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Day to Pray

National event set aside for all, but evangelicals play the lead role

By Paul Asay, The Colorado Springs Gazette, April 28, 2007

Anyone can pray. And most people do.

They pray in gratitude, in pain, in petition. They pray to sink that putt, pass that test, survive this day. Some pray without knowing who they pray to, but they pray all the same.

The National Day of Prayer is about all that, but since its inception, itís become something else, too: Itís now as much about redstate values, about presidential proclamations, about Bible-reading marathons on the Capitol steps. Itís a day where communion wine mingles with apple pie, and some wonder whether the National Day of Prayer really encompasses all Americans.

"Itís become an exclusively evangelical event," said Victoria Heim, who is organizing a local multifaith Day of Prayer observation at Shove Chapel.

The National Day of Prayer was officially signed into law by President Harry Truman in 1952, and it really took off in 1988, when President Ronald Reagan set aside the first Thursday in May for national prayer. Throughout the past 55 years, the day technically has been interfaith. President George W. Bushís 2007 Day of Prayer proclamation says as much.

"I ask the citizens of our Nation to give thanks, each according to his or her own faith, for the freedoms and blessings we have received and for Godís continued guidance, comfort and protection," Bushís proclamation reads. "I invite all Americans to join in observing this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities."

"This is a day for all to pray," said Lisa Crump, national coordinator manager for the National Day of Prayer Task Force, headquartered in Colorado Springs.

Still, thereís no doubt that Crumpís organization is the most visible, most successful manifestation of the Day of Prayer.

Itís also unabashedly Christian and largely evangelical: It operates out of offices on the Focus on the Family campus in Colorado Springs and is headed by Shirley Dobson, wife of Focus founder James Dobson.

That might be one reason the National Day of Prayer has become so closely associated with evangelical Christianity -- no other faith can match the task forceís ability to mobilize and organize. In fact, there are few Day of Prayer events across the country that arenít being run under its auspices. The task force sponsors and helps coordinate most of the estimated 40,000 events taking place nationwide, such as:

  • - A 90-hour Bible-reading marathon on the steps of the U.S. Capitol -- an event that begins at 8 p.m. Sunday and runs round the clock until May 3.
  • - A "Pray in the Air" event in Ohio, where several pilots will fly their planes in a cross formation over the state, praying all the while that God will help Ohio schools, churches and homes.
  • - A gingerbread cookie drive in Pasquotank, N.C., where volunteers distribute cookies to civic employees. Volunteers prayed over these cookie plates, and each contains a handwritten prayer note.

There are several events going on in Colorado Springs this year, too -- a marked contrast from 2006, when no one stepped forward to coordinate local Day of Prayer activities. Some speculate the volunteer hours required to put on such an event scared many away.

"Our hearts were broken last year," said Diane Skinner, a member of the local National Day of Prayer Task Force. "The National Day of Prayer is right here, and we didnít do anything."

There will be a mayoral proclamation, a prayer-soaked train ride to the top of Pikes Peak and an all-city prayer rally at New Life Church. Volunteers also organized a Spanishspeaking prayer rally, uniting 22 ministers from various local Hispanic churches.

"This kind of unity amongst the Hispanic churches has never been seen before in this city," said Jesus Reyes of the Centro Familiar Nueva Vida, coordinator of the event.

Skinner hopes everyone in the local Christian community will support the event, and she sent letters to 650 churches, asking if theyíd participate. But some suggestions from the national task force clearly cater to a more conservative base.

The task force suggests that people focus their prayers on five hot-button subjects for conservative Christians: the church, family, education, the military and media.

Under "education," for example, the suggested prayer reads "Father God, forgive us for allowing You and Your Word to be thrown out of schools, and for allowing your truth to be replaced with lies."

Skinner and others emphasize that the national task force deals in the Day of Prayerís Christian manifestation -- a point made in a letter to Heim last September when she attempted to become a Day of Prayer coordinator and register for a task force conference. Her request was turned down because she opened her Day of Prayer event last year to people of other faiths.

"Although the first Thursday in May is set aside for all people in this nation to observe a national day of prayer for our country, multi- or interfaith activities are not a part of this specific ministry," the letter read. "Therefore, under the current circumstances, you cannot be affiliated with our organization, or use our materials or in any way represent yourself as a part of the National Day of Prayer Task Force."

Heim, a Christian, said the letter was "a sad thing." She had attended a task force conference in October 2005 and said it was instrumental in helping her coordinate 2006 Day of Prayer activities at Shove Chapel.

She wants to attend other task force conferences so she can both learn and teach others how to put on successful Day of Prayer events.

"I certainly hope one day to be included in their conferences, so I can share what I do know," she said. "Itís all based on what they taught me."

In the meantime, sheíll continue her interfaith gathering this year with speakers from at least four faiths -- Judaism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. Rabbi Anat Moskowitz, Colorado Collegeís rabbi on staff, will participate in Heimís event. She says she doesnít associate the National Day of Prayer with a particular faith or ideology, and holds to the idea that it truly is a day for all people of faith. "The idea is that weíre all standing on common ground and finding common language together," she said. "I think thatís an awesome thing."

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