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Attacks on National Day of Prayer may be a good thing


The publishing date for this issue of The Christian Index, May 6th, is also the National Day of Prayer in the United States. Throughout the nation’s history there have been several national days of prayer, but the idea of an annual national day of prayer was introduced by evangelist Billy Graham in 1952.

Graham was hosting a rally in Washington, D.C., in which he called for a national day of prayer and envisioned a “great spiritual awakening” for the capital with “thousands coming to Jesus Christ.”

Graham’s idea was introduced in the House the next day, then later to the Senate as a measure against the “corrosive forces of communism which seek simultaneously to destroy our democratic way of life and the faith in an Almighty God on which it is based.”

On April 17, 1952 President Harry S. Truman signed the bill proclaiming each following president must declare a National Day of Prayer at an appropriate date of his choice.

In 1988, at the urging of Campus Crusade for Christ and the National Day of Prayer Committee, Congress enacted legislation requiring the president to issue an annual proclamation declaring the first Thursday in May as the National Prayer Day. President Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law.

However, last month U.S. District Judge Barbara B. Crabb (who was appointed to her position by Jimmy Carter in 1979) of Madison, Wis., ruled that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional. The federal judge stated that the law designating the day and requiring a presidential proclamation for the day violates the First Amendment prohibition against laws respecting an establishment of religion.

Crabb’s ruling has received mixed reviews. Some have criticized the judge’s pronouncement. Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki suggested that eliminating the day of prayer would constitute “a missed opportunity to acknowledge our nation’s identity, which was founded on our dependence on God.

Then you have author Tommi Avicolli Mecca, who writes, “A day of prayer is a stupid idea! It’s time to turn the tables on the religious right.

“Atheists, agnostics, and other nonbelievers (about 16 percent of Americans, according to the latest study) should seize the moment and declare the day as our own, a ‘National Day Without Prayer.’ On the first Thursday of next month (May), we should wear T-shirts and buttons declaring ourselves free from religion.”

The differences of opinion simply illustrate the cultural war we are facing. William Dembski might well view this debate as healthy. Dembski is a research professor in philosophy at Southwestern Seminary, a prolific author, and a champion of intelligent design.

In his book “The End of Christianity,” Dembski recalls what he encountered in his pursuit of a postdoctoral fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He mused, “I was struck by how readily my colleagues regarded Christianity as passé. They did not think that Christianity was dangerous and had to be stamped out. They thought that Christianity lacked vitality and deserved to be ignored.

“Its stamping out was, in their minds, a long-accomplished fact – the war was over and Christianity had lost.”

Dembski contends that much has changed in our culture in the last 20 years. He insists that the intelligent design movement has grown internationally and that “Western intellectuals” have begun to take seriously the claim that life and the cosmos are the product of intelligence.

Dembski professes that atheistic materialism is being held in question and that Christianity is no longer being ignored, but “on the table for discussion.”

“This is not to say that the discussion is friendly or that Christianity is about to find widespread acceptance at places like MIT,” Dembski asserts.

“Instead of routinely ignoring Christianity as they did 20 years ago, many Western intellectuals now treat it with open contempt, expending a great many words to denounce it. But this is progress. The dead are ignored and forgotten. The living are scorned and reviled.”

Perhaps we should be encouraged that federal judges want to strip away the National Day of Prayer. Maybe we should be buoyed by the fact that Christianity is under assault in America today.

Maybe we should take heart that atheist Richard Dawkins in his book “The God Delusion” portrays the Judeo-Christian God as “arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction. Jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic-cleanser; a misogynistic homophobic racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

I deplore Dawkins’ characterization of God, but, at least, the Almighty and Christianity are not being ignored. Maybe we are not as Laodicea-like as we have thought. Maybe the potshots at Christianity will arouse us, stir us, challenge us, and motivate us to greater faith and decisive action.

Maybe we will fight to keep the National Day of Prayer a part of the American way of life. But better yet, maybe we will recommit our lives to “pray without ceasing” as the Apostle Paul admonished us to do.

Here is my prayer for the nation: Our Father which art in heaven. Holy is Your name. You alone are worthy of honor and glory. We come before You today to ask for Your forgiveness for our sins of pride, idolatry, apathy, selfishness, greed, and hypocrisy. We have misappropriated Your values and like the people in Isaiah’s day we have “called evil good, and good evil, and put darkness for light and light for darkness.” Forgive us, Oh Lord.

We have broken Your laws, desecrated Your holy day, protected pornographers, abortionists, and those who have exploited people made in Your image. We have taken the government that You created for good and abused it. We have taken what You have made to be holy and perverted it. We have taken what You designed to be special and made it sordid.

Forgive us, Lord. Do not give us what we deserve, but grant us mercy and grace, Your undeserved favor. Grant our president the wisdom and faith to lead our nation in ways that are pleasing to You. Instill in the members of Congress the knowledge and understanding to enact laws that protect the sanctity of life from the unborn to the elderly and help them to promote the good of all people. Grant wisdom and faith to all those who have authority over us. Protect our military and watch over them with Your loving care.

Most of all, send Your Holy Spirit upon our beloved country. Grant that we might be worthy of another spiritual awakening. Make us a people of faith in a time of uncertainty. Help us to trust and obey the one true God, who is our Creator, our Sustainer, and our Redeemer through Jesus Christ, our Lord. For it is His name that we pray. Amen.