For years I’ve had mixed feelings about the National Day of Prayer. I’m all for prayer. I practice it, encourage it, need it. But this particular observance has always felt strange. I think the uneasiness started when I saw the first music CD designed to support the day in 1997. I was highly disturbed that this official soundtrack for national prayer excluded the most prayerful ethnic group in the nation (African American Christians, according to various surveys). In fact, every artist on the collection was an evangelical white Christian. A few years later, a new CD—same thing.
I’m not opposed to evangelical Christians (of which I consider myself) or white people (of any faith) praying and celebrating prayer in their own way, But a national day of prayer should emphasize the prayers of ALL Americans, not just the ones who fit some narrow guidelines. That’s why the events sponsored by Shirley Dobson’s organization AT THE WHITE HOUSE seem unAmerican and unChristian. It’s like they go out of their way to be exclusive. They seem to revel in their exclusiveness. They miss the point. It’s not about making everyone think like you. It’s about praying to the God of the universe.
So I understand why the current President will lift up prayer with a proclamation, but not with an invitation to the Dobsons, who have been unChristianly critical (there is a way to be Christianly critical) of the President. It’s not that the President has anything against prayer—quite to the contrary. More than any President in recent memory, he actually talks about his own prayer life. And notably, prayer is featured at many of his events—a fact baffling to those who organized events for the previous President.
And I expect that President Obama will encourage ALL Americans to pray. Such an encouragement would actually be consistent with the proclamations of most US Presidents, including Mr. GW Bush. Despite his exclusivist actions, the previous President at least expressed this inclusive sentiment in several of his annual proclamations. From 2008:
“I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 1, 2008, as a National Day of Prayer. I ask the citizens of our Nation to give thanks, EACH ACCORDING TO HIS OR HER OWN FAITH, for the freedoms and blessings we have received and for God’s continued guidance, comfort, and protection. I invite all Americans to join in observing this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.”
But year after year, President Bush’s chosen way of observing the day has been the same: Sanctioning the Dobson’s exclusivist effort by inviting them to a White House observance.
I hope the new President will support this day with as much passion, but with a mind to include all pray-ers.
My friends and readers (and friends who are readers), I encourage you to pray even if you do not pray every day. Whether you are an evangelical Christian, as I claim to be, or some other believer or an almost-believer, I ask you to thank the God of the universe, to pray for this nation and for all the nations on this National Day of Prayer.