Opinion

Media Show Their Ignorance Over Prayer Meeting with Trump at the White House

The media once again went off the rails when they found out that a group of pastors and Christian leaders prayed with and for Pres. Trump at the White House. Here’s what Erin Burnett of CNN said of the impromptu prayer meeting:

“Pretty stunning image, I mean, I’ll give you a quick peek at it,” Burnett said. “The president bowing his head in prayer in the Oval Office and all these people sort of touching him, it’s very strange, we’re gonna tell you what happened there.”

A comment like this shows how out of touch and ignorant many in the media are when it comes to religion and history. It’s only stunning for someone who doesn’t know much aboaut the Bible or American history. For Christians, praying for political leaders is common and commanded. The Apostle Paul wrote:

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

So is the laying on of hands (1 Tim. 5:22; Mark 10:16; Luke 4:40; Acts 6:6; 13:3; 8:17; 28:8; 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6).

When Pres. Obama cow towed to the Islamists, the media praised his commitment to religious diversity and believed everything he said about the history of Islam. They praised his 2009 Cairo speech even though it was filled with historical inaccuracies like “Islam … paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment” and the claim that President John Adams wrote, “The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims.”

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Adams did not write that line. (In the past, atheists have claimed that it was written by Pres. George Washington.)  Something similar was written by Joel Barlow as part of the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, a conciliatory line to gain favor with the Islamists. It didn’t work. The United States went to war with the Barbary Pirates of Tripoli. By this time with a navy, the United States was in a better bargaining position. In the 1805 Treaty of Tripoli, the phrase does not appear.

The late Christopher Hitchens wrote, “How many know that perhaps 1.5 million Europeans and Americans were enslaved in Islamic North Africa between 1530 and 1780? We dimly recall that Miguel de Cervantes was briefly in the galleys. But what of the people of the town of Baltimore in Ireland, all carried off by ‘corsair’ raiders in a single night?”

Later in the same article, Hitchens shows that there was a great deal of “enmity” between America and Islamic potentates who used their religion to approve “making war” and the enslavement of “infidels”:

[O]ne cannot get around what Jefferson heard when he went with John Adams to wait upon Tripoli’s ambassador to London in March 1785. When they inquired by what right the Barbary states preyed upon American shipping, enslaving both crews and passengers, America’s two foremost envoys were informed that “it was written in the Koran, that all Nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon whoever they could find and to make Slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.” (It is worth noting that the United States played no part in the Crusades, or in the Catholic reconquista of Andalusia.)”

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Hitchens’ article is worth reading.

Obama did not mention John Quincy Adams’ extended negative comments about Islam and the comments of others at that time.

What should we make of Obama’s claim that Islam paved the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment? In his book How the West Won, Dr. Rodney Stark includes a chapter with the title “Exposing Muslim Illusions.” He concludes, “The notion that in the medieval era Islamic culture was advanced well beyond Europe is as much an illusion as recent ones about an ‘Arab Spring.’ The Islamic world was backward then, and so it remains” (302).

The first order of business of the newly formed first United States Congress was to appoint chaplains. The Right Reverend Bishop Samuel Provost and the Reverend William Linn became publicly paid chaplains of the Senate and House respectively. Since then, both the Senate and the House have continued regularly to open their sessions with prayer. Nearly all of the fifty states make some provision in their meetings for opening prayers or devotions from guest chaplains. Few if any saw this as a violation of the First Amendment.

The first Congress that convened after the adoption of the Constitution requested of the President that the people of the United States observe a day of thanksgiving and prayer:

That a joint committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the President of the United States to request that he would recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a Constitution of government for their safety and happiness.

After the resolution’s adoption, Washington then issued a proclamation setting aside November 26, 1789, as a national day of thanksgiving, calling everyone to “unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions.”

Prayers in Congress, the appointment of chaplains, and the call for days of prayers and thanksgiving do not stand alone in the historical record. The evidence is overwhelming that America has in the past always linked good government to religion, and, in particular, to Christianity. Constitutional scholars Anson Stokes and Leo Pfeffer summarize the role that the Christian religion played in the founding of this nation and the lofty position it has retained:

Throughout its history our governments, national and state, have co-operated with religion and shown friendliness to it. God is invoked in the Declaration of Independence and in practically every state constitution. Sunday, the Christian Sabbath, is universally observed as a day of rest. The sessions of Congress and of the state legislatures are invariably opened with prayer, in Congress by chaplains who are employed by the Federal government. We have chaplains in our armed forces and in our penal institutions. Oaths in courts of law are administered through use of the Bible. Public officials take an oath of office ending with “so help me God.” Religious institutions are tax exempt throughout the nation. Our pledge of allegiance declares that we are a nation “under God.” Our national motto is “In God We Trust” and is inscribed on our currency and on some of our postage stamps.1

The same year Congress approved adding the phrase “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance, both Houses of Congress passed a resolution directing the Capitol architect to make available “a room, with facilities for prayer and meditation, for the use of members of the Senate and House of Representatives.”2 The seventh edition of The Capitol, an official publication of the United States Congress, gives the following description:

The history that gives this room its inspirational lift is centered in the stained-glass window. George Washington kneeling in prayer … is the focus of the composition…. Behind Washington a prayer is etched: “Preserve me, O God, for in Thee do I put my trust,” the first verse of the sixteenth Psalm. There are upper and lower medallions representing the two sides of the Great Seal of the United States. On these are inscribed the phrases: annuit coeptis – “God has favored our undertakings” — and novus ordo seclorum – “A new order of the ages is born.” Under the upper medallion is the phrase from Lincoln’s immortal Gettysburg Address, “This Nation under God.”… The two lower corners of the window each show the Holy Scriptures, an open book and a candle, signifying the light from God’s law, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” [Psalm 119:105].3

The prayer room is decidedly Christian in character. The Bible is featured, not the works of Shakespeare. Religious citations are taken from the Bible. Subsequent editions of The Capitol book no longer contain the material on the congressional prayer room. While there is a picture of the room in a later edition, a description of its religious features is absent. The curator of the Capitol will no longer allow photographs of the stained-glass window which shows George Washington kneeling prayer to be distributed.

The official minutes of the first session of the Continental Congress in 1774 show that Sam Adams made a proposal that the sessions be opened with prayer. Not everyone agreed. John Jay and John Rutledge opposed the recommendation claiming that the diversity of religious opinion precluded such an action. Their minority opinion did not carry the day. At the end of the debate over the proposal, Adams said that it did not become “Christian men, who had come together for solemn deliberation in the hour of their extremity, to say there was so wide a difference in their religious belief that they could not, as one man, bow the knee in prayer to the Almighty, whose advice and assistance they hoped to obtain.”

After the appeal by Adams, the disputation ceased and Reverend Jacob Duché led in prayer. John Adams wrote home to his wife that the prayer by Duché “had an excellent effect upon everybody here…. Those men who were about to resort to force to obtain their rights were moved by tears” upon hearing it.

The Continental Congress also issued four fast-day proclamations. The July 12, 1775, fast-day is especially significant. All the colonies were to participate. John Adams, writing to his wife from Philadelphia, said, “We have appointed a Continental fast. Millions will be upon their knees at once before the great Creator, imploring His forgiveness and blessing; His smiles on American Councils and arms.”

  1. Stokes and Pfeffer, Church and State in the United States, 102-103. []
  2. “The Prayer Room of the United States Capitol,” booklet published by the U.S. Printing Office, 1956. []
  3. The Capitol, 25. []
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