J. Andrew Daugherty, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Denver, CO, has weighed in on the annual "National Day of Prayer," arguing that prayer by its essential nature is "God's business," and it is not the state's job to "administer such a sacred function."
In a recent op-ed for the Huffington Post titled "Jesus Doesn't Need a National Day of Prayer (And Neither Do We)," Daugherty first quotes President Obama in describing the purpose of the day, which this year falls on May 7th.
"This day is set aside to acknowledge what President Obama just last year described thusly: 'One of our Nation's great strengths is the freedom we hold dear, including the freedom to exercise our faiths freely. For many Americans, prayer is an essential act of worship and a daily discipline. Today and every day, prayers will be said for comfort for those who mourn, healing for those who are sick, protection for those who are in harm's way, and strength for those who lead,'" he writes.
However, Daugherty argues, instead of "uniting, guiding and healing," the federally-endorsed National Day of Prayer cheapens true communion with God and makes it a "watered down version of authentic prayer." The pastor explains that our nation's earliest Christian fathers seemed to have a better understanding of why the church must be separate from the state. He uses the example of Baptist minister Francis Bellamy, who penned the original Pledge of Allegiance in 1892 without using the words "under God."
"It was as if Bellamy abided another Baptist trailblazer's words, Roger Williams, who maintained that there exists a 'hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world,'" Daugherty writes.
"Prayer by its essential nature is God's business, not government business," he continues. "The state's job is not to administer such a sacred function any more than clergy or houses of worship are to endorse politicians, pass legislation, or plan road construction projects for America's interstates. Further, religio-political leaders searching for political style points should not desecrate prayer in order to earn it."
He goes on to emphasize that the "last thing we need is a shallow political demonstration of ceremonial deism (nor any more shallowness in our politics or our religions)."
"Let's not confuse patriotism and genuine piety," he writes. "Neither is it spiritually wise to lump a practice as sacred as prayer into the narrative of American exceptionalism with the flashy spectacles of what can be construed by even the most bona fide of the blessed as a self-congratulatory occasion."
Daugherty then addresses "all of those who are persuaded that the practice of prayer can transform us in body, mind, and spirit to such a degree that we can be peacemakers and justice-bearers for all of God's children who have the inalienable right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
"Go ahead and pray freely, openly, and from the heart," he writes. "And do so knowing that we simply don't need the government to tell us how, where, or when to do it."
Daugherty's thoughts on the National Day of Prayer have garnered a mixed reaction from readers, with some applauding his insight and others criticizing his "ignorant" arguments.
"Thank you for your wise insight regarding this government-approved day," writes one commenter. "Over the past decades, the National Day of Prayer has turned into a mockery of what true prayer should be. Prayer should be done reverently and modestly, in the quiet of one's own home."
"Collective prayer is powerful and just because you don't want to participate does not give you the right to tell us it is not necessary, not powerful and not genuine. This is a 63 year old tradition and there is NO NEED to change it," writes another commenter. "Don't want to participate, no problem. To logically describe the false narrative that it has no impact, no place and no authenticity is entirely disproportionate to the intangible concept of prayer. Faith is not logical. It's emotional, cerebral and physical. It requires the exact opposite of logic. It requires LOVE. "
John Bornschein, vice chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force and an executive member of the National Prayer Committee, has previously explained that although it is federally endorsed, a National Day of Prayer is necessary because it serves as an annual reminder of the nation's great need for God's help--all year round.
"We believe that God can bring about another great awakening in our nation if we humble ourselves and pray, seek His face and turn from our wicked ways," Bornschein told the Christian Post.
"The Almighty is waiting for Americans to turn back to Him in a posture of prayer and repentance. May we, this day, determine to surrender our ways to Him, giving God the honor He deserves so that, as Psalm 85 states, 'His glory may dwell in our land."