loren Eric Swanson: NM National Day of Prayer Breakfast

Monday, May 08, 2006

NM National Day of Prayer Breakfast

On Thursday morning Jeff and I went to the Las Cruces National Day of Prayer Breakfast, held at the Farm and Ranch Museum in Las Cruces. Jeff was asked to speak and give prayer requests regarding the military and the war. He did a great job. The Farm and Ranch Museum is a very good working museum, with interesting pictures of the past that honors New Mexicans and their diverse heritage--from Mexican illegals crossing the Rio Grande in the 1930's ("Our brave and courageous ancestors") to what appears to be the prequel to Brokeback Mountain. The breakfast was well-attended, with the mayor in attendance as well as a couple hundred from local churches.

There was something rather odd however in the printed prayer requests. One of the last requests read "No Islam." Most public prayer breakfasts (those that are attached to a civic proclamation) tend to be ecumenical in nature. So at the National Prayer Breakfast there are clergy from differing denominations and religions--those folks that make up the public religious life in America. This year, for instance, Bono from the Rock Group U2 was the keynote speaker and apparently he rocked the house.

As much as many would like wishfully think differently, America is "one nation under God" but it was not founded on the premise that we would be a nation under one God. The founders were a mix of Christians and diests who believed in God but were convinced that how or whether one worshiped was a freedom granted by God not men or government. Jefferson, for instance, once went through the gospels excising all passages that he thought rationalistically improbable but at the same time asked that one of those excised passages ("I am the resurrection and the life...") be read at his funeral.

America can be called a "Christian nation" insofar as it is inhabited predominately by Christians. But there is an important distinction between these two models because they dictate and drive our tactics and focus of our energy. If we believe, for example, that our country was a founded as a Christian nation, then our energy is focused on "getting back" or "taking back" what is rightfully our heritage that has been rested from us by liberal and secular forces. We get sloppy in strategies, reacting against other's vision of or agenda for America but lacking a compelling vision to put forth ourselves. On the other hand, if we believe that America was founded on the premise that "all men were created equal and they are endowed by their Creator with certain inaliable rights," but where no religion would be given special favor or special hinderance, then we have to present to our neighbors and the world a model of discipleship and kingdom living that compells people rather than bullys people into following Christ. Each religion and world view has to make its own way without any affirmative action or preferential treatment that gives one a foot up over the other. John Leland, a Baptist evangelist, who worked with Madison and Jefferson to secure religious freedom in Virginia wrote, "Let every man speak freely without fear, maintain the principles that he believes, worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in doing so" (American Gospel, p. 32).

In the 1790s President George Washington forged a treaty with the nation of Lybia. Article 11 reads, "As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion; --as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen (Muslims),--and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of harmony existing between the two countries" (American Gospel, p. 103). The treaty was ratified by the senate and eventually signed by President John Adams.

The founder's vision of America's faith seems to be that the Creator God, not man, grants liberty and freedom to all people. They had the chance to establish the country as a Christian nation but wisely chose not to, believing that if Jesus himself didn't compell people to believe and follow then neither should they.

When we realize that, as Christians, we are on equal footing with every other world view or religion, with no special favor granted to us, then we need to put forth our vision of individual, family and community life...and even our vision for our global world that causes others to want to be an integral part of that vision. Trying to reclaim something that was never rightfully ours in the first place is an exercise in futility.


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