WASHINGTON (BP)–Tens of thousands of people gathered throughout the United States May 6 to observe the National Day of Prayer, an annual event buffeted by an adverse court ruling this year.
“Prayer is the most powerful resource we have in this life; yet, many only turn to it as a last resort,” Franklin Graham, honorary chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, wrote in a statement urging the nation to pray.
“When unbelievers pray for repentance of sin and ask for God’s forgiveness, prayer is the spiritual dynamite that obliterates the darkness and despair of a sin-soaked soul,” Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, wrote. “For those who have already experienced the grace of Almighty God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, prayer becomes the catalyst for fellowship with the Lord of our souls, redeemed by His blood.
“By tapping into the channel by which we commune with the One who calls His children ‘friends,’ we can receive His strength in our weakness; His guidance in our steps; and His mercy when we stumble along life’s path.”
President Obama issued a proclamation April 30 inviting Americans to give thanks, days after a federal judge ruled that a statute setting a day for the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional, amounting to a governmental call for religious action.
“On this day, let us give thanks for the many blessings God has bestowed upon our nation,” the president said. “Let us rejoice for the blessing of freedom both to believe and to live our beliefs, and for the many other freedoms and opportunities that bring us together as one nation. Let us ask for wisdom, compassion, and discernment of justice as we address the great challenges of our time.”
Obama suggested prayer for those suffering from natural disasters in Haiti, Chile and elsewhere; the families of the West Virginia coal miners who died in April; members of the Armed Forces and their families; and the “unsung heroes” who struggle to build their communities and raise their families.
“I call upon the citizens of our nation to pray, or otherwise give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings, and I invite all people of faith to join me in asking for God’s continued guidance, grace and protection as we meet the challenges before us,” Obama said.
The White House decided to appeal the federal judge’s opinion, giving supporters hope that the day may continue to receive the support of the nation’s highest elected official.
Congress established the National Day of Prayer as an annual event in 1952, and in 1988 the law was amended to set the first Thursday of May for its observance. The law states, “The president shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups and as individuals.”
Events this year included services at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, on the steps of the Capitol and at the Pentagon, where Graham was disinvited to speak because of criticism over comments he made in the past about Islam.
Graham, who said he would still pray for the military apart from the official service, released a “2010 Prayer for the National Day of Prayer” as a guide for those who wanted to participate. In it, he noted that President Lincoln proclaimed that the nation should set apart a day for a national prayer of repentance.
“We have vainly imagined in the deceitfulness of our own hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own,” Lincoln said. “… We have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God who made us. It behooves us then … to confess our national sins and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, spoke Thursday at a National Day of Prayer Breakfast at King’s Daughters Medical Center in Ashland, Ky.
“John Adams said that ‘Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other,'” Land said, adding that 61 percent of Americans say religion is very important in their lives.
Also at the breakfast, Land shared an excerpt from the foreword by Sen. Joe Lieberman, I.-Conn., in Land’s book, “The Divided States of America.”
“It is folly to believe that in a nation where so many hold religious beliefs, that those same people won’t bring to the public square the values their faith has taught them,” Lieberman wrote. “To try to separate America and its people from their faith in God and the values it engenders is an unnatural and unnecessary act.”
Land said believers in America must pray for revival, awakening and reformation.
“Roger Williams talked about a wall to protect the garden of the church from the wilderness of the state. The courts have tried to turn this on its head,” Land said. “The garden wall that was designed to protect the church has been turned into a prison wall to keep people of faith out of the public square. The only way they can get away with that is if we let them.”
In addition to events around the country, a national prayer call was available from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. May 6. Those who wanted to participate could join a conference call with anywhere from two to 96 people to pray for the nation. Also, the national observance in Washington was streamed live.
Meanwhile, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty released a statement saying the president’s proclamation of a National Day of Prayer is misguided and unnecessary.
“The government shouldn’t be in the business of telling the American people what, where or when to pray or even if they should pray,” K. Hollyn Hollman, BJC general counsel, said in a news release May 5.
“… There is nothing wrong with the American people getting together to pray on a designated day, even public officials,” Hollman said. “In fact every day should be a day of national prayer. The problem with the National Day of Prayer is that it is an official act of the government urging citizens to engage in a religious exercise.”
The Baptist Joint Committee often is aligned with other liberal groups such as The Interfaith Alliance and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Though Obama proclaimed this year’s observance, he did not announce plans to participate in any events. Last year, for the first time in eight years, the White House did not host a public ceremony marking the day.
Under the Bush administration, the White House hosted an interfaith service each year, and Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush marked the day with a White House observance.
Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach. Visit nationaldayofprayer.org for more information.
Following is the complete text of President Obama’s proclamation of the National Day of Prayer.
Presidential Proclamation — National Day of Prayer
Throughout our history, whether in times of great joy and thanksgiving, or in times of great challenge and uncertainty, Americans have turned to prayer. In prayer, we have expressed gratitude and humility, sought guidance and forgiveness, and received inspiration and assistance, both in good times and in bad.
On this day, let us give thanks for the many blessings God has bestowed upon our Nation. Let us rejoice for the blessing of freedom both to believe and to live our beliefs, and for the many other freedoms and opportunities that bring us together as one Nation. Let us ask for wisdom, compassion, and discernment of justice as we address the great challenges of our time.
We are blessed to live in a Nation that counts freedom of conscience and free exercise of religion among its most fundamental principles, thereby ensuring that all people of goodwill may hold and practice their beliefs according to the dictates of their consciences. Prayer has been a sustaining way for many Americans of diverse faiths to express their most cherished beliefs, and thus we have long deemed it fitting and proper to publicly recognize the importance of prayer on this day across the Nation.
Let us remember in our thoughts and prayers those suffering from natural disasters in Haiti, Chile, and elsewhere, and the people from those countries and from around the world who have worked tirelessly and selflessly to render aid. Let us pray for the families of the West Virginia miners, and the people of Poland who so recently and unexpectedly lost many of their beloved leaders. Let us pray for the safety and success of those who have left home to serve in our Armed Forces, putting their lives at risk in order to make the world a safer place.
As we remember them, let us not forget their families and the substantial sacrifices that they make every day. Let us remember the unsung heroes who struggle to build their communities, raise their families, and help their neighbors, for they are the wellspring of our greatness. Finally, let us remember in our thoughts and prayers those people everywhere who join us in the aspiration for a world that is just, peaceful, free, and respectful of the dignity of every human being.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 6, 2010, as a National Day of Prayer. I call upon the citizens of our Nation to pray, or otherwise give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings, and I invite all people of faith to join me in asking for God’s continued guidance, grace, and protection as we meet the challenges before us.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirtieth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.