an overflow crowd gathered at the Cannon Office Building of the House of Representatives. Charles Colson, chairman of Prison Fellowship, was the keynote speaker.

At least one strict-separationist organization criticized the White House event, calling it an attempt by the president to strengthen his ties with religious conservatives. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said Bush “should not use his office to promote a narrow religious agenda. He holds the office of president, not national pastor.”