The last two weeks have been anything but calm in the world of faith and religion. Conservative Christians are wondering whether they are being betrayed by both the White House and the court system. The ruling of a Wisconsin judge that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional and violates the concept of the separation of church and state has been like a blow to the solar plexus for battle weary Christians. In the much touted culture wars, there has never been such an open case of liberals throwing down the gauntlet in a specific area that has been deemed “Christian territory.”
Perhaps the blame for this change in the political atmosphere should be laid at the feet of the current administration and it’s concept of pluralism. After all, the president boldly declared last year that the US was no longer a Christian nation. This remark infuriated the faithful and set the stage for millions of rank and file Christians to question his personal faith. Next, he did not attend the National Day of Prayer and refused to make a declaration or statement until late in the day last year. Conservative Christian powerbrokers watched tentatively as the administration attempted to bring new leaders into the president’s advisory circle. These new leaders had no real national cache’ with the Christian masses. Despite the fact that the president attended a Congressional prayer breakfast earlier this year, his approach seems to have been aimed at “defanging” the politically powerful, religious right.
The latest debacle concerning the National Day of Prayer is even more volatile than the other issues. Uninviting Franklin Graham to speak at the Pentagon has raised eyebrows among the faithful from Maine to Mississippi and everywhere in between. It almost goes without saying that Franklin Graham holds a very prominent place in the evangelical community because of the stature of his dad - Billy. President Obama’s visit with Billy Graham this weekend may be a sign that he knows that he has gotten himself into deep waters. The benign neglect approach to the conservative, religious community may backfire and create irreconcilable differences between this president and millions of the nation’s Christians.
Who ever would have thought that prayer would have caused a national controversy? After all, in these turbulent times, we could use both divine wisdom and God’s gracious intervention.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.