What difference will it make?
This month “The Response,” in Texas, rallied Christians to pray for a nation in crisis. Will it cause a breakthrough?
Does it offer anything more than last year’s “Restoring Honor” rally in Washington, D.C., which similarly yearned for spiritual awakening to avert national disaster?
Both high-profile faith events remind me of one thing: the void left by the absence of evangelist Billy Graham. Now 92, Graham no longer leads his remarkable crusades across the land. But for five decades, his preaching roused self-examination and conversion, often stirring a surge of good will in the cities he draped in prayer.
No winsome, transcultural minister emerges any longer on the pluralistic horizon. The Response was led by a Texas governor. Restoring Honor was orchestrated by a TV showman.
It is easy to share the grief of supporters of such events — the erosion of national prestige, the eclipse of reverence and courtesy, the financial pain and fear, the need for repentance. Society is awash in falsehoods and weapons. “God” and “Jesus” are curse words.
But some public pleas to God sound fatalistic and passive, as if we have no idea how our troubles happened or how to face the specifics.
“There are threats emerging within our nation and beyond our borders beyond our power to solve,” The Response website declares.
Yet the nation got here by a million daily decisions in the name of liberty, Wall Street, cheap oil, wishful thinking, the tax code or foreign policy. A 10-year war, securitized mortgages, epidemics of personal debt, the election of ideologues — these did not fall from the sky. Our fingerprints are all over them, choices made at the intersection of conscience, prejudice and haste.
Yet the prayer to heaven now seems to be: “God: Just fix it.”
Rallies like The Response revere biblical standards. What would that mean? The book of Proverbs says a decent life depends on self-restraint, simplicity, consideration of others. Avoid things that insult God — haughtiness, a lying tongue, false witness, wicked schemes, the sowing of family discord, the shedding of innocent blood. It’s not a long list.
Writing about American religion for nearly 30 years now, I find I have to write more about politics too. To more and more people, political identity matters more than religious belief. Political passion — hatred of the opposing party, indifference to details — overwhelms the old power of religious teaching to seek a transformed outlook.
Maybe the critics are right and such rallies are just reunions of the old-fashioned religious right. But they could be more. Prayer can be a revolutionary act, forcing us petitioners to face facts, face one another, or even face ourselves.