Why I am Participating in the National Day of Prayer

Print More

I must confess that I am suspicious of a National Day of Prayer (the first Thursday in May), especially when it is a matter of law and is proclaimed by the president. My suspicion predates the current political moment. It existed before Donald Trump and before the acquiescence and complicity of the so-called religious right to Trumpism. (https://www.onfaith.co/onfaith/2010/04/27/the-dangers-of-a-national-day-of-prayer/9027)
I am suspicious of the National Day of Prayer because it opens the door to a civil religion that in my judgement is idolatry. It is a worship of the state as an ultimate entity when the state is not and cannot be ultimate. To worship a created thing rather than the creator is idolatry. The civil religion therefore is idolatry that has the danger to make various religious traditions denominations of itself.
Last year, the presiding elder of my church asked me to organize a National Day of Prayer service in cooperation with a local consortium of Christian churches. I said yes because I do believe in the worth of prayer, and it is the duty of religious organizations and communities to pray for the nation. Christians are instructed to pray for leaders of the nations: “For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” (I Timothy 2:2)
While the National Day of Prayer is supposed to be for people of all faiths, the National Day of Prayer Task Force website is run by people who call themselves Christians. When I looked at the staff, it was clear that these were some of the same people who support President Trump. There is a statement of faith that is exclusively Christian in its orientation. There is information on voter registration and an exhortation to encourage friends and family to vote. I am not mad at this. I think churches and religious communities ought to encourage good citizenship, and voting is an important duty that comes with living in a free society.
What makes my participation difficult this year is because I do not understand how anyone who calls themselves a Christian can support Mr. Trump. A Christian is a follower of Christ. It means to belong to the party of Christ. The people who support Trump are not followers of Christ, but they have become followers of Trump. Let us set aside Mr. Trump’s past sexual behavior. Let us set aside his bragging about predatory behavior and the several women who have come forward to say that he did what he said he did without their consent. Let us set aside his unscrupulous and possibly illegal business practices, and his vulgarity. Let us set aside the ways that he demeans the office of the presidency on a daily basis with his disrespectful name calling of his enemies. Let us set aside his attacks on the free press, the FBI, his own Department of Justice, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller. What no person who claims to follow Jesus ought to overlook is his slander against President Obama and his continual lying.
Jesus of Nazareth taught in the Gospel of John: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” (John 8:44) Jesus goes on to say that the people who do not believe him cannot hear him because they are not of God.
The Greek word that is translated as “devil” also means “false accuser” and “slanderer.” Trump became the birther in chief before he became commander in chief. He led the effort to slander President Obama by denying the truth that President Obama was born in the United States. He talked about having paid investigators working on the case and of the information they were uncovering. I may have missed something, but I have never seen any of these investigators or seen a report from them. During the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump made a very short statement that President Obama was born in the United States. It was too little, too late.
Mr. Trump’s falsehoods continue. He has told more lies than any president in the history of fact checking. Let us imagine that the Accuser, the Slanderer is the Cosmic impulse to deceive, and that people who succumb to spreading false accusations, slanders and lies are under this influence. Now, we have religious leaders who say that they are followers of Jesus supporting a leader under the influence of Cosmic deception.
The theme for this year’s National Day of Prayer is: “Pray for America – Unity.” Jesus did not come to bring unity. His story is one of bringing division. Jesus says that he has come to turn family members against each other, that he did not come to bring peace but a sword. (Matthew 10:34-36) The Letter to the Ephesians describes the sword of the Spirit as the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17)
There can be no unity among Christians as long as some who call themselves Christians are more followers of Trump and the Republican Party than they are of Jesus. When they speak, they do not speak of the teachings of Jesus. They speak of their political agenda, but not of the compassion and hard sayings of Jesus.
Jesus taught the Golden Rule: “In EVERYTHING do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” No exceptions. This includes baking a wedding cake for same-sex couples, respecting a woman’s right to choose, welcoming the stranger, refusing to countenance taking children from their undocumented parents, and respecting a transsexual’s right to use the restroom of their sexual identification. This is because we, ourselves, would not want to be on the other end of these injustices.
Still, I believe in the worth of prayer. Perhaps prayer can help us where rational discourse has failed. So, the evening of the National Day of Prayer, our church will host a prayer service to pray for the nation with faith in a God who “is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20)

Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.”