Does prayer really matter? Can it actually change things? Is there really a God in heaven Who cares about the plight of man? Is there really a God so personal that He takes note of a sparrow’s fall and Who is moved when a man or woman calls to Him for aid with a sincere heart? Is there a God Who will actually intervene in the affairs of mankind, or Who will alter the course of nations in response to prayer, repentance, and sincere acknowledgment of man’s dependence on Him?
To all these questions our forefathers would have responded with an unequivocal “Yes!”, for it was out of prayer and dependence upon Almighty God that the United States of America was born.
Patrick Henry demonstrated his belief in prayer and the sovereignty of God when he proclaimed at the Virginia House of Burgesses, “If we wish to be free, we must fight! … An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!”
Concluding the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions do … declare that these United Colonies are … free and independent … And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
The 56 representatives of the 13 original colonies who signed the Declaration of Independence undoubtedly believed in the God of heaven, Who determines the destinies of nations. Consequently, they made their appeal to His divine judgment in determining the rightness of their cause. In this foundational document, our forefathers left a testimony of their belief in prayer and dependence on God’s protection and care.
That the God to Whom they were appealing was the God of the Bible is unmistakable, for the legitimacy of this petition was taken directly from the book of Judges. The children of ancient Israel made this appeal when threatened by their enemies, the Ammonites. With no earthly judge to settle the dispute, the leader of Israel called on God to act as Judge, and then led his army out courageously to battle.1
George Washington, Father of Our Country, was firmly convinced of the power of prayer and of the necessity to appeal to Almighty God for help and blessing. Historical records testify to his dependence upon God. When the American army was encamped at Valley Forge during that terrible winter, Washington often visited a secluded grove to pray for direction and to seek comfort from God.
In his answer to an address from the General Assembly of Massachusetts, following the evacuation of Boston by the British in 1776, Washington wrote: “May that Being who is powerful to save, and in whose hands is the fate of nations, look down with an eye of tender pity and compassion upon the whole of the United Colonies; may He continue to smile upon their counsels and arms, and crown them with success whilst employed in the cause of virtue and mankind. May this distressed colony and its capital, and every part of this wide extended continent, through His divine favor, be restored to more than their former luster and once happy state, and have peace, liberty, and safety secured upon a solid, permanent, and lasting foundation.“2
When the Constitutional convention was filled with division, strife, and seemed to be deadlocked, the elder statesman Benjamin Franklin gave the following exhortation: “All of us who were engaged in the struggle (of the Revolution) must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor …And have we now forgotten this powerful Friend? Or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance?
“I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: ‘that God governs in the affairs of man.’ And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?
“We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings, that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this. I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in the political building no better than the builders of Babel … I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberation be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business.”
Franklin’s advice changed the course of the convention. The delegates adjourned for three days to pray, attend church, and listen to preachers challenge and inspire them. Then they reassembled and drew up what is now the oldest and most successful Constitution ever written by men. “Legal minds of two centuries have continued to marvel at it as being almost beyond the scope and dimension of human wisdom.“3
Schools and seminaries in early America were started by Christians as outreaches of churches. Education was seen by the founders as much more than a process for teaching basic skills. It was the founders’ distinct purpose to instill in youth the lessons of history, the ideas of liberty, and the principles of true religion that would afford the people the ability to govern themselves. The Bible was used as the primary instrument to teach not only reading, but character and morals as well. The school day always began with prayer and an acknowledgment of their dependence on Almighty God.
The Infamous 1962 Decision
This practice continued until 1963, when, by an official act of the Supreme Court, it was ruled unconstitutional. The American school child was forbidden to pray. In one day the Supreme Court divorced American education from our national roots. The forbidden prayer which was outlawed by the Court was a simple one: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.”
The Court summarized “… state officials may not compose an official state prayer and require that it be recited in the public schools of the State at the beginning of each school day – even if the prayer is denominationally neutral and pupils who wish to do so may remain silent or be excused from the room while the prayer is being recited.”
When the 1962 ruling on school prayer was made, Justice Stewart’s dissenting opinion agreed with the logic that seems to be in keeping with the historic precedent of our forefathers. Part of the dissenting opinion read as follows: “A local school board in New York has provided that those pupils who wish to do so may join in a brief prayer at the beginning of each school day, acknowledging their dependence upon God and asking His blessing upon them and upon their parents, their teachers, and their country. The Court today decides that in permitting this brief nondenominational prayer the school board has violated the Constitution of the United States. I think this decision is wrong.
“The Court does not hold, nor could it, that New York has interfered with the free exercise of anybody’s religion. For the state courts have made clear that those who object to reciting the prayer must be entirely free of any compulsion to do so, including any ‘embarrassments and pressures.’ But the Court says that in permitting school children to say this simple prayer, the New York authorities have established ‘an official religion.’
“With all respect, I think the Court has misapplied a great constitutional principle. I cannot see how an ‘official religion’ is established by letting those who want to say a prayer say it. On the contrary, I think that to deny the wish of these school children to join in reciting this prayer is to deny them the opportunity of sharing in the spiritual heritage of our Nation … For we deal not here with the establishment of a state church, which would, of course, be constitutionally impermissible, but with whether school children who want to begin their day by joining in prayer must be prohibited from doing so.
“Moreover, I think that the Court’s task, in this as in all areas of constitutional adjudication, is not responsibly aided by the uncritical invocation of metaphors like the ‘wall of separation,’ a phrase nowhere to be found in the Constitution.
“At the opening of each day’s Session of this Court, we stand while one of our officials invokes the protection of God. Since the days of John Marshall our Crier has said, ‘God save the United States and this Honorable Court.’ Both the Senate and the House of Representatives open their daily sessions with prayer. Each of our Presidents, from George Washington to John F. Kennedy, has upon assuming his Office asked the protection and help of God.
“The Court today says that the state and federal governments are without constitutional power to prescribe any particular form of words to be recited by any group of the American people on any subject touching religion. One of the stanzas of “The Star Spangled Banner,” made our National Anthem by an Act of Congress in 1931, contains these verses:
“Blessed with victory and peace,
may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made
and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must,
when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto,
‘In God is our Trust’”
“In 1954 Congress added these words to the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag: ‘one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’ In 1952, Congress enacted legislation calling upon the President each year to proclaim a National Day of Prayer. Since 1865, the words IN GOD WE TRUST have been impressed on our coins.
“Countless similar examples could be listed, but there is no need to belabor the obvious. It was all summed up by this Court just ten years ago in a single sentence: ‘We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.’
“I do not believe that this Court, or the Congress, or the President, has by the actions and practices I have mentioned established an ‘official religion’ in violation of the Constitution. And I do not believe the State of New York has done so in this case. What each has done has been to recognize and to follow the deeply entrenched and highly cherished spiritual traditions of our Nation – traditions which come down to us from those who almost two hundred years ago avowed their ‘firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence’ when they proclaimed the freedom and independence of this brave new world. I dissent.”
The Effect of Banning School Prayer
The prayers of over 39 million school children and over two million teachers were disallowed by the 1962 decision. Prayer became a forbidden practice. Twenty-five prayerless years have now come and gone; has it really mattered? Recent compilations of statistics revealed by David Barton in his unprecedented book America: To Pray or Not to Pray declares an unequivocal “Yes!”
Just what has happened during those prayerless years? SAT scores plunged downward until the Secretary of Education drew up a report entitled “A Nation at Risk” which gave a full account of our scholastic decline. We were once the most literate nation in the world; now we have the highest illiteracy rate among industrial nations. Premarital sex, teenage pregnancies, and venereal disease have skyrocketed since 1962.
The number of divorces has tripled every year, until by 1987, the U.S. divorce rate topped the world’s divorce charts. In 1970, unmarried couples living together were one in 85. By 1983 there were one in 25 unmarried couples that were living together. Adultery in women increased from 6 to 26 percent prior to 1963 to 45 to 55 percent in 1987.
According to Barton, “In the years prior to the banning of God from schools, most facets of the American educational system had remained stable at relatively high, productive levels. Since then, many things in the school system have undergone radical changes. School violence and lack of discipline have become some of the more troublesome problems facing American education.“4
The top offenses in the public schools recently listed in polls among educators were as follows:
12. Drug Abuse
14. Gang wars
17. Venereal disease
These problems have now spread throughout our nation. Violent crime has increased dramatically since the volume of prayer beseeching God’s blessing on our nation was curtailed in 1962. We now lead the world in violent crime, divorce, and illegal drug use. We have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the Western world.5
Before God was barred from schools, top offenses taken in polls were as follows:
2. Chewing gum
3. Making noise
4. Running in the halls
5. Getting out of turn in line
6. Wearing improper clothing
7. Not putting paper in wastebaskets
Noah Webster, father of the American dictionary and early American educator, stated: “The moral principles and precepts contained in the scriptures ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws. All the miseries and evils which men suffer from – vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery, and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.” 6
Thomas Jefferson wrote, “A people can become so demoralized and depraved as to be incapable of exercising a wholesome control … Their minds are to be informed by education what is right and what is wrong, to be encouraged in habits of virtue and deterred from those of vice by the dread of punishments, proportioned, indeed, but irremissible; in all cases, to follow truth as the only safe guide and to eschew error, which bewilders us in one false consequence after another in endless succession. These are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure of order and good government.“7
In 1892 the Supreme Court made an exhaustive study of the connection between Christianity and the government of the United States. Having reviewed hundreds of volumes of historical documents, the Court concluded, “These references … add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a religious people … a Christian nation.” In 1931, Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland reviewed the 1892 decision and reiterated that Americans are a “Christian people.” In 1952 Justice William O. Douglas affirmed that “we are a religious people and our institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.“8
When a public stand was taken by the highest court in our land to disregard God and no longer acknowledge our need for Him, we became guilty of “forgetting our Powerful Friend “and “imagining we no longer need His assistance.” Thus we have invited the consequences of the words spoken by the prophet Samuel: “Whoever honors Me, I will honor. And whoever disregards me, I will disregard” (I Samuel 2:30). Through Hosea the prophet God said, “Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (Hosea 4: 6).
David Barton observes, “In 1963, a distinct and well-defined new direction was established – 15 to 20 consecutive years of uninterrupted decay. This new course was not assumed gradually; it did not require years for it to develop. The break happened at a visible point on the charts … The point of visible departure from previously stable conditions occurs on or around 1962 with virtually every graph in this book.”
God states emphatically in His Word, “I will protect him for he acknowledges My name. He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him, with long life will I satisfy him and show him My salvation … Since they have rejected the Word of the Lord, what kind of wisdom do they have? … Am I the one they are provoking? Are they not rather harming themselves to their own shame?” (Portions of Psalms 91 and Jeremiah 7-8)
Reflecting on the effect of the prayerless years, Barton states, “The first and most obvious effect of the Supreme Court ruling was the immediate decrease in the volume of prayers being offered for the nation and its leaders, and people … Despite the quantity of daily prayers being offered through all other nonschool avenues, the termination of millions of individual public school prayers had a significant impact … The Bible teaches that not only does God perceptibly respond to prayer, but His response is directly proportional to the amount of prayer offered. Massive prayer brings massive results. No prayer brings no results. Little prayer brings little results. When the volume of prayer drops, so do the related results…
“By excluding prayer and Bible reading from schools, the Court had unconsciously committed a second act whose effect was equally damaging. The Court had challenged God Himself … saying that God was no longer welcome in certain affairs of our nation … Biblical history also reflects that as the nation’s leaders go, so goes the nation. When a nation’s leaders reject God, the entire nation can be affected. God responds to nations on the basis of their leaders. In ancient Israel, although several thousand individuals never compromised their position toward God, the entire nation suffered a famine because of the wickedness of its leaders, Ahab and Jezebel …When a nation’s leaders dishonor God, God dishonor’s that nation.“9
While 97 percent of our nation, according to polls, claimed a belief in God in 1962, how was it that the nation’s leaders were so out of step with mainstream America? Granted the Supreme Court is comprised of unelected officials, but they are appointed by the elected President and confirmed by Congress. Up until that time in our nation’s history, the conduct of America’s great leaders as well as state and national laws clearly show that there was no intent to exclude Christians and Christian principles from government.
The defection from government and civil life came from within the Church itself. In the mid- 1900s the Christian community began to adopt a philosophy of isolationism. Christians began to isolate themselves from political affairs, confining themselves to the church and separating themselves from politics. The overriding philosophy was expressed in statements like “why polish brass on a sinking ship?” “Tend to the souls of men.” “This world is not our home.” “God has only one nation that he cares about and that is the church.” “Politics – it’s dirty. It is best to stay out of.”
As a result, Christians began to forsake the dominion mandate and, for the most part, gave up their stewardship of tending to the nation’s public affairs. The divorce of God and government followed as others, who did not hold to the godly beliefs that had shaped and guided our nation for almost two centuries, began to take the helm of the ship of state and guide us into uncharted and forbidden waters. In the wake of the Christian’s abdication, others began to introduce ideas and laws contrary to our values, and Christians took little or no action to stop this.
According to a July 1988 Gallup poll, 84 percent of this nation firmly believes in Jesus Christ. Another poll indicates that 94 percent of the nation believes in God. That leaves 16 percent who do not believe in Jesus and only 6 percent that deny the existence of God.
A Gallup poll from August 1988 indicates that 68 percent of the public “favor a constitutional amendment allowing prayer in public schools.” The percentage would undoubtedly be higher after widespread education about the devastating effects of the “prayerless years.” This same poll indicated that Americans want “inclusion of Biblical perspectives about creation in discussions of evolution.“10
While Christianity embraced in principle by the vast majority of this nation, the official position toward Christianity is worsening. Says Barton: “In the Alaska public schools last year (l987), students were told that they could not use the word “Christmas” in school because it had the word “Christ” in it. They were told that they could not have the word in their notebooks, or exchange Christmas cards or presents, or display anything with the word “Christmas” on it. In Virginia, a federal court has ruled that a homosexual newspaper may be distributed on a high school campus, but religious newspapers may not.” 11
While Christians continually lose ground by default, studies show that 92 percent of media leaders do not consider themselves conservative, and 66 percent of the media feel they must educate the public with their personal viewpoint. We are like a herd of zebras being held at bay on some African savannah by a ferocious tiger. The tiger, resembling a tyrant spirit, pretends to be bigger than he is. With ferocious sounds and threatening looks, he controls the feeding herd.
Suddenly he attacks. A zebra falls and becomes lunch for the tiger and his friends. While the wild beasts are feeding on the fallen zebra’s carcass, the rest of the herd continue to graze with a false sense of security. They scarcely look up as one of their own are sacrificed to the appetite of the hungry tiger. They do not realize that after the fallen zebra has been digested, the belly of the hungry tiger will demand more.
A stampede of the herd could easily overwhelm the tiger. Yet, unmotivated to leave, fearful, and lacking in leadership, the zebras willingly watch the tiger feed on their own rather than give up the peace and false sense of security they feel.
We as Christians are definitely here to make a difference. Yet we must realize that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men and women to stand idly by and do nothing. And that is what the majority of Christians have done- nothing. The salt has become good for nothing and is now being trampled under foot by men.
We must awake from slumber. We must shake ourselves from the dust. It was the breakdown of massive prayer being offered for our nation that brought this deluge of wickedness upon us. But we can be certain that before the offering of prayer broke down on a national level, God’s people had long since departed from the practice of it.
It was the neglect of the stewardship of our nation, a nation that was bought with the blood of the martyrs and established through the prayers and sacrifice of Christian men and women, that we have been guilty of neglecting.
Godly repentance, massive prayer, and a willingness to become involved with providing leadership for our nation can change these things. In reproving Israel, God said, “There is a conspiracy of her prophets in her midst … the priests have done violence to My law and have profaned my holy things; they have made no distinction between the holy and the profane, and they have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean and they have shut their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them …Your princes within are like wolves … and her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false vision and divining lies … and the people of the land have practiced oppression.”
Yet in light of all the desolation God said, “And I searched for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. Thus I have poured out My indignation on them. I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; their way I have brought upon their heads,” declares the Lord (Ezekiel. 22: 26-31).
Even if the prophets, priests, leaders and the majority of the people have gone bad, God is seeking for those who will stand in the gap in prayer and make up the hedge so the land will not be destroyed.
The public stand that our leaders took against God and the volume of the simple prayers of 39 million children which was silenced overnight, brought an immediate break in the spiritual covering that was over our land.We must be willing once again to depart from self interest and take on the interests of our nation. We must be willing to help provide and elect the godly leadership that is so sorely lacking.
We as Christians must do a thorough job of repenting and get serious about a sweeping transformation of our own lives. Then, as each of us join in a massive outcry of intercession, perhaps God’s mind will be changed and He will be moved to turn away from the calamity that has been planned against us. It is only through intercession and repentance that God will release the forces of heaven and bring awakening, restoration, and a visitation of His Holy Spirit which alone can cleanse and heal our sin-stricken land.
1 John Locke, “Of the State of War” quoted in Verna Hall and Rosalie Slater’s, The Christian History of the Constitution, (San Francisco, CA: Foundation for American Christian Education, 1978), p. 61-62.
2 Ibid., 77-78)
3 David Barton, America: To Pray or Not to Pray?, (Aledo,TX: Specialty Research Associates, Inc., P.O. Box 397, 1988), pp. ixxi).
4 Barton p. 75)
5 Barton, p. 155)
6 Barton, viii)
7 W. Cleon Skousen, The Making of America,(Washington, D.C.: The National Center for Constitutional Studies, 1985), p. 234.
8 Barton, p.1)
9 Barton, pp. 162-163.
10 Barton, pp. 182-184.
11 Barton, p. 184.
Copyright © Bob and Rose Weiner 2007, All Rights Reserved