Prayer is a serious thing. Prayer spectacles, as I discuss today in the Guardian, are not. But nonetheless, as is tradition, the National Day of Prayer Task Force hosted its annual festivities today in the Cannon House Office Building, in an ornate, high-ceilinged room right across the hall from Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s office.
I’ve never covered the National Day of Prayer before—I’ve always thought it could be a little dull, and in a lot of ways it was. You have to have the time and endurance for more than three hours of A and B list celebrities talking and praying and singing, but you could be rewarded with hearing Pat Boone clumsily recite prayers in Hebrew, or a shofar blowing by Rabbi Neal Surasky of Chosen People Ministries, which is all about “proclaiming the Good News through Jesus the Messiah to Jewish people around the world.” (I was late, so I missed the latter, but I suppose that’s what arguably made the prayers “Judeo-Christian.” But they were really just Christian.) You could have watched at home, on GOD TV, or you could have signed up to be an intercessor so you could go to Room 121 of the Cannon House Office Building to pray, for example, about “prophetic concerns about terrorism.” Or you could just sit in the room—take note that you should arrive early because it tends to fill up—and listen to Senate Chaplain Barry Black talk about how “godliness” is a “national security issue.” And when there are “challenges in the legislative branch, I take it to the sovereign God of the universe.” Or you might get to hear President Obama’s Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, Suzan Johnson Cook, acknowledged and applauded for making an appearance on behalf of the administration.
Church-state separation, you say? That’s for persecutors, the Day of Prayer warriors would tell you, for the meanies who are trying to stop these patriotic Americans from bringing forth the Christian revival that America so desperately needs.
There are serious issues facing our country and its citizens, as Rear Admiral William D. Lee of the United States Coast Guard pointed out. He focused on the tragically high rate of suicide among military servicemembers, which, I completely agree, is a travesty that must be urgently addressed. But Admiral Lee complained not about a lack of resources to help those in need, or heaven forbid, a rethinking of our military escapades. He complained bitterly that those church-state separation meanies were preventing him from preaching the Gospel desperate servicemembers. “I’m not talking about proselytizing,” he said, “I’m taking about gently whispering the Bible.” He proudly boasted of “crossing that line”—i.e., church-state separation—”so many times.” He got a standing ovation.
Keynote speaker Pastor Greg Laurie focused on the quest for a spiritual awakening, and why every American needs to be alert to it. America has enemies, after all, like North Korea and Iran. Laurie’s praying for another Jesus movement; to not pray for our country, he maintained, is a sin. “We can pray authoritatively and confidently,” he said confidently.
Jesus is calling our country, Laurie said. He asked the audience: if you saw Jesus’ name in the caller ID on your iPhone, would you answer the call or let it go into voice mail?
Part of you might think, oh, what the heck, let these people have their three hours of glory in a taxpayer-funded building. It’s not like they’re making any laws while praying in Jesus’ name right there on Capitol Hill. But that, really, is sort of my point: Republican lawmakers, some of whom spoke at the gathering, think of these “intercessors” as their base. Do you think they feel the need to actually, you know, legislate, when their base is saying that the only thing American needs is for everyone to repent and accept Jesus?