Evangelist Franklin Graham prayed briefly on a sidewalk outside the Pentagon Thursday morning, then moved to the Cannon House Office Building next to the U.S. Capitol to participate in what amounted to a Christian worship service commemorating the 59th National Day of Prayer.
Graham, who the Pentagon disinvited from its prayer day event because of his anti-Islam remarks, preached a 30-minute sin and salvation sermon to an audience of several hundred that included Members of Congress, the judiciary and the Armed Forces.
“My prayer is that America once again will worship the Lord Jesus Christ,” Graham said. “My prayer is that America will trust him once again. My prayer is, ‘Lord, if you’re willing, make our nation whole again. May we turn to you, worship you, acknowledge you, live by your ways and your standards.’ God bless America.”
Graham is honorary chairman of the largely evangelical National Day of Prayer Task Force, led by conservative Christian leaders James and Shirley Dobson. Members of Congress, the court system and the Armed Forces, as well as various evangelists, said and led prayers during Thursday’s ceremony near the Capitol.
Before he preached, Graham alluded to the Pentagon controversy. “I know we have people here of other faiths, and I certainly want to say that I love you, but please allow me to speak today as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I don’t want to be offensive to anyone, but the only way I know how to pray and to preach is the way the Bible instructs.”
Wednesday evening on Fox News, Graham discussed the Pentagon snub directly. “It’s just unfortunate that this decision was made by the Pentagon,” Graham said. “The Muslims have their holidays that they celebrate at the Pentagon. They celebrated Ramadan. They have prayer services there. But for us Christians to have prayer services, and for them to object and for the Army to give in to their objections is something that I just don’t understand.”
Outside the Pentagon Thursday morning, Graham said he was there to pray for U.S. soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. “I have a son in Afghanistan and I came today to pray for our men and women that serve this nation,” he said. “They risk their lives every day to protect our freedom. So my prayer was that God would watch over them.”
Congress established the day in 1952. In 1988, it set the first Thursday in May as the day for presidents to issue proclamations asking Americans to pray.
Last month, a federal judge in Wisconsin declared National Day of Prayer unconstitutional as “an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context.” The Obama administration has decided to appeal the ruling.
As he did last year, President Obama issued a National Day of Prayer proclamation: “I call upon the citizens of our Nation to pray, or otherwise give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings.”
— David Waters
UPDATE: While Graham and the Dobsons were leading the ticketed National Day of Prayer event next door to the Capitol, a smaller crowd was participating in a quieter ceremony on the Capitol steps.
“Don’t expect any music or sermons. Don’t expect any pomp. Just prayer. No personalities. Just prayer. No party divisions. Just prayer,” said Nancy Sharman, East National Leader of the National Day Prayer, said
The smaller prayer event marked the conclusion of a five-day, four-night marathon Bible reading, organized by Rev. Michael Hall, a DC pastor and executive director of the International Bible Reading Association.
“As Christians we don’t need a political strategy, we just need God’s word,” Hall said.
— Hamil Harris