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National Day of Prayer speakers decry moral decline

David Butts of Harvest Prayer Ministries leads people at the National Day of Prayer observance on Capitol Hill in praying for the executive branch on May 5, 2016. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

WASHINGTON (RNS) Long a celebration of evangelical influence in Washington and beyond, speakers at this year’s National Day of Prayer observance decried what they saw as America’s moral decline, in particular the acceptance of same-sex marriage.

And while not mentioning any particular candidate in this year’s election, Dallas pastor and broadcaster Tony Evans said conservative Christians should search their consciences and show that “we are not ashamed that we have cast our vote for the king of kings.”

He and other speakers on Capitol Hill Thursday (May 5) took particular aim at last year’s Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, encouraging the faithful to actively promote their own views.

Dallas pastor and broadcaster Tony Evans gave the keynote speech at the National Day of Prayer observance on Capitol Hill on May 5, 2016. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Dallas pastor and broadcaster Tony Evans gave the keynote speech at the National Day of Prayer observance on Capitol Hill on May 5, 2016. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

“Everybody else is coming out of the closet, we might as well come out too,” Evans said.

“Was it not shocking to the nation when on June 26, 2015, the very definition and meaning of marriage that has endured for 5,000 years in every civilization on Earth was redefined, weakened and undermined?” asked Shirley Dobson, outgoing chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force.

Since 1952, following an act of Congress, the National Day of Prayer has been observed annually. The law was amended in 1988 for the observance to be held on the first Thursday in May. Although the task force describes it as “a day for people of all faiths to pray for the nation,” it is known most as a day embraced by evangelical Christians, who gather on capitol steps, in public parks and a range of other locations each year.

Church-state separationists and nonbelievers have long countered the tradition, objecting to government proclamations affirming a special day for prayer. Atheists, secularists and humanists have sought to have the same day each year also declared a National Day of Reason, but legislation for that additional observance has stalled on Capitol Hill.


RELATED STORY: Secularists sue House chaplain on National Day of Prayer


The Freedom From Religion Foundation chose Thursday’s prayer day to file a suit against House Chaplain Patrick Conroy, alleging he barred one of its leaders from delivering an invocation before Congress.

President Obama, in a statement on the National Day of Prayer, acknowledged the range of approaches to prayer in America and the importance of religious liberty.

“Our country was founded on the idea of religious freedom, and we have long upheld the belief that how we pray and whether we pray are matters reserved for an individual’s own conscience,” he said. “On National Day of Prayer, we rededicate ourselves to extending this freedom to all people.”

For the most part, the Capitol Hill event focused on prayer rather than politics, but Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, citing a Proverb about wisdom, said of the three remaining presidential candidates: “Isn’t it wonderful that all three of them have such a wonderful fear of the Lord?” The remark drew some laughs from the crowd.

Evans, the Texas pastor, said the “chaos” facing the country is the result of a disregard for God.

Hundreds gathered on Capitol Hill to observe the 65th National Day of Prayer. During the Washington event, Shirley Dobson, chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, seated on stage, announced that she would be succeeded by Anne Graham Lotz, at the podium. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Hundreds gathered on Capitol Hill to observe the 65th National Day of Prayer on May 5, 2016. During the Washington event, Shirley Dobson, chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, seated on stage, announced that she would be succeeded by Anne Graham Lotz, at the podium. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

“What we are experiencing today is the passive wrath of God,” he said. “We want him for invocations, we want him in benedictions, as long he stays away from the meetings in between.”

During the Capitol Hill event, Dobson, wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and 25-year leader of the prayer day’s task force, announced that Bible teacher and author Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of evangelist Billy Graham, will succeed her.

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

30 Comments

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  • National Day of Prayer speakers decry moral decline:

    “How dare ‘They’ have the same civil rights regarding their private lives that ‘We’ have!”
    “How dare ‘They’ have the same legal benefits regarding their loved ones that ‘We’ have!”
    “How dare ‘They’ have the same freedoms and protections afforded U.S. citizens that ‘We’ have!”
    “How dare ‘They’ have the same legal equality and justice under the law that ‘We’ have!”

    Some moral causes are more moral than others.

  • 2 Timothy 3:1-5 describes the end of this wicked era (in which we currently live) as being critical times, hard to deal with, and what types of attitudes and lifestyles would be prominent at that time. Immorality is one of those, and it is a worldwide problem as well, not just the USA.

  • God has decreed our moral decline as surely as He decreed that this day would dawn. You may decry our decline but the best possible thing to do is to beseech Him for His mercy for those whom He will have mercy and save.

  • The acceptance of same-sex marriage is a moral advancement, not a moral decline.

  • This business of moral decline is rather in the eye of the beholder.

    * Was it moral decline when society stopped burning witches?
    * Was it moral decline when society abolished slavery and the slave trade?
    * Was it moral decline when society redefined marriage by permitting divorce and remarriage?
    If it wasn’t moral decline when society rejected the Biblical teaching that supported these practices, where is the moral decline in redefining marriage to permit same sex marriage?

  • They always decry “moral decline.” Whatever that may be. There is a great deal of money to be made in decrying moral decline. Unfortunately, they are only interested in their own morals, not other people’s.

    Too bad they attack gay people as an example of moral decline. But think that launching murderous attacks against countries that haven’t attacked us, causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, isn’t moral decline.

    Too bad they don’t think that Grand Theft Wall Street isn’t moral decline. Not one of those people causing the greatest decimation of other people’s wealth since the Great Depression have ever gone to jail.

    Too bad they think that responsible sex education and available birth control is an example of moral decline. But then, they couldn’t use abortion as a means of fund raising.

    Too bad they don’t think the lies and slander and reviling of gay people that these morally deficient moralizing busybodies engage I on a regular basis, all the while claiming to speak for God, isn’t to them an example of moral decline. But then lying for Jesus is just lying for Jesus.

    And so on. I have to get on a plane.

  • Marriage was never redefined. Please don’t repeat right wing moral decline to argue against right wing moral decline.

  • Oh wait! God has decreed moral decline? And then he punishes us for it. what a guy!

  • A political rally to help those that want money and power. The aim of the Religious Right, started by political strategists and televangelists, has always been to gain political advantage and to accumulate wealth. This was nothing more than a circle jerk of politics shown to the world as something godly. If there is a god, I doubt that men having sex with each other out ways the American Imperialist wars, in which innocents are killed and labeled as “collateral damage” and the refusal to help refugees from these wars, takes center stage. You know something is fishy when politicians and televangelists only talk about the cause celeb at the moment same sex marriage, instead of the dangers of war and xenophobia.

  • If I had the opportunity to select just one historical figure for sentencing to a place called Hell, it would be God.

  • Any solutions, answered prayers, God talking to anybody with a heavenly idea that will work on this day of prayer, is the NDP from God, gods, to anybody alive, or is this just a subject humans rant about over and over again for centuries more?

  • Shirley Dobson said: “the very definition and meaning of marriage that has endured for 5,000 years in every civilization on Earth was redefined, weakened and undermined”

    Wow–how clueless can she be? The definition had already changed in her own lifetime! Divorce is much easier, marital rape is now a thing, and laws against mixed-race marriage have been overturned. She deludes herself when she imagines that marriage never changes.

    She whines about how marriage is under attack by divorce, and then she clutches her pearls in horror when a new group actually wants to embrace marriage.

    Not a good representation of Christian love, I’m afraid.

  • The apostle Peter wrote, for our information, that in the last days, there would be ridiculers saying “where is this promised presence of his?” (referring to Jesus), and they would also say that all things are continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning (2 Peter 3:3, 4). That is another Bible prophecy that is proving true in our day.

  • Huh? In Australia, marriage is currently defined as the union of one man and one woman. If the Australian law was changed to permit same sex marriage, the definition of marriage would be changed. The law permits same sex marriage in the United States and a number of other countries, therefore the definition of marriage has also been changed in those jurisdictions.

    This is not right wing or left wing, it’s just the way the institution of marriage is understood. The same thing happened when divorce was permitted. People might marry, intending it to be until death parted them, but if you allow divorce and remarriage, then marriage has been redefined to take this into account. Similarly, when you allow same sex marriage, then marriage has been redefined to take this into account

  • You fail to recognize or comprehend the balance of Peter’s argument. Don’t worry, Jesus is Coming Back. When He does, I only hope that by then you will recognize Him for who He is.

  • There is enough moral decline to go around for all of us; the difference is that some recognize and decry this decline and their own contribution to I,t others can do nothing but proclaim their own moral innocence. I reject my own innocence…but embrace the forgiveness provided by Jesus…each of these actions, every day.

  • We have different beliefs, Edward Borges-Silva, but the great thing about 2 Timothy 3:1-5 is that, in its own ways, it speaks to both of us.

    My concern is about how we perceive ourselves vis-à-vis others, and how we treat each other accordingly. As I’ve said before, I believe that the Golden Rule (which, like you, I follow) means respecting each others’ personal boundaries, beliefs, belongings, bodies, bedrooms, and business, along with each others rights, freedoms, privacy, and equality.

    Your concern is clearly about recognizing and honoring your God. Though I don’t go to your church, I recognize and appreciate your concern. My late parents were devout Christians. They respected my beliefs, and they prayed for me. To me, theirs was a most beautiful expression of both parental and spiritual love.

    In that spirit, I thank you, and I’m glad you have your faith.

  • Ben, I thought you might be interested to learn that Alabama’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has been suspended, and may be removed from office, for defying the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling and orders regarding marriage equality. (per Reuters)

    Hope your flight went smoothly.

  • I was aware of that, G. Thanks.

    I have that there inter webs thingy on my computing machine, and I can stay in touch. ???

  • You are entitled to reject your own innocence, if that is your sincere religious belief that you were born depraved, requiring a savior to save you from the way he created you. I have no issue with that, though I do think it s a silly way to think about yourself.

    For myself, I have different perspectives which differ in emphasis. We’re people, we’re evolved animals, we have a history with the people that brought us into the world. All we can and should do is strive to be the best people we can.

    My other perspective? Being gay is not now and never has been a moral issue,as much as the churches wish to make it so. When the mOrally obsessed are as concerned what has been done to gay people for the crime of existing for the past 2000 years, and continues to be done to gay people in the world today, when they are as concerned about starving children and war as they are about what I do with my dangly bits, then and only then will I think they have anything whatsoever important to contribute about morality.

    Or as Jesus said– specks and beams, my brother in Christ. specks and beams.

  • Actually, no.

    It is not marriage that has been redefined. It is gay people. Our lives, loves, families, children, faith, and participation in society.

    Marriage remains exactly what it has always been.

  • When you stopped burning witches, keeping human beings as property or attacking the civil liberties of gays, because it was totally in line with the Christian faith back then, but after doing a ton of damage to others, you were forced otherwise.

    As I see it, there was never a moral ascendency to Christianity. So there is no decline. Just a lot of people getting fed up with what was considered regular and systematic practice of the faith.

    When apologists pretend that Christianity has been a great moral force in history, they like to ignore their part in being a great moral blight in history as well. It is akin to someone congratulating themselves on bandaging up someone while ignoring the fact that they knocked down in the first place. .

  • The whole “redefinition’ argument is half baked nonsense to begin with.

    1. Most “Biblical” definitions of marriage are pretty anti-social or harmful in a modern society.
    2. Even if it is being redefined, what is the actual harm being done in such changes? Especially when the change is more equitable and there are no rational arguments against it.

    It is simply a way to present the anti-marriage equality argument in a way other than “I hate teh gayz”

  • Well the anti-marriage equality grifters still have to appear useful in order to keep employed. They lost their sole alleged purpose. Now they have to scramble to avoid being consigned to the same historical dustbin as segregationists

  • Passive aggressive threats. Typical fundamentalist self-aggrandizement.

    So tell me again how humility is virtue of true christians. /sarcasm

  • George Wallace did it. He was a devout segregationist, eventually realized his mistake, and apologized and made peace with the other side.

    (But of course all we remember him for is the first part.)

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