Not a Way to Pray

May 02, 2013

Today is the "National Day of Prayer." Although intended to help promote prayer, the day really does not seem helpful to religious piety. After all, why do we need the government to tell us we should pray? And why only one day? What about praying because God told us to? And what about praying without ceasing? The Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty put out a statement this morning that captured the paradox of government-promoted prayer:

The National Day of Prayer is unnecessary, says the Baptist Joint Committee. "There is nothing wrong with the American people getting together to pray on a designated day, even public officials," BJC Executive Director Brent Walker said. "In fact every day should be a day of national prayer." However, "the government shouldn't be in the business of telling the American people what, where or when to pray or even if they should pray," Walker said. "The problem with the National Day of Prayer is that it is an official act of the government urging citizens to engage in a religious exercise," he said.
Even more troubling is how partisan the "National Day of Prayer" has become in recent years. It seems the day is less about prayer and more about how to make partisan attacks on President Barack Obama for supposedly being anti-Christian. I critiqued specific examples in earlier years (see posts here and here), and again today there are conservatives claiming Obama's not being Christian enough with this day. Ironically, these critics are employing an attitude that demonstrates why the BJC is correct that the government should not promote this event; Obama's critics want it to be a day to blatantly promote sectarian faith, which is clearly unconstitutional. Although Obama's proclamation in support of this year's "National Day of Prayer" is not as sectarian as his conservative critics would like, it is clearly a case of government promoting religion. But despite this, some conservatives still want to use confessional politics to attack Obama's faith. If you use the "National Day of Prayer" to make partisan attacks on the nation's leader, then I do not think you are praying right.