Friday, May 06, 2016

Reclaiming the National Day of Prayer

Yesterday was the National Day of Prayer. President Obama issued a proclamation declaring the day to be one of prayer.  The President is authorized by Congress to issue this proclamation, in which he states:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 5, 2016, as National Day of Prayer.  I invite the citizens of our Nation to give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings, and I join all people of faith in asking for God's continued guidance, mercy, and protection as we seek a more just world. 
As a faith leader I have no problem with prayer. I don't really have a problem with the President acknowledging the important role that faith plays in the lives of many Americans.  Unfortunately, the day has been hijacked by a conservative brand of Christianity that have tried to claim the day for themselves. There is even a National Day of Prayer Task Force, which is currently chaired by Billy Graham's daughter Ann, and was previously chaired by Shirley Dobson. The message that this group seeks to promote is that the United States is a Christian nation. Whether or not that was ever true, today we are a religiously diverse nation, and if the call goes out to the nation engage in prayer, well that should be a rather broad appeal. 

Last night for the eleventh year the Troy-area Interfaith Group  invited the community to gather for prayer.  There were over one hundred of us gathered at Beacon Unitarian Universalist Church, here in Troy, Michigan. Participants included representatives from the Islamic (two branches), Baha'i, Sikh, Jewish, Hindu, Christian (including Coptic). I have been serving as the Convener of TIG for the past four and a half years, and have been involved since my arrival here in Troy. 

The Troy-area Interfaith Group was formed because of the National Day of Prayer. Eleven years ago the Troy City Council authorized a National Day of Prayer observance. When my friend Padma Kuppa asked if she, a Hindu, could participate, the mayor at the time said yes. Unfortunately not everyone was happy and so the Council decided this was a Christian event, and thus Padma was excluded. Fortunately, faith leaders from across the religious spectrum heard about this and rallied around Padma. That was the beginning. Now it's not about Padma, it's about recognizing the religious diversity of our community. This is the way the National Day of Prayer should be observed.

So, if in your community there is a NDP observance that is exclusively Christian, don't bemoan the fact, create an alternative. By the way, as far as I know that Christian version has faded into oblivion, while the TIG observance carries the banner in our community.  I'm glad I'm part of this celebration, even if I came late to the party! 

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