President Bush, during a week dominated by reports of American abuses of Iraqi prisoners, said on the National Day of Prayer May 6 the Lord "is not on the side of any nation, yet we know He is on the side of justice."

The president told those at the White House prayer observance "it is the deepest strength of America that from the hour of our founding we have chosen justice as our goal."

"Our greatest failures as a nation have come when we lost sight of that goal: In slavery, in segregation, and in every wrong that has denied the value and dignity of life," Bush said. "Our finest moments have come when we have faithfully served the cause of justice for our own citizens and for the people of other lands. And through our nation's history, we have turned to prayer for wisdom to know the good and for the courage to do the good."

Bush's comments came a day after he condemned the abuses of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers, calling those acts "abhorrent" and saying "justice will be delivered."

The president said in his nine-minute address on the National Day of Prayer, "Americans do not presume to equate God's purposes with any purpose of our own. God's will is greater than any man, or any nation built by men. He works His will. He finds His children within every culture and every tribe. And while every human enterprise must end, His Kingdom will have no end. Our part, our calling is to align our hearts and action with God's plan, insofar as we can know it. A humble heart is not an indifferent heart. We cannot be neutral in the face of injustice or cruelty or evil."

The need of the United States is great now, Bush said. Americans pray for God's protection for the men and women fighting overseas, their families and for those who have lost loved ones, he said.

"Prayer also teaches us to trust, to accept that God's plan unfolds in His time, not our own," Bush said. "That trust is not always easy, as we discover in our own lives, but trust is the source of ultimate confidence. We affirm that all of life, and all of history, rests entirely on the character of our creation and our Creator. And His love and His mercy extend to all and endure forever."

Several Southern Baptists were in attendance for the president’s remarks, including Jack Graham, SBC president and pastor of the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church, and Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

All Across the Nation

In addition to the White House observance, NDP events were held on Capitol Hill, as well as in state capitols, county and city government buildings, parks, schools and church buildings. About 50,000 such events were held, NDP Task Force chairman Shirley Dobson said.

The Capitol Hill observance was held in a large, crowded caucus room in a House of Representatives office building. Oliver North, author, Fox News commentator and star witness in the 1987 Ira-Contra hearings, delivered the keynote address, focusing on the examples of American soldiers in Iraq. Attorney General John Ashcroft, and Rep. Charles Stenholm, D.-Texas, also spoke. New Senate Chaplain Barry Black led in prayer for the country.

During the four-hour session, participants prayed for members of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the federal government, as well as the armed forces and corporate America. Also speaking at the White House ceremony were Dobson and Rabbi Hersh Weinreb. Daniel Coughlin, House chaplain, and Black prayed.

Congress established the National Day of Prayer in 1952. In 1988, the first Thursday in May was designated for the annual event.

Some Resistance

This year's observance met with some pockets of resistance at the national, state and local levels. As it has in the past, Americans United for Separation of Church and State criticized NDP events, with AU Executive Director Barry Lynn describing them as "promoting a fundamentalist political agenda."

In Oklahoma, that state's AU chapter joined with Mainstream Baptists and others to hold an alternative event. The "Interfaith Day of Prayer and Reflection," scheduled for the steps of the capitol in Oklahoma City, was open to non-theistic groups and was designed as a celebration of religious freedom. More than 20 religious organizations were expected to participate in the event.

"The organizations determined to work on the project after seeing more than a decade of National Day of Prayer observances in which persons of minority faiths were excluded from full participation in observances on the steps to the state capitol in Oklahoma," said a statement from Mainstream Baptists, a moderate Baptist group. Bruce Prescott is the executive director of Mainstream Baptists in Oklahoma.

In Utah, an interfaith ministerial association refused to participate in a local day of prayer observance because Mormons are not permitted by NDP to lead such services, the Daily Herald newspaper reported. Mormons, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, differ markedly from evangelical Christians on several foundational issues, including the person and work of Jesus. An NDP spokesman said Mormon beliefs do not align with the Lausanne Covenant, an evangelical statement adopted in 1974, according to the newspaper.

Instead of continuing to participate in an NDP event, the Utah Valley Ministerial Association decided to plan its own service in Utah County. Utah County is the state's second most populous county. Provo is the county seat.

 

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