Earlier this month, Federal Judge Barbara Crabb ruled that a national day of prayer is an unconstitutional call to religious action. Since the ruling, atheist and religious groups have been arguing for and against both the ruling and the national day of prayer itself.
Many people of faith, especially Christians, have seen the ruling as a further whittling away of the status of faith in society. “First,” the logic goes, “they came for prayer in schools, then high school baccalaureates, then public nativity scenes at Christmas, and so forth, leading to this latest ruling against the national day of prayer.”
I, too, was disappointed by the ruling, but not because it whittled away Christianity. Christianity doesn’t need help from judges. Christianity doesn’t need an act of congress or a presidential proclamation.
Historically, the Church has flourished most when it had the least help from the state. Remember how the Church grew in its first couple of centuries. It began as a tiny handful of followers of a crucified rabbi in a backwater province, and became the most numerous religion in the world’s greatest empire — and did so despite official neglect, and frequent persecution, at the hands of the state. Or, more recently, consider how the underground Church grew so dramatically in China under Mao.
By contrast, the Church’s lowest moments have occurred when it was most tightly connected with the state. The crusades, the inquisition, the Thirty Years’ War between Protestants and Catholics, even Hitler’s domesticated “German Christian” church in Nazi Germany — all these occurred when the Church sought the power of the state and so became entangled with it.
No, if this ruling will harm anything, it will be our nation. Certainly the Church will not suffer, for there is no power in all creation – Jesus said not even the gates of Hades — that will prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18).
It isn’t my place to argue the constitutionality of a national day of prayer. I leave that to lawyers. But as a believer, I am called to pray for my country. “Fear God,” Peter writes, and “honor the Emperor.” In Jeremiah 29, the prophet calls Jewish exiles to pray even for Babylon. Regardless how the legal issue plays out, please join me and other people of faith next week in praying to the Lord for our nation.
(Originally published in the Hi-Desert Star, April 28, 2010.)