Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Day of Prayer

Today is the National Day of Prayer.

Note: the Founders weren't averse to prayer. Benjamin Franklin famously proposed that each session of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia open with a petition to the Almighty, a motion the delegates rejected (Alexander Hamilton quipped the delegates didn't require any "foreign aid.") But few of the Founders would have been comfortable with the narrowly sectarian focus of a National Day of Prayer.

The National Day of Prayer was established by law in 1952. It was the height of the Cold War, when Congress was anxious to counter the perceived threat of "atheistic communism." This was also the period when the phrase "under God" entered the Pledge of Allegiance (in 1954), and when Congress adopted the phrase "In God We Trust" as the nation's official motto (in 1956). The Founders would have been uncomfortable with all this legislation.

Today, volunteers for the National Day of Prayer are required to subscribe to a strict doctrinal confession: "I believe that the Holy Bible is the inerrant word of the Living God. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only One by which I can obtain salvation." A Lutheran clergy friend of mine received a letter stating that "ecumenical" Christians weren't welcome. Only "evangelicals" need apply.

That's a far cry from Franklin's non-dogmatic faith. Old Ben said of Jesus that "I have some doubts as to his divinity" and, far from regarding the Bible as inerrant, actually re-wrote the Lord's Prayer to make it shorter and make the King James version conform to what he considered better English.

The Founders intended the United States to be a land where people of all faiths were welcome--not just Christians. In this country, Jews, Christians, Moslems, Buddhists, Hindus and atheists alike are free to proclaim and practice their beliefs. That why religion flourishes here as nowhere else on earth, and why people of differing spiritual views have managed for over two hundred years to co-exist as equal citizens, in friendship and in peace.

Let's pray it stays that way.

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