It behooves us to be prayerful
by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Rocky Mountain News, April 30, 1996
On Thursday, millions of Americans will join together across racial, political and denominational lines to observe the annual National Day of Prayer. Purpose: To pray for our nation and its leaders and to give thanks for the bounty, beauty and blessings of our country.
Just as earlier Congresses established Thanksgiving Day as a day to thank God for our freedom, Congress and President Truman in 1952 established the National Day of Prayer as a time to honor God in prayer; words and deeds that, in the words of National Day of Prayer chairwoman Shirley Dobson, show “the importance of God’s purpose in every aspect of our progess as a nation.”
The idea of a day or special occasion to acknowledge in a public way the importance of a supreme being in our national life has deep roots in our country’s history — going back to Sept. 7, 1774, on the second day of the Continental Congress. That is when Samuel Adams, cousin of John Adams, instigator of the Boston Tea Party and considered by many the “Father of the American Revolution,” proposed that the session be opened with prayer. Even though there were many religious sects represented in Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia, Adams prevailed, and on July 20, 1775, the Congress passed a resolution that the 12 colonies should observe “a day of humiliation, fasting and prayer.” Thus was born the idea of a national day of prayer.
I spent several hours over the weekend reviewing the major testaments of American democracy — the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Federalist Papers — and the writings and speeches of our forefathers. It is astonishing to see the extent to which we have departed in our public life from the precepts on which we were founded and governed for most of our nation’s history. In his first inaugural in 1789, George Washington said, “The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.”
That is clearly beginning to happen to us. While politicians and the media focus on crime, violence, drug use and educational decline, these are clearly symptoms of much more serious problems that national leaders sweep under the rug, including the unraveling of the family, abdication of personal responsibility, the devaluing of human life (from abortion to physician-assisted suicide), the loss of respect for tradition and the assault on people of faith regardless of their religion.
In fact, disregard for the “eternal rules of order and right” is now a central feature of teaching in many government schools where, as I witnessed last week, teachers were being advised not to impose values and standards in the classroom, that different people have different values and standards — and that’s OK.
Perhaps we need a healthy dose of Abraham Lincoln, who said in the midst of the Civil War, “It behooves us to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins and pray for clemency and forgiveness… We have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined…that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.”
Perhaps May 2 will be a good time to begin to remember. As Ronald Reagan said in his second inaugural address, “I recognize we must be cautious in claiming that God is on our side, but I think it’s all right to keep asking if we’re on his.”
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