WASHINGTON (RNS)—A national grassroots network that came together after the 9/11 terrorist attacks for the sole purpose of praying for the president has lost more than 25,000 members since Barack Obama’s election last November. But more than 41,000 new members have signed up.
For John Lind, president of the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Presidential Prayer Team, those figures indicate the ministry that claimed to be — and aimed to be — nonpartisan when it began in 2001 has lived up to its mission.
“The only…president we’ve been under has been (George W.) Bush, so you’ve got to be realistic and say, ‘Wow, this could be a substantial dip in our database,’ but it wasn’t,” he said in an interview. “I think it’s a positive. It’s almost two-to-one new member to unsubscribed.”
That doesn’t mean it’s been a smooth transition for nearly half a million members who receive weekly e-mail updates guiding them in how to pray for the president. Some have sent the ministry messages saying that it has been “very difficult” to move from praying for Bush to praying for Obama.
“I did not want to pray for Obama because I didn’t vote for him, but then I realized that I had to pray for him, and it has literally changed my life to pray for him,” wrote a woman who only signed her name as “Betty.”
“God really changes our hearts if we allow him to do so. So, thank you for your part in getting us all together.”
Other team members, like Barbara Brown from Foresthill, Calif., said they realized they needed to put prayer ahead of politics after Election Day.
Brown was quoted in a recent profile on the ministry’s Web site: “I still have to remind some of my Democrat friends that no, President Obama did not inherit all of our nation’s problems from President Bush’s administration, and I have to remind some of my Republican friends that even though we did not vote for President Obama, he is now our president and he deserves our respect, honor and prayers as commanded by God.”
Since the ministry went online in 2001, Lind said, it has had 1.7 million people take part in its initiatives, which include praying not only for the president and his administration, but also military members and grandparents.
The site featured several “40 Days to Pray the Vote” projects leading up to the election and “77 Days of Prayer” between Election Day and Inauguration Day.
The latest initiative is “Praying Through the 1st 100 Days” of the Obama presidency; more than 31,500 people have signed up for a daily e-mail that provides them with a verse of Scripture and a short prayer at the start of each day.
“It just kind of jump-starts their day,” Lind said.
Officials of the ministry say they don’t have specific information about the party or church affiliation of their members, but they believe most have been evangelical Christians.
Peggy Gustave, who directs member services, estimates about 95 percent are Christian. She is aware of some Jewish members and at least one Baha’i member. On a recent day, she received 1,500 e-mail messages.
“I think with some people, they kind of want to be encouraged to pray for this president, even if they see that some of his agenda may not follow their bent,” she said.
“We refer them back to our mission Scripture…, which says to pray for those in authority over us. Period.”
Lind offered similar encouragement when he recorded his latest message for “Presidential Club” members who donate $25 or more a month to the ministry, saying the prayer efforts for the Obama administration are necessary.
“He and his administration are facing…enormous things on their plate,” Lind said he told them. “We can’t let our guard down.”
In that message, Lind also mentioned that he and six board members prayed with Bush in person during a 26-minute visit to the Oval Office on his last full day as president.
He called the meeting “just a terrific time.”
Bush spokesman Rob Saliterman confirmed that team members met with the former president Jan. 19.
Team officials hope to have the same opportunity with Obama, Lind said.
“We’ve tried to kind of let the dust settle a little bit,” he said. “We want an appointment with President Obama.”