Dr. Jamie Jenkins: Praying for the Nation

An invitation for people of all faiths to pray for the nation

The word spread quickly on April 15 that the National Day of Prayer, May 6, had been cancelled by President Obama--as he did in 2009. This rumor turned out to be false. In fact, he did not cancel the event last year nor this year.

Observances of the National Day of Prayer took place across the country in 2009 and are scheduled again for this year. Last year President Obama decided not to hold an ecumenical service at the White House as his predecessor, George W. Bush, had done during his term. President Obama continued the tradition of issuing a presidential proclamation designating the National Day of Prayer and chose to observe the occasion privately.

Throughout the history of the country there have been many unofficial days of prayer, but in 1952 President Truman signed a bill that established a National Day of Prayer. It was not until 1988 that the first Thursday in May was set by President Reagan as the specific calendar date of the National Day of Prayer.

Although the April 15 rumor that this special day of prayer had been cancelled was false, a U.S. District judge in Wisconsin ruled on that date that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional, saying the observance "amounts to a call for religious action." The Obama administration was the defendant in that case, arguing in favor of retaining the National Day of Prayer. The judge's ruling will certainly be appealed and hopefully reversed.

Lillian Pinkus of the Dallas, Texas Anti-Defamation League reminds us that the day "invites people of all faith to pray for the nation. It is a day meant to unite, not divide. It is a day that should represent the inclusivity of the nation."

Someone has described the National Day of Prayer in this manner: "On this day of voluntary prayer some may wish to meet in their place of worship to pray for the tranquility of our nation. Some may feel that this can be achieved by converting people of a different faith. Some may pray that this will come about through interfaith dialogue, understanding, and coordinated action. There will be those who observe the day with personal prayer, and those who do not pray but still observe the day through their thoughts, words, and actions."

It is true the day never specified prayer as being related to the Christian faith only but Christians join in this communal time of prayer. We remember that God promised the ancient Israelites, "If My people ... will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (II Chronicles 7:14).

In the words of presidential proclamation on the occasion of the 2009 National Day of Prayer: "Let us also use this day to come together in a moment of peace and goodwill. Our world grows smaller by the day, and our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife; and to lift up those who have fallen on hard times ... (Let us) remember (the) call to love one another; to understand one another; and to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth."

Please join with me and our brothers and sisters across the nation every day but especially this Thursday as we "pray in thanksgiving for our freedoms and blessings and to ask for God's continued guidance, grace, and protection for this land that we love."

Jamie Jenkins

[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," May 3, 2010, North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.]