Monday, May 3, 2010

prayer and politics

I rarely bother with the forwards, as you know. In general, the value of an email is inversely proportional to the number of times it says "Fw:" in the subject line.

However, sometimes I just have to answer one of these things in detail, especially in an age where misinformation and disinformation have turned out to be such an important part of the landscape.

A friend had the good sense to shoot this one my way, not because he believed a word of it, but because he knew I wouldn't be able to resist. Here we go.

This is chilling

In 1952 President Truman established one day a year as a "National Day of Prayer."

In 1988, President Reagan designated the first Thursday in May of each year as the National Day of Prayer.

In June 2007, (then) Presidential candidate Barack Obama declared that the USA was no longer a Christian nation.

This year President Obama, canceled the 21st annual National Day of Prayer ceremony at the White House under the rouse of "not wanting to offend anyone"

On September 25, 2009 from 4 am until 7 pm, a National Day of Prayer for the Muslim religion was held on Capitol Hill, beside the White House. There were over 50,000 Muslims that day in DC.

I guess it doesn't matter if "Christians" are offended by this event - we obviously don't count as "anyone" anymore.

The direction this country is headed should strike fear in the heart of every Christian. Especially knowing that the Muslim religion believes that if Christians cannot be converted they should be annihilated

This is not a rumor - Go to the website to confirm this info: http://www.islamoncapitolhill.com/

Pay particular attention to the caption on the left of the page, under the caption "Islam on ..... Capital Hill": "OUR TIME HAS COME"

I hope that this information will stir your spirit.

The words of 2 Chronicles 7:14
"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

We must pray for our nation, our communities, our families, and especially our children.

They are the ones that are going to suffer the most if we don't PRAY!

May God have mercy...IN GOD WE TRUST.

Please pass this on, maybe someone, somehow can figure out a way to put America back on the map as it was when we were growing up, a safe place to live and by the Ten Commandments and Pledge of Allegiance, etc!



Wow.

I don't know where to begin on this one — such a powerful blend of fact, fiction, and innuendo. Let's see:

In 1952 President Truman established one day a year as a "National Day of Prayer." In 1988, President Reagan designated the first Thursday in May of each year as the National Day of Prayer.


It's true that Truman recognized the NDP, but it was actually established by Congress, as a floating holiday, right during the same era that we started putting "In God We Trust" on all our money, and inserted "under God" into the Pledge. The idea was that our mortal enemy as a nation was Russia, a Communist country that was specifically atheist; so we could differentiate ourselves and protect ourselves from Communism if we affirmed our faith in God. (That's an argument put forth by, among others, the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic league who was behind many of these efforts in the 50s.)

Congress did indeed change it in 1988 to be on one specific day.

But there had been NDPs before. John Adams declared May 9, 1798 as "a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer," during which citizens of all faiths were asked to pray "that our country may be protected from all the dangers which threaten it." (Keep in mind that we have no record that Adams was sworn in on a Bible; his son John Quincy Adams refused to be sworn in on a one: he took his oath on a book that contained the Constitution.)

In 1863 Lincoln issued (in response to a request from the Senate) a declaration of a National Day of prayer, in a very moving statement that suggested that our sins in slavery and civil war might be visited upon us in future generations if we didn't humble ourselves and confess and ask forgiveness. He, too, actually called it a day of humiliation.
link

Can you imagine what the response would be if Obama suggested that America confess its sins and ask forgiveness? You don't have to imagine: he's been attacked, virulently, many many times for his forthright admissions of America's wrongdoings.

Anyway, back to 1952, when Truman said this was a day to pray "in our churches, in our homes, and in our hearts." No mention of official state functions: just churches, homes, and hearts. This is perfectly in keeping with Christ's instructions in Matthew 6 about how to pray.
link

From the very beginning, this was conceived as a prayer in a nation where a majority were Christians, but by no means all were Christians, and people of all faiths were to join in. This was not to be an affirmation that we are a "Christian nation," but rather that we are a nation that honors freedom of religion, and we can each individually and freely pray in our own way.

Eisenhower's declaration in 1954, for instance, was quite broad: "whatever our ancestry, whatever our religious affiliation."
link

Johnson in 1964 said, "Under our laws,
—every man has the right to pray;
—no man can be told how he must pray;
—each man prays as his own conscience dictates.
I call upon all of our citizens, therefore, to observe the National Day of Prayer in accordance with our custom-each in his own way and in his own faith."
link

Reagan in 1987 said, "Our land today is more diverse than ever, our citizens come from nearly every nation on Earth, and the variety of religious traditions that have found welcome here has never been greater. On our National Day of Prayer, then, we join together as people of many faiths to petition God to show us His mercy and His love."
link

George Bush Sr in 1990 said, "invite the people of the United States to gather together on that day in homes and places of worship to pray, each after his or her own manner"
link

Bush Jr in 2005 said, "I ask the citizens of our Nation to give thanks, each according to his or her own faith, for the liberty and blessings we have received."
link

So, compare those to this one by Obama, and see whether you think there's any change. (There may be a change in the way these people actually think and pray, which we'll never know. But the issue according to our email-writing friend is an issue of official actions and proclamations.)
link

And none of those presidents had a yearly ceremony at the White House before 2001. None. Reagan had a single one-off event, in 82; Bush had one, in 89, and that's it.

Then the National Day of Prayer Task Force set itself up as a group, totally apart from government organizations, by conservative Christians, and began having events in Washington on the NDP. During George W. Bush's presidency, he began having a ceremony in the White House in conjunction with them. The ceremony was headed by Shirley Dobson and included her husband Dr. James Dobson and other evangelical leaders. Catholics and mainline Protestants, as well as other people of faith, protested that this narrowed the focus of the NDP too much.

In 2009, Obama returned to not having that event at the White House, and issued a proclamation. The Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding said at the time:

Basically, President Obama is hitting the reset button and going back to the way previous presidents handled the National Day of Prayer. Under previous administrations, such as President George Bush Sr. and President Ronald Reagan, proclamations were issued but there was no White House event.


If it's so horrible for Obama to have behaved this way, then was it horrible for Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr, and Clinton?


With that history in mind, back to our emailer:

In June 2007, (then) Presidential candidate Barack Obama declared that the USA was no longer a Christian nation.


Right. We've already dealt with that issue: I as a Christian believer and a Bible-believing Baptist agree with what Obama actually said, that we have many people of different faiths in our country, and we've promised not to establish one. We are, very largely, a nation of Christians, not a "Christian Nation," in the theocratic sense that some want us to be.


This year President Obama, canceled the 21st annual National Day of Prayer ceremony at the White House under the rouse of "not wanting to offend anyone"


So. Let's dissect what's being said here: YES, he did cancel the White House ceremony; NO, it wasn't the 21st annual ceremony, because only Bush made it an annual event, and only two other Presidents even had a single event; NO, he didn't say anything at all about "not wanting to offend anyone" — that last bit is just a speculation about his motives from someone who doesn't know how to spell the word "ruse."

Without any break, the email continues:

On September 25, 2009 from 4 am until 7 pm, a National Day of Prayer for the Muslim religion was held on Capitol Hill, beside the White House. There were over 50,000 Muslims that day in DC.


So, the casual reader may think that Obama cancelled a 21-year Christian tradition and instituted a Muslim one instead. [a] He didn't cancel the 21-year tradition: he issued a proclamation just like every president since Truman. [b] It wasn't a Christian tradition per se: others had made it clear that this was for people of all faiths, even in a country where most are Christians. [c] He didn't institute a Muslim ceremony: first of all, he's a United Church of Christ member; second of all, he had nothing to do with the Muslim thing on Capitol hill at all.

The Muslim thing was done by a private organization, led by an American who had been challenged by Obama's stirring words in his inaugural speech:

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.


Ho! Spiky words, especially in an inaugural address. Why do people who think of Obama as a softie on terrorism never mention this passage? Meanwhile, a patriotic American Muslim by the name of Hassen Abdellah decided to stage a day of public prayer at the Capitol, asking Muslims to come together and pray for America.

As you know, anyone can march on Washington: civil-rights protestors, the Ku Klux Klan, Christians, Jews, Wiccans, white supremacists, blacks, Hispanics, Tea-Partiers, anyone. That's our right.


I guess it doesn't matter if "Christians" are offended by this event - we obviously don't count as "anyone" anymore.


And what if Christians were offended? Aren't followers of Christ offended by white supremacists as much as by members of another religion? This person concludes that Christians "don't count"? Are ya kidding me? When we elect an avowed atheist as president, we'll talk about how "Christians don't count." No one can look at 21st-century American politics and wonder where in the world the Christians are. What has happened is that someone dared to say anyone else counts: these people are peace-loving, American Muslims exercising their rights to march at the Capitol. Good for them. Why is it so "chilling?"

The event's organizer himself said, ''Most of the time, when Muslims go to Washington, D.C., they go there to protest some type of event. This is not a protest. Never has the Islamic community prayed on Capitol Hill for the soul of America. We're Americans. We need to change the face of Islam so people don't feel every Muslim believes America is 'the great Satan,' because we love America."

We love America: somehow that quote got left out of the forwarded email.


The direction this country is headed should strike fear in the heart of every Christian. Especially knowing that the Muslim religion believes that if Christians cannot be converted they should be annihilated.


Uh-huh. It says that somewhere in Muslim scripture. But things are said in Christian scripture as well.

Exodus 35:2 says that anyone who works on the Sabbath should be put to death. Any Muslim could point to that scripture and be very chilled. There it is in black and white. You can't say the Bible doesn't say it, and anyone who believes that the Bible is inspired by God will have to have some answer as to why we don't do something that's so plainly stated. No doubt you and I have just such reasons, and there are plenty of examples of Muslim scriptures, also written in a long-ago age, that sound just as barbaric to us, especially if we don't know the context. Yes, some Muslims do want to kill every non-Muslim; but there are Christians who are just the same way, and, not too recently in this world, lots of Christians were the same way.

Leviticus 24:16 says that anyone who blasphemes the Lord will be put to death. That would completely wipe away most TV shows and movies. (Hey — maybe not such a bad idea.) Again, any non-Christian or non-Jew could point to that verse just as we point to Islamic verses in horror. Maybe non-believers email this to each other in horror and fear.

Meanwhile, there are lots of Muslims — a large majority of Muslims — who, like most Christians, are peaceful. Even in Saudi Arabia, arguably the epicenter of the Muslim faith, plenty of people, including scholars, don't believe that's really how to interpret the writings of Muhammad.

We braid our hair, eat shrimp, work on Sunday (and for that matter call Sunday the "Sabbath" instead of Saturday, which we also work on), and do tons of things that go against the writings of Scripture, and yet we're quite willing to completely ignore context and history and how other religions are actually practiced when it comes to reading their writings.


This is not a rumor - Go to the website to confirm this info: http://www.islamoncapitolhill.com/


I love this little coda here: once again, we need to dissect it, and ask what the person who wrote it thought they were referring to when saying "this" is not a rumor. YES, that website exists; YES, it does refer to an independent organization wanting Muslims to pray; NO, it makes no reference to killing all non-Muslims, and in fact has lots of evidence showing peaceful intent.



2 Chronicles 7:14
"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."


The main thrust of the email is over by now, but this is a nice addendum; it's a pet peeve of mine, and it shows that people really do have a tendency to select phrases and verses entirely out of context, and apply them in odd ways. The context of the entire passage here is that Solomon has built his temple, and God appears to him and says, "When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name 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."

So, "their land" doesn't mean their polity, their nation, or their government. It means the land — where it can rain or not rain, and locusts can devour it or not. It's an awful stretch to think that this applies to the nation any group of Christians are living in.

Maybe it is the case that if American Christians pray then God will bring healing to our polity; I believe that can happen, and that we must indeed pray. But that's not what's being promised in 2 Chronicles 7:14.

Some would say that such prayers over the years have indeed been answered in the positive, and that America is far better off today than it was when, say, my parents were born, and black people were barred from voting, or when my grandparents were born and women couldn't vote or sit on a jury, and higher education was something for a very small group of people.


maybe someone, somehow can figure out a way to put America back on the map as it was when we were growing up


Ah, the America of yore. Maybe we should go back to 1808, when Thomas Jefferson said, on exactly this subject:

Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the time for these exercises, and the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and right can never be safer than in their hands, where the Constitution has deposited it. ...civil powers alone have been given to the President of the United States and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents.


Or maybe we should return to the glory days of 1822, when James Madison wrote:

There has been another deviation from the strict principle in the Executive Proclamations of fasts & festivals, so far, at least, as they have spoken the language of injunction, or have lost sight of the equality of all religious sects in the eye of the Constitution. Whilst I was honored with the Executive Trust I found it necessary on more than one occasion to follow the example of predecessors. But I was always careful to make the Proclamations absolutely indiscriminate, and merely recommendatory.


If they could only see us now!


The actual event went off just fine. There's an article about it here:
link

The article is worth reading. Quite inspiring, what some of these folks said. Naturally, this being America, there were protestors, and it's instructive for us to hear them in the context of this email:

"They say it’s a prayer event, but it’s a political action," said Daniel L. Adams, a leader of the SIOA group. "Folks have their own places to worship. They’re called mosques, synagogues or churches. But when you come to the Capitol of the United States, it becomes political, because it’s a demonstration."


Listen to yourself, man!! This hits right to the very heart of it. What he said was absolutely true — it's just that it's true of everyone and not just people I disagree with. It's true of me, in the way I pray. I worship in a church or home or meeting-place: but when I come to the Capitol of the United States, it becomes political, because it's a demonstration. This is exactly what Jesus was talking about when he instructed his followers in Matthew 6 not to engage in public prayer at all. No football games, graduation, school assemblies, Congress, inaugurations: go into your private room and shut the door.

Oh how I have prayed that we would have someone as our nation's leader who understands this concept. Though Obama had ministers give benedictions at the inauguration, and though he was sworn in on a Bible, unlike his predecessor John Adams, there is some encouraging news. Maybe my prayers will be answered. Obama's spokesman, when asked about the National Day of Prayer, said, "Prayer is something that the president does everyday. I think the president understands, in his own life and in his family's life, the role that prayer plays. And I would denote that the administrations prior to the past one did proclamations. That's the way the president will publicly observe the national prayer day. But, as I said, privately, he'll pray as he does every day."

To that, I say, Amen.


3 Comments:

Blogger Mr. Alexander said...

I agree with your sentiment and displeasure with forwards like the one in your post, but do have a question. Do you see no difference in the Koran’s instructions to kill and the Bible’s?

FYI: John Quincy Adams didn’t use the bible his father did.

Stephen

5/5/10, 1:05 PM  
Blogger barrybrake said...

Regarding the Adamses, you were indeed half-right to correct my error: It was indeed Q who was sworn in on a constitutional law book. There's no evidence at all, though, that presidents Adams through Tyler used a bible at all. It's simply not mentioned, as it is in the case of Washington.

As for whether I see any difference in the Koran's instructions to kill and the Bible's, I do indeed see a major difference: the Bible is mine and the Koran is theirs; the Bible is me and the Koran is them. So I feel free to take verses in the Bible to be more meaningful than others: the order to love God and my neighbor I take far more literally than the order to kill anyone who blasphemes.

And there you have it. Many, many Muslims look at such verses in the Koran the same way I look at such verses in the Bible. It's just not a valid criticism of modern Christians to bring those Bible verses up as something we all hold to, and it's no more valid to do the same with Muslims.

5/9/10, 9:50 PM  
Blogger Paige said...

You know, what really rankles me about emails like the one you received is that all of those facts are so easy to check, evidenced by how you checked them.

Just as the speed of our communication spurs on these viral rumors, the incredible amount of information we have at our fingertips relegate such silly lies to the dust bin where they belong. Why don't people bother checking the veracity of the email before they forward this drivel? It literally astonishes me. It surprises me that people are happy to look so stupid and ignorant when we all know that if the author googled any of those topics s/he could have easily gotten his/her facts straight.

Glad to see you take it apart although you're preachin' to the choir with me.

-Paige

5/10/10, 2:43 PM  

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