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National prayers for national problems

Speakers at today’s National Day of Prayer event addressed abortion, religious liberty, and the need for humility

Pearl Owens prays at a National Day of Prayer event in Oxford, Miss. Associated Press/Photo by Bruce Newman/Oxford Eagle

National prayers for national problems

WASHINGTON—James Dobson, the radio host and founder of Focus on the Family, took President Barack Obama and his administration to task over abortion during a Capitol Hill event tied to today’s National Day of Prayer.

Dobson, making his remarks in the middle of the three-hour ceremony, told the gathering of lawmakers and faith leaders that he tries to refrain from making political statements at such events.

“But something we are all about is morality,” he added, “and there is an issue to come up that you all need to know about.”

That issue was abortion, particularly the Obamacare mandate that employers, including Christian groups like Dobson’s must provide insurance coverage for abortion drugs or face a fine.

Dobson didn’t pull any punches.

“In a sense he is the abortion president,” Dobson said of Obama. Later Dobson read aloud a letter he sent to policymakers saying that the “assault on the sanctity of human life takes me where I cannot go.”

Dobson, to a standing ovation from most in attendance, pledged not to pay any abortion surcharges, no matter the amount because “to pay one cent for the killing of babies is egregious to me.” Warning that God will not hold anyone guiltless for turning a deaf ear to abortion, Dobson promised to “do all I can to confront the government” on the issue.

“So come and get me Mr. President if you must,” Dobson said. “I will not yield to your wicked regulations.”

Dobson’s group recently won a round in this battle. On April 17, a Colorado judge granted a preliminary injunction to Family Talk, Dobson’s radio ministry, that exempts it from the Obamacare requirement to cover the “morning-after” pill and other abortifacient contraception in its health insurance. Federal District Judge Robert Blackburn wrote that there is a “substantial likelihood” that Family Talk can show that the regulations are a “substantial burden on the exercise of their religion.”

Dobson, at Thursday’s prayer event, said the fine that would have taken effect that day and would have amounted to $800,000 a year for his organization. Dobson said such a fine would have forced his ministry to close its doors. He told the audience that before the court ruling, his board voted unanimously not to pay the fine and take the consequences. He added that his group was not deemed religious enough by the Obama administration to be exempt from the mandate.

“I have given my life to the cause of Christ, or tried to, and yet the government did not recognize that,” Dobson said, his voice breaking.

Ironically, considering Dobson’s remarks and the fact that more than 100 similar lawsuits by religious organizations also are making their way through the courts, a judge was one of the featured speakers at Thursday’s prayer event in Washington, D.C.

Judge Maurice Foley is the first African-American to be appointed to the United States Tax Court. Then-President Bill Clinton appointed him in 1995, and Obama reappointed him to another 15-year term in 2010. Foley said that during both of his confirmation hearings he made it very clear to lawmakers that “I don’t judge on their behalf. I judge on the Lord’s behalf.”

He spoke about the importance of humility for judges, describing how being a goodly father and godly husband are the best training for a judgeship.

“By doing that you get a doctorate in humility,” he said.

He chided Christians for letting their pride impair their relationship with God, turning Him into a “heavenly servant or cosmic concierge.” Deep reverence and respect for the Lord gained by Bible study and prayer creates accountability, Foley said.

“If not for my relationship with the Lord, I might be crazy enough to think that I was in control and that I had all the answers,” he said. “But it is the relationship with the Lord and the power of the Holy Spirit that enables a judge to do what everybody thinks a judge should do, and that’s be fair, be just, be patient, and be a good listener.”

Similar events marking the National Day of Prayer occurred around the nation. All 50 governors signed proclamations or statements calling for a day of prayer in their states. Obama’s own prayer proclamation called prayer “an essential act of worship and a daily discipline. “

Obama also asked the nation not to “forget those around the world, including Americans, who are being held or persecuted because of their convictions. Let us remember all prisoners of conscience today, whatever their faiths or beliefs and wherever they are held. Let us continue to take every action within our power to secure their release.”

But the National Day of Prayer did not come without controversy in at least one state. The Colorado Supreme Court held oral arguments on Thursday in a case involving an atheist group’s efforts to block the governor from issuing honorary prayer proclamations. Dobson warned that if Colorado’s high court acts to bar such proclamations it could begin a process of erosion of the support that prayer has had throughout the country. Dobson noted that 34 of the nation’s 44 presidents have called for a National Day of Prayer while more than 1,200 such proclamations have been issued by a government executive in the country’s history.

Meanwhile, an organization aimed at eliminating the presence of religion in the military continued to criticize the participation in prayer events by military officials in uniform. Mikey Weinstein, the founder and president of one group, sent a letter last week to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asking that such practices be barred.

“The planned participation by uniformed U.S. military personnel in this private fundamentalist Christian religious event, run by a non-federal entity, is an unequivocally clear violation of the plethora of (Defense Department) regulations and instructions," Weinstein wrote.

But Major General Joseph S. Ward, the Deputy Director of the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, did speak in uniform at Thursday’s event in Washington. He called himself a sinner who has a “deep and abiding faith in our Lord.”

Ward spoke about the inner battles many service members are facing, noting a statistic from the Veteran’s Administration that 22 veterans commit suicide each day.

“Our service men and women are hurting so are their families,” he said. “They need our prayers. In order to do so we must continue to allow our servicemen and women to freely and openly exercise their right to express their faith.”

The event’s keynote speaker was evangelist Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of Rev. Billy Graham. She warned that the nation’s many fiscal and social challenges should be seen as alarms going off about the dangerous path the country is on.

“God is trying to wake us up before it is too late,” she said. “God’s judgment is ugly when it falls. And He never sneaks up and judges us by surprise. He always, always, always sends warnings … the only antidote, the only solution is repentance of sin.”

Lotz urged everyone to put aside mechanical prayers and to cry out to God.

Edward Lee Pitts Lee is the associate dean of World Journalism Institute and former Washington, D.C. bureau chief for WORLD Magazine. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and teaches journalism at Dordt University in Sioux Center, Iowa. Lee resides with his family in Iowa.


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