God, Prayer, and America
No nation can continue to exist without both acknowledgment and devotion to God. “Righteousness exalts a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). The Hebrew nation recognized God Almighty and observed great days of prayer and worship. Building on the religious understanding from the Bible, our Founding Fathers, from the beginning, set forth the role and importance of God and national days of prayer and thanksgiving. Such emphasis on God and prayer gives the nation’s culture a rich religious influence. Initially the citizens exalted God and observed these days with great solemnity and respect.
When the early Continental Congress issued a day of Thanksgiving on Friday, October 31, 1777, for victory over the British Army under General Burgoyne, Henry Laurens, President of Congress, sent a proclamation to General George Washington who was on his way to Valley Forge. General Washington immediately stopped his march and had “the chaplains [hold] religious services . . . which the commander-in-chief exhorted all officers and soldiers to ‘attend with reverence the solemnities of the day’” (Morris 660).
The merging of God and prayer in our nation’s historical past can be found in many monuments scattered throughout Washington D. C. In the nation’s Rotunda, which serves as the intersect between the House of Representatives and the Senate, there are several artistic panels attesting to our Founding Fathers’ emphasis on God and prayer. One of these panels depicts the figure of the crucified Christ (Demar 122).
The prayer room in the U. S. Capitol building contains, among other religious scenes, a stained-glass window depicting George Washington kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge. It is etched with the words of Psalm 16:1. “Preserve me, O God, for in Thee do I put my trust” (Moore 556).
Every newly elected or re-elected President of the United States invokes God’s name and prayer when taking his oath of office. When the president delivers a national address from the oval office it is normally ended with the signature phrase “and may God bless America.”
A unique change in the events at the inauguration of Dwight D. Eisenhower occurred on January 20, 1953. In his hotel room early on the morning of his inauguration, Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote down some words of a prayer he had been mulling over in his mind. Later that day as he was sworn in as the President, he walked to the podium before the American public to set forth his vision for the nation’s next four years. President Eisenhower’s words and prayer are as follows:
My friends, before I begin the expression of those thoughts that I deem appropriate to this moment, would you permit me the privilege of uttering a little private prayer of my own? And I ask that you bow your heads.
Almighty God, as we stand here at this moment my future associates in the Executive Branch of government join me in beseeching that Thou will make full and complete our dedication to the service of the people in this throng, and their fellow citizens everywhere.
Give us, we pray, the power to discern clearly right from wrong, and allow all our words and actions be governed thereby, and by the laws of this land. Especially we pray that our concern shall be for all the people regardless of station, race, or calling.
May cooperation be permitted and be the mutual aim of those who, under the concepts of our Constitution, hold differing political faiths; so that all may work for the good of our beloved country and Thy Glory. Amen. (qtd. in Moore 554)
On that day, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ended his message to our nation with the words “This is the work that awaits us all, to be done with bravery, with charity, and with prayer to Almighty God” (555). Would to God that leaders of nations everywhere would believe and trust in God and utilize prayer as they guide their nations.
Demar, Gary. America’s Christian History: The Untold Story. 1993. Powder Springs: American Vision, 2010.
Moore, James P. Jr. One Nation Under God: The History of Prayer in America. Large Print ed. New York: Doubleday, 2004.
Morris, Benjamin F. The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States. Powder Springs: American Vision, 2007.