It is easy to tire of the divisive nature of politics. The ability of civil disagreements to drive a wedge between people of good will is nothing new; it is an age-old challenge, and one that our nation’s founders struggled with as well. The theme for this year’s National Day of Prayer, which we will celebrate on Thursday, May 1, is “One Voice, United in Prayer.” As we honor the National Day of Prayer, it is important to remember that throughout our nation’s history, in times of sorrow and of joy, prayer has united and strengthened America as a people.
After the American Revolution, our nation’s leaders were deeply divided over the way in which this new experiment in democracy should be governed. A first attempt at forming a civil structure under the Articles of Confederation was failing and a convention was called to address the problem.
Though they all had fought for the shared ideal of freedom in the Revolution, the delegates at the Constitutional Convention agreed very little about what structure of government would best preserve their hard-won freedom. Disagreements and bickering threatened to undermine the new nation almost as soon as it had begun. Amidst the controversy, Benjamin Franklin urged that the delegates appoint religious leaders to open each session with prayer. Franklin noted in his appeal that, during the war with Britain, they had prayed daily for protection, and yet in a time of peace they had forgotten the need to seek such protection and wisdom.
Prayer is not a tonic that will make all leaders see eye to eye, but it is an act of faith that has unified us as a nation since our inception. Corporate prayer can unify us despite our disagreements by reminding us that, while we may disagree about what paths or policies will best continue to support and secure our freedoms, we must recognize where we have shared motivations to preserve that freedom. Despite our disagreements, we can be one voice, united in prayer as we strive to overcome the challenges that lie before us.
Over the course of American history, presidential calls to prayer have alone numbered over 130 proclamations. The first presidential call to prayer was issued by George Washington on October 3, 1789. He wrote, “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor.”
In 1952, under President Harry Truman, Congress made an annual National Day of Prayer a permanent fixture. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed an amendment to the law, designating the first Thursday in May of each year as the official National Day of Prayer. This year marks the 63rd annual observance of the National Day of Prayer. Politics continues to be divisive — there is nothing new under the sun — but prayer has helped in the past to overcome these obstacles, and prayer will help us to overcome again.
We need to recognize the uniting power of prayer. That is why, as co-chairmen of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, we introduced a bipartisan resolution, H.Res. 547, supporting the National Day of Prayer and urging all Americans to come together to pray and to reaffirm the importance prayer has had in our nation’s history. By recalling historic national calls to prayer from Presidents Washington, Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Clinton, and George W. Bush, this resolution serves as a reminder of the many ways that prayer has united and strengthened the American people.
We will continue to disagree over courses of action, but we can bridge those disagreements and overcome these certain challenges by uniting in prayer.
— Representative J. Randy Forbes and Representative Mike McIntyre are the co-chairmen of the Congressional Prayer Caucus.