America is a nation searching for answers, following the shooting this weekend in Arizona. At least six people were killed, including a Federal Judge and a nine-year-old girl. Among the fourteen others who were wounded in this assault was U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head. The Congresswoman was holding a public event called “Congress on Your Corner,” at a Tucson supermarket. The event was patriotic and peaceful. Yet, for reasons unknown at this time, a young man chose to bring death and terror to the gathering.
In response to this violent, evil act, the President led the nation in a moment of silence earlier today. This “Moment of Silence” was said to be a time of prayer, reflection, and silence. Indeed, one headline read, “America pauses to reflect.” The President, Congress and the Supreme Court all observed the National Moment of Silence. We live in a time when it is deemed politically inappropriate to acknowledge that there is one God, let alone pray to him.
It appears that for many people, we have come to believe that, as a nation, a time of silence, reflection, and prayers to an unknown higher power will make a difference and bring healing. By bowing heads in silence, it is thought that we will offend no one. But in reality, there is One who has been spurned: the God of Heaven and Earth. It has not always been this way. Note this excerpt from a prayer by George Washington. The full prayer is available below.
Increase my faith in the sweet promises of the gospel; give me repentance from dead works; pardon my wanderings, and direct my thoughts unto thyself, the God of my salvation; teach me how to live in thy fear, labor in thy service, and ever to run in the ways of thy commandments….
How has this change come about? What has transpired that brings our nation to the point of failing even to address God directly in public prayer? While there are many answers to this question, I offer one that I believe is pivotal. John Dewey has had a profound impact on the educational philosophy of America. In 1933, the same year that he was a signer of the Humanist Manifesto, Dewey said this about God and prayer:
Faith in the prayer-hearing God is an unproved and outmoded faith. There is no God and there is no soul. Hence, there are no needs for the props of traditional religion. (John Dewey, “Soul-searching.” Teacher Magazine, September 1933, p. 33)
The Humanist Manifesto was deeply committed to this anti-Christian way of thinking. It has been 78 years since the signing of this document and Dewey’s statement about God and prayer. His philosophy is still foundational to the American educational system. These beliefs have impacted two generations of American educators. This type of aggressive philosophical thought offers at least one reason for the embrace of a “Moment of Silence.”
In contrast, I have listed below the prayers of several former U.S. Presidents. Please take the time to read these prayers. Think how it would have appeared, to our nation and to others, if each of these men had not prayed these prayers, but instead led in a moment of silence. These prayers all reflect a view of God that is different than Dewey’s. By listing the prayers, I am not necessarily endorsing all that these men stood for, nor would I have stated everything as they did. But what is clear is that these men all addressed the God of the Bible as the source of strength and redemption. In times of difficulty, they did not appeal to silence, but instead spoke to the God Who is.
George Washington ― A Prayer for Guidance
O eternal and everlasting God, I presume to present myself this morning before thy Divine majesty, beseeching thee to accept of my humble and hearty thanks, that it hath pleased thy great goodness to keep and preserve me the night past from all the dangers poor mortals are subject to, and has given me sweet and pleasant sleep, whereby I find my body refreshed and comforted for performing the duties of this day, in which I beseech thee to defend me from all perils of body and soul….
Increase my faith in the sweet promises of the gospel; give me repentance from dead works; pardon my wanderings, and direct my thoughts unto thyself, the God of my salvation; teach me how to live in thy fear, labor in thy service, and ever to run in the ways of thy commandments; make me always watchful over my heart, that neither the terrors of conscience, the loathing of holy duties, the love of sin, nor an unwillingness to depart this life, may cast me into a spiritual slumber, but daily frame me more and more into the likeness of thy son Jesus Christ, that living in thy fear, and dying in thy favor, I may in thy appointed time attain the resurrection of the just unto eternal life bless my family, friends, and kindred.
―An undated prayer from Washington’s prayer journal, Mount Vernon
Thomas Jefferson ― A Prayer for the Nation
Almighty God, Who has given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honorable ministry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people, the multitude brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endow with Thy spirit of wisdom those whom in Thy name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth. In time of prosperity fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all of which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
―Washington D.C., March 4, 1801
Abraham Lincoln ― A Prayer for Peace
Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet if God wills that it continues…until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword…so still it must be said that the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and for his orphans, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
―Second Inaugural address, March 4, 1865
Franklin D. Roosevelt ― A Prayer in Dark Times
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity…
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith. They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph…
Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom. And for us at home―fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them―help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice… Give us strength, too―strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.
With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace―a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.
―D-Day, June 6, 1944
John F. Kennedy ― A Prayer of Gratitude
Let us therefore proclaim our gratitude to Providence for manifold blessings―let us be humbly thankful for inherited ideals―and let us resolve to share those blessings and those ideals with our fellow human beings throughout the world.
On that day let us gather in sanctuaries dedicated to worship and in homes blessed by family affection to express our gratitude for the glorious gifts of God; and let us earnestly and humbly pray that He will continue to guide and sustain us in the great unfinished tasks of achieving peace, justice, and understanding among all men and nations and of ending misery and suffering wherever they exist.
―Thanksgiving Day Prayer
Ronald Reagan ― A Prayer for Healing
To preserve our blessed land we must look to God… It is time to realize that we need God more than He needs us… We also have His promise that we could take to heart with regard to our country, that “If my people, which are called by my name shall humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
Let us, young and old, join together, as did the First Continental Congress, in the first step, in humble heartfelt prayer. Let us do so for the love of God and His great goodness, in search of His guidance and the grace of repentance, in seeking His blessings, His peace, and the resting of His kind and holy hands on ourselves, our nation, our friends in the defense of freedom, and all mankind, now and always.
The time has come to turn to God and reassert our trust in Him for the healing of America… Our country is in need of and ready for a spiritual renewal. Today, we utter no prayer more fervently than the ancient prayer for peace on Earth.
If I had a prayer for you today, among those that have all been uttered, it is that one we’re so familiar with: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace….” And God bless you all.
―From a speech to the American people, February 6, 1986
George H. W. Bush ― A Prayer to Help Others
My first act as President is a prayer. I ask you to bow your heads.
Heavenly Father, we bow our heads and thank You for Your love. Accept our thanks for the peace that yields this day and the shared faith that makes its continuance likely. Make us strong to do Your work, willing to heed and hear Your will, and write on our hearts these words: “Use power to help people.”
For we are given power not to advance our own purposes, nor to make a great show in the world, nor a name. There is but one just use of power, and it is to serve people. Help us to remember it, Lord.
The Lord our God be with us, as He was with our fathers; may He not leave us or forsake us; so that He may incline our hearts to Him, to walk in all His ways… that all peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other.
―Inaugural Address, January 20, 1989
George W. Bush
We come before God to pray for the missing and the dead, and for those who love them… On this national day of prayer and remembrance, we ask Almighty God to watch over our nation, and grant us patience and resolve in all that is to come. We pray that He will comfort and console those who now walk in sorrow. We thank Him for each life we now must mourn, and the promise of a life to come.
As we have been assured, neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, can separate us from God’s love. May He bless the souls of the departed. May He comfort our own. And may He always guide our country.
―From his address to the nation after the World Trade Center attacks,
September 14, 2001