Sunday, April 18, 2010

National Day of Prayer - It's Constitutional

(This morning, I'm going to hand over the devotional to Benjamin Franklin and let him show you why the Circuit Judge who ruled the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional is so wrong and out of touch with our history)

A Call to Prayer : Benjamin Franklin

When, after the representatives who had met in 1787 to write the Constitution of the United States struggled for several weeks making little or no progress, eighty-one-year-old Benjamin Franklin rose and addressed the troubled and disagreeing convention that was about to adjourn in confusion. It seemed that their attempt to form a lasting union had apparently failed.

Benjamin Franklin said, "In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard and they were graciously answered All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor....And have we now forgotten this powerful Friend? Or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance?"

"I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: 'that God governs in the affairs of man.' And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this."

"I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel; we shall be divided by our little partial local interest; our projects will be confounded; and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a byword down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter, from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing government by human wisdom and leave it to chance, war or conquest. I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberation be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business."

Benjamin Franklin then proposed that the Congress adjourn for two days to seek divine guidance. When they returned they began each of their sessions with prayer. The stirring speech of Benjamin Franklin marked a turning point in the writing of the Constitution, complete with a Bill of Rights.

The First Prayer offered in Congress

"Lord our Heavenly Father, High and Mighty King of kings, and Lord of lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all the Kingdoms, Empires and Governments; look down in mercy, we beseech thee, on these our American States, who have fled to thee from the rod of the oppressor and thrown themselves on Thy gracious protection, desiring to be henceforth dependent on Thee, to Thee have they appealed for the righteousness of their cause; to Thee do they now look up for that countenance and support, which Thou alone canst give; take them, therefore, Heavenly Father, under Thy nurturing care; give them wisdom in Council and valor in the field; defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries; convince them of the unrighteousness of their Cause and if they persist in their sanguinary purposes, of own unerring justice, sounding in their hearts, constrain them to drop the weapons of war from their unnerved hands in the day of battle! Be Thou present, O God of wisdom, and direct the councils of this honorable assembly; enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation. That the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that order, harmony and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish amongst Thy people. Preserve the health of their bodies and vigor of their minds; shower down on them and the millions they here represent, such temporal blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come. all this we ask In the Name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior.
September 7th, 1774 by Jacob Duche in Carpenters Hall, Philadelphia


Adam Copeland said...

Thanks for this interesting bit of history. Certainly many of the founders were praying people, and sought God's guidance throughout the founding of the US. But I don't think that it necessarily follows that a much later Presidential directive -- or is it an act of congress? -- is constitutional or not.

In 2005, I sang in the East Room of the White House on the National Day of Prayer. From even my back row in the St. Olaf Choir, I was close enough to President GW Bush's notes to read them. And I have to say, it was a very uncomfortable time. I was aware, even with the fun and pomp of being a White House guest, that the President telling me to pray was a very strange thing. Even more, as the morning went on and different leaders prayed, it felt more odd.

Prayer is good, even essential to our nation. I rather it not be a national mandate, however.

Doug Hagler said...

I'm actually happy with the decision. I don't think the government should have anything to do with telling me when or how I am to be religious. I don't think they should have any part in weddings, funerals, worship, baptism, or prayer.

I think that governmental "support" has done nothing but harm Christianity and the gospel, from Constantine onwards. Things like the National Day of Prayer just encourage conflation of God and nation, and there is already enough of that brand of idolatry to go around. Good riddance - I'll continue to pray every day with no concern for what the government thinks of it ;)

Stushie said...

I'm casting aspersions on those who would rewrite our founding history as if faith had nothing to do with it.

I don't need a church or a government building to pray; nor do I need a denomination or a political party to tell me what or how to pray.

All I am highlighting is the historical fact that Christian prayer has been used in government meetings since the establishment of this nation. If this was unconstitutional then the Founding Fathers, who were a lot smarter about this than we are today, would have baulked at and blocked Christian prayer at their meetings.

There's also nothing wrong in praying for our nation and leaders. Both the Old and New Testaments subscribe to it.

Sarahlynn said...

I think there's a difference between having prayer at government meetings and having a National Day of Prayer.

But I completely agree that there's nothing wrong with praying for our nation and its leaders! It always amazes me when someone gets angry at church if we pray for Congress or the President, especially after a contested election. We *should* pray for our leaders.

Stushie said...

The Day of Atonement in the Old Testament was a day of national prayer. Paul also encourages the Mediterranean churches to pray for their leaders. We're often encouraged to pray for our nation when things like Hurricane Katrina occur. And, as I stated (and there is a lot more historical material to back this up) we've been praying for this nation regularly since it was established.

BTW, here are some pertinent remarks made by George Washington in his First Inaugural address:

Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency; and in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities from which the event has resulted can not be compared with the means by which most governments have been established without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage.

NicodemusLegend said...

Let me start with a clear statement that I see nothing wrong or unconstitutional about a National Day of Prayer

That said, I fail to see how demonstrating that Benjamin Franklin (or any other "Founding Father") advocated for prayer does anything to argue for the constitutionality of a specific nationally recognized prayer event.

Stushie said...

Then I guess Nic, according to you, the Founding Fathers and Benjamin F had nothing to do with the Constitution?

May I suggest a little more online research on the Proclamations for days of National prayer by many of our Presidents e.g John Adams

I taught a whole 13 week Sunday School series on the subject about the faith of our presidents and Founding Fathers. You'd be amazed at how many supported National Days of didn't begin in 1952 either

NicodemusLegend said...

Then I guess Nic, according to you, the Founding Fathers and Benjamin F had nothing to do with the Constitution?

Of course they did. But it still doesn't make the point you think it does.

Doug Hagler said...

I don't actually buy into the idea that the Founding Fathers necessarily knew the constitution best. Over time the document has been made less hypocritical by the emancipation and integration of African Americans, women's rights, and many other things. We are smarter now than they were then. We know more and can build on their decisions - or make better decisions - with the benefit of hindsight. I see no reason why founders' intent should trump every other consideration when looking at the Constitution. Weren't the Founders slave-owners? Weren't women not allowed to vote? Do we really need to treat them like they were somehow omniscient? Or can we think for ourselves?

H Katie said...

I think we need a National Day of Animal Sacrifice. Prayer's a good start, but the Unnameable Ones are more inclined to grant boons when treated with the blood of the living.

Or how about a National Day of Auditing? Let's let Scientology help _everyone_!

Or maybe a National Day of Snake-Handling. If it was good enough for the Gospel of Matthew...

Anonymous said...

In point of fact, James Madison did think things like Congressional chaplains were unconstitutional (though too trivial to be worth actually shutting it down). And Jefferson coined the phrase separation of church and state (which as many people point out, is not in the first amendment, but neither are any quotes from Benjamin Franklin). The views of the founders on religion were diverse--and if they'd wanted to include something about "well, government sponsored prayers are okay" in the first amendment, they certainly could have. In point of fact, there's no mention of God or Jesus in the Constitution--that and the banning of religious tests for federal office had some people of the time pronouncing it a secular and objectionable work.

Anonymous said...

There is a big difference between encouraging people across the country to pray, and establishing State-sponsored prayer.

One involves voluntary union of people of faith in joyful gratitude to the Creator.

The other involves false piety, a sense of going along because one is expected to, a state of nonbelievers pretending to believe because the law requires them to. Forced religious observation always results in one of two things: an Inquisition, or a watered-down, phony faith. Neither is desirable.

I prefer our free secular society in which people can pray without feeling forced to do so; in which, by not establishing religion, Congress allows people to actually practice religion according to their own conscience; in which religion is sincere, more often than not.

Stushie said...

I guess we all have to agree to disagree...and I thank God that we live in a nation where that freedom exists.