National Day of Prayer Participation Broadened Beyond Evangelical Groups

May 5, 2006

Source: Associated Baptist Press

On May 5, 2006 the Associated Baptist Press reported, "As President Bush spoke to an ecumenical group at the White House to mark the National Day of Prayer May 4, religious moderates and progressives gathered in locations around the country in an effort to broaden an event that has in recent years been closely identified with evangelical Protestants. 'America is a nation of prayer,' Bush said, speaking to an interfaith gathering of religious dignitaries in the White House's East Room. 'At decisive moments in our history and in quiet times around family tables, we are a people humbled and strengthened and blessed by prayer.' But he was also careful to note the role of secularism in American history. 'In America, we are free to profess any faith we choose, or no faith at all,' he said. 'What brings us together is our shared desire to answer the call to serve something greater than ourselves.' One of Bush's political rivals used the occasion to call Americans to pray for greater economic justice. 'The book of Isaiah says, "If you remove the yoke from among you...if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness,"' said Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), chairman of Congress' Democratic Faith Working Group, in a press release. 'Congress must remove the yoke of economic oppression gripping the American people. Our policies must provide greater benefits to those who are working tirelessly to support their families. We must provide adequate and affordable health care to our citizens.' In some major cities, the event has been marked for decades by interfaith gatherings -- such as the annual White House event. But in recent decades, an evangelical group calling itself the National Day of Prayer Task Force has organized events, limiting leadership participation to Christians. The Colorado-based group is chaired by Shirley Dobson, wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson. However, several local groups have objected to the evangelical-only nature of the events -- in particular, the many Day of Prayer events that take place on government property, such as city hall or courthouse buildings. For instance, Troy, Mich., and Oklahoma City both hosted rival events last year, with evangelicals gathering for 'official' events and ecumenical groups gathering nearby."