Evangelicals Join Bush in Prayer-Day Celebration

( [email protected] ) May 06, 2004 08:43 AM EDT

In observance of today’s National Day of Prayer, President Bush will join evangelical Christian leaders at the White House. More than a million evangelicals are expected to watch the meeting, which is to be broadcasted tonight on Christian cable and satellite TV outlets nationwide.

The celebration will start mid-afternoon, followed by three-hour “Concert of Prayer” at night featuring Christian singers.

Bush has participated in the event in the past, but this year is the first time for it to be broadcasted for the public.

This year’s theme, “Let Freedom Ring,” was chosen in response to efforts to remove the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance and efforts to keep the Ten Commandments out of public buildings.

While some civil liberty groups are criticizing the religious event broadcast at the White House, calling it implicit political endorsement, organizers of the event disagreed.

"We're in an election year, and we believe God cares who's in those positions of authority," said Mark Fried, spokesman for the National Day of Prayer Task Force. "But we're not endorsing a candidate, just praying that God's hand will be on the election."

With the hope of setting a day for common prayer, the National Day of Prayer has been celebrated every year, since its inception in 1952 by President Truman. Under President Ronald Reagan, the date was set permanently as the first Thursday in May.

Since the mid-1980s the ceremony has been organized by two evangelical figures – Vonette Bright, widow of Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright, and Shirley Dobson, wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson.

Now the National Day of Prayer is celebrated starting with a congressional prayer on Capitol Hill in the morning, followed by a ceremony at the White House in the afternoon. Millions of Christians, churches from various denominations, and Christian organizations across the nation will observe the day with prayer.

Christian-based community service groups that fulfill the needs of society, such as Salvation Army, are also participating in the event. Salvation Army in Ventura County and Oxnard in California are hosting a prayer breakfast this morning, along with many church ministries, business, and community members.

“As food from the breakfast will help nourish our bodies, prayer is the key to nourishing our soul, and will bring change to Oxnard,” Captain Michael Halverson of The Salvation Army Oxnard.