Will you pray and fast for the future of our nation on Aug. 6? [Texas] Gov. Rick Perry has set aside that day for The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis, a rally at Reliant Stadium in Houston. Perry has invited the other 49 governors, plus pastors and various leaders. Thousands of people are expected to fill the cavernous room, asking God to bless and save the United States.
I can’t drive down to Houston that day, since I plan to repair the caulk and grout in a bathroom at my parents’ home in Oklahoma. But I will spend the day in prayer, and I will skip meals so hunger pangs may intensify my focus on the Lord and on our nation’s need. I hope you’ll be praying, too.
First, I will express thanks that God loves us and desires a relationship with each of us. God’s love makes prayer possible and infuses it with infinite value. Next, I’ll thank God for the blessing of prayer and for the opportunity to live in a nation where people can gather to pray, not only at a football field, but in places of worship large and small.
Then, I’ll pray that the Houston rally will neither cheapen nor pervert prayer. This is a practical possibility, particularly for a massive meeting led by people who have much to gain beyond the spiritual benefits of prayer. On the one hand, large rallies featuring government and civic leaders sometimes descend into civil religion, marked by “to whom it may concern” prayers that are so generic they offend no one and address no One. This cheapens prayer. On the other hand, some rallies vibrate with fervency, but the prayers seek to co-opt God on behalf of partisan propositions. This perverts prayer.
Of course, our nation and world need prayer. We may describe the problems and challenges differently, but Americans across political, economic, social and racial strata seem to agree we’re in a hard place. But we must not assume a huge prayer rally will make all things right. In a similar time, a prophet delivered these words from God: “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream”?(Amos 5:21-24).
Speaking from an age similar to ours, when the chasm between the haves and the have-nots widened daily, Amos reminds us our solemn assemblies and prayer meetings repulse God if we do not seek justice and reconciliation, if our hearts are not filled with mercy, grace and compassion.
Yes, we need prayer. But the Houston rally will do more harm than good if it:
• Politicizes prayer. This can happen at least two ways. First, if duplicitous politicians spout pious platitudes because they please the people. Hypocrisy may be effective in the short run, but it’s usually uncovered, and it’s always an affront to God. Second, if ardent advocates seek to align God’s will with one perspective or political party. Hard as it is for partisans on both sides to believe, many of their adversaries base their politics on their understanding of God’s plan. In broadest terms, one group emphasizes resourcefulness and personal responsibility while the other side underscores justice and care for the vulnerable. Both emphases are needed; neither is sufficient.
• Marginalizes others. The problem with political leaders headlining a Christian rally is that millions of their constituents are not Christians. Spiritual aspirations for souls aside, elected officials have a mandate to treat all law-abiding citizens fairly and equally. A partisan rally can give religious minorities the impression they are not welcome and leaders believe they are part of “the problem.” This would exacerbate divisions that already rend our national fabric.
• Fails to change anything. So much is at stake. Perhaps Americans will turn their hearts toward God in repentance and national reconciliation. If not, the prophecy of Amos will ring true again in our time.
Marv Knox is editor of the Baptist Standard. Visit his blog at www.baptiststandard.com.