This evening the Pastor and I attended the local observance
of the 58th Annual observance of the National Day of Prayer. This year’s theme was “Prayer…America’s Hope.” The occasion was OK. It was Scripture-based with
free prayer offered for certain areas of concern (business, family, education,
military, government, church). I was only impressed that 50 gathered for prayer
for the nation, state and city; I wasn’t particularly impressed by the concern
for all faiths to be represented. One significant disappointment was that it
was too Christian, (too evangelical) and not interfaith. This is not the
typical complaint you would ordinarily hear from me but the fact is event was the
National Day of Prayer it was designed to be inclusive of the city’s various
faith traditions. I freely admit that many occasions of prayer done in the
interfaith mode are vapid and simply not done well. The representatives of the
Jewish and Muslim faiths were not present and neither were the Buddhist monks
nor the Episcopalians nor Lutherans. It would’ve been good to have the
clergypeople from the various ecclesial communities and interfaith communities
present, but let’s be careful not to fall into the trap of essentialism.
The National Day of Prayer was established in 1952 by President
Truman and President Reagan determined by resolution in 1988 to observe the day
on the first Thursday of May.
The problem I have with President Obama on this matter is
that he decided to sideline public observance of prayer under the guise that he
didn’t want to wear his faith on his cufflinks. Fine, don’t make a show it. But
let’s be honest, does the President think he can run the country without God?
Does he think that his example is good leadership? So, ultimately I can accept
that the White House would not have its own prayer time but that they would not
attend any of the other prayer observances in the District, including the
National Day of Prayer Task Force, I find arrogant.
The President’s press secretary Robert Gibbs says that
“Prayer is something the President does everyday.” Really? I am unconvinced.
Of course, the President can neither tell us to pray nor how
to pray but he does open the possibility for the nation to pray for the good of
the nation by his own witness. If an atheist were chagrined by a prayer day
then that person could simply observe a moment of silence or offer a poem that
lends itself to the ideal of patriotism or the common good. Whatever the case
may be in today’s context, the point is that is important to gather people of
good will with the hope of being united in something spiritual, something that
takes the other person’s destiny seriously.
For those interested in some further thinking on ecumenism and interfaith matters, I recommend Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI’s Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions (Ignatius Press, 2004).