Prayer is a good thing, and the Christian is admonished not only to pray without ceasing but to pray for leaders, especially civic and ecclesial leaders.
The apostle Paul wrote to young Timothy, “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.”
Out of such biblical directives has been crafted one leg of that three-legged stool upon which sits the National Day of Prayer.
A second leg is the American history of public calls for prayer. The Founding Fathers in 1775, President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, and the United States Congress in 1952 are but some of our leaders that have set aside specific days for prayer for our nation. This is a good thing, as long as such prayer includes the broad spectrum of prayer represented in the American populace.
It is that third leg that troubles me, that has kept me from siting on that National Day of Prayer stool…until this year.
Last week, I was the 705th person who walked into the sanctuary of First Baptist Church of Brunswick, Georgia. Because I was the last one to arrive, I climbed to the balcony and sat on the second row.
Being ten minutes late, I missed the national anthem, the pledge to the flag, and the choral special, “American the Beautiful.” Plus, the Lord’s Prayer, which was performed, in English and Latin, by students from a nearby Christian school. It has been a long time since those four things were packaged together in any book, program, or service I have read, led, or attended.
I counted on one hand the people of color in the sanctuary, and most of them were on the platform. I did not need even a finger to count among the ministers present a clerical collar…which meant the absence of Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants.
“All of these ministers are on our invitation list,” the chairman of the planning committee told me the next week. “We genuinely want this to be representative of our community.”
I believe him, I suppose; he sounded genuine. And this year’s slogan, used here and around the country, pushed further in that direction: Love One Another.
But I also believe what I see and hear. No women were given a speaking role. I knew better than to look for Jews or Muslims.
It was, as I expected, a large gathering of white Evangelical Christians, led by white ministers, one of whom had a pistol strapped to his waist when he stood to pray.
There was no sermon, only one mention of Trump, but frequent references to the public servants of our county: police, magistrates, mayors, and such. It had the feel of an old-time revival: warm, enthusiastic, earnest.
There were seven prayers. These prayers were scattered throughout the one-hour ceremony, but the printed book marker distributed here and around the country on this day called for prayer for “the seven centers of influence.”
Government. Military. Media & Arts. Business. Education. Church. Family.
Neither the event chairman nor most (if any) of the attendees recognized this list: “the seven mountains of cultural influence” popular in the Christian Dominion movement. Those in the mainstream of this ideology work to place “Christians” in strategic positions at the top of these “mountains” so as to bring America back to its founding identity as a Christian Nation.
All of this is clear on the website of the national organization, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Yes, it proclaims this: “The National Day of Prayer belongs to all Americans. It is a day that transcends differences, bringing together citizens from all backgrounds.” And yes, it identifies itself as a “Judeo-Christian expression” of this heritage of prayer.
But with its rationale fashioned by Christian Dominionism and the reality of a sanctuary full of white Evangelicals, I dare say that this National Day of Prayer is far from what its forefathers envisioned.
Perhaps next year it will be nearer to that goal—if we can gather in a black Pentecostal church, with the Roman Catholic Bishop serving as master of ceremonies, and the local rabbi leading the unison reading of not-familiar-enough words of the great Hebrew prophet himself:
“What does the Lord require of you? Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah)
That would make it a three-legged stool strong enough for all of us to sit—and pray!
copyright @2019 Dwight A Moody