The National Day of Prayer has been around for decades. But during the eight-year tenure of former President George W. Bush, it took on a different flavor. He hosted an annual observance in the East Room of the White House coordinated by Shirley Dobson, chairperson of the privately-funded National Day of Prayer Task Force and wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson.
As one might expect, that prayer event took on a distinctive flavor of the Religious Right.
The Dobsons were not invited to the White House on this National Day of Prayer, but held a three-hour-plus service in the Cannon House Office Building.
Being in D.C., I decided to check it all out.
I expected to see various gatherings or other expressions related to the Day of Prayer all around D.C., but did not. There has been a good bit of news coverage though.
Brent Walker, executive director the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, was fielding calls from reporters and on hold for a possible CNN interview when I dropped by.
At the conclusion of the Dobson-directed service, a press conference was held featuring several members of Congress. Rob Marus covered it for Associated Baptist Press while I took photos.
Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), who is co-chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, led the post-service press conference. (Like me, you may not have known that such a caucus exists.)
President Obama — like his long line of predecessors sans the most recent — did not hold a prayer service in the White House today. This decision, of course, made him ripe for comments from his political opponents like James Dobson (who was “disappointed”) and Rep. Forbes (who felt the president “missed an opportunity”).
After a good lunch (salmon, corn and asparagus salad, hazelnut and blueberry dressing) at the National Museum of the American Indian, I received an email from the White House Office of the Press Secretary noting that President Obama had signed a proclamation — as has been the long tradition — designating this as a National Day of Prayer.
He called for unity and respect for our varied faith traditions, and then concluded: “I call upon Americans to pray in thanksgiving for our freedoms and blessings and to ask for God’s continued guidance, grace, and protection for this land that we love.”
For the old soldiers of the Religious Right, however, only special favor for their narrow view of religious faith seems good enough. Which is one of the reasons why finding unity in the United States is increasingly difficult.
(These photos were taken by me today except for the official White House photo of President Obama signing the proclamation while Joshua DuBois, director of the White House Office for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, looks on. Like the Dobsons, I was not invited over to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. either,)