Thursday, May 6, 2010

To Pray or Not to Pray by Jeff Sutherland

Thursday May 6 marks one of the most controversial days in the history of our country. Doubtful our founding fathers would believe a National Day of Prayer could cause such division among us.

Our first President George Washington pleaded with the colonists to pray for Congress as they established our Constitution. At that writing, Thomas Jefferson was instrumental yet some would say he actually began the argument by writing to a group of Baptists agreeing with them that a separation of civil government from concerns of religious doctrine and practice were important. Jefferson writes: "...I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State."

And the battle has raged ever since 1802. No one who reads the Federalist Papers, our Constitution, and other founding documents with a critical eye would say George Washington and the “Freedom from Religion” people think the same thing. In 1776 the fear was that our new government would start a ‘church of America’ forcing the colonists to accept the government’s way of worship.

That is one hundred eighty degrees from what the National Day of Prayer was meant to be. The National Day of Prayer was signed into law by Harry Truman in 1952 and Ronald Reagan made the day a permanent annual event on the first Thursday in May in 1988. Last year President Obama used the day to say, “America is no longer a Christian nation.”

This year the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the America free thought organization filed a lawsuit in Madison Wisconsin arguing the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional and federal judge Barbara Crabb agreed saying "It goes beyond mere 'acknowledgment' of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context," adding in a CBS news interview, the Day of Prayer violates the First Amendment's establishment clause, which bans the creation of a "law respecting an establishment of religion" in the Constitution. She backtracked adding, there was no law preventing Americans from praying or organizing non-governmental days of prayer, and wrote this: "I understand that many may disagree with that conclusion and some may even view it as a criticism of prayer or those who pray. That is unfortunate. A determination that the government may not endorse a religious message is not a determination that the message itself is harmful, unimportant or undeserving of dissemination." View CBS News Story

Crabb also wrote, "it is because the nature of prayer is so personal and can have such a powerful effect on a community that the government may not use its authority to try to influence an individual's decision whether and when to pray."

Interestingly, according to many church by-laws and beliefs of many Baptists and other denominations today, they agree wholeheartedly with the Freedom From Religion Organization and Judge Crabb.

While at first glance it seems Thomas Jefferson and the first colonial Baptists would agree with the Freedom From Religion Organization, Judge Crabb. Many of today’s Americans including church members say God and government should never mix. Indeed the atheists and agnostics who formed Freedom From Religion believe that religion should not be tolerated in any manner in our society. According to one of their surveys, 22% of 22,000 freshman college students said their preference was ‘no religion’. Roman Catholic was the only higher answer at 26%. So maybe Obama was right in saying America is indeed no longer a Christian nation.

This year’s National Day of Prayer is to be held at the Pentagon where there was a call to invite Franklin Graham, honorary chairman for the National Day of Prayer and son of evangelist Billy Graham. Protests started from Muslim and other Pentagon workers stemming from Graham’s statements following 9/11 that Islam "is a very evil and wicked religion. Adding that "I am not on a crusade against Muslims. I love the Muslim people . . . I want them to know that they don't have to die in a car bomb, don't have to die in some kind of holy war to be accepted by God. But it's through faith in Jesus Christ and Christ alone."

In an interview on Fox News with Gretchen Carlson, Graham spoke openly about his comments on Islam. He made it clear he had nothing against the Muslim people but he did have a point to make with them. He said you don’t have to die in a car bomb or do any other ‘heroic’ suicide. In the Islamic faith you have to be good enough to die or kill others of a different faith to be assured your place in heaven but in Christianity it is very different. In fact it is the only religion where things are the other way around. God sent His perfect Son to die so you, by believing, can be in relationship with Him. You can’t be good enough. He was.

The National Day of Prayer will happen this year. The festivities will be held at the Pentagon but the speakers will be Muslim, Buddhists and basically anyone else except Evangelical Christians, for they are different. Like Franklin Graham, they are cast as being intolerant of others beliefs; claiming that Jesus Christ is the only truth, the only way to heaven. Imagine!

On this National Day of Prayer, say a prayer for our leaders who make decisions for us that they may look to Him for guidance. Pray for our military as they fight for the freedom of, both those who believe in God and those in Madison Wisconsin who believe there should be no religion. Pray for our churches to boldly make a difference in their communities and with their members, growing them to reach out. Pray for our judges who decide how the laws should be interpreted that they know the true Judge and His ways. Pray for our ministries like Crosswinds. They know the power of those prayers.

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