National Day of Prayer: Evangelicals mobilize; others diversify


THURSDAY, MAY 2: For more than 20 years, the official “National Day of Prayer” organization has been coordinated by Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. While it is true that more than 30,000 prayer circles will form across the United States today, most of those gatherings will be limited to evangelical Christians. That’s not surprising, considering that the group’s official guidelines, “How to Pray,” instruct men and women to “recognize Jesus as a Friend and a Brother. Recognize the Holy Spirit as your Comforter and Guide. Come to the Father in Jesus’ name.”

The current custom of a National Day of Prayer, founded in 1952 by President Harry Truman, was intended as an appeal to all Americans to pray according to their own traditions. Of course, in the early 1950s, politicians in Washington D.C. were focused primarily on Christian Americans. Now that the chief organizing body for the event is firmly in the grasp of Focus on the Family, the National Day of Prayer is as much about mobilizing a political demonstration as it is about prompting prayer. The supporting materials provided by the National Day of Prayer task force include instructions to pray that America will become a more “biblical” nation, defining that with a laundry list of political positions from the Religious Right.

That’s not to say that every person who shows up at a National Day of Prayer event supports the political agenda of Focus on the Family. However, in the days leading up to the event this year, gay-rights activists related to the U.S. armed forces have objected to the National Day of Prayer lineup of speakers in Washington D.C. Since gay men and women now are allowed to serve in the armed forces, activists argue that it is inappropriate to showcase clergy at the Washington D.C. event who are outspokenly anti-gay in their preaching. Organizers of the Washington D.C. program say they are not changing their plans.


Wherever you live across the United States, you may want to Google local events listed by regional newspapers or by interfaith organizations. Many interfaith groups across the U.S. organize events each year to showcase the breadth of the entire religious community. In addition, many non-Christian houses of worship are hosting special prayer times today, wanting to provide their members an opportunity to pray for the nation in their own way. No one is keeping a census of these alternative prayer events, but observers estimate that May 2, 2013, will bring thousands of events that are independently organized outside the political umbrella of the Focus on Family organization.

This year also is the 10th anniversary of the main nonprofit organization the National Day of Reason that was organized to peacefully protest the National Day of Prayer organization. The National Day of Reason “News” website showcases news items about co-sponsors and the handful of cities across the U.S. issuing National Day of Reason proclamations. The group says that it hopes to “encourage all citizens, residents and visitors to join in observing this day and focusing upon the employment of reason, critical thought, the scientific method, and free inquiry to the resolution of human problems and for the welfare of human kind.”

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