God Returns to America's Public SquareSept. 17, 2001 - In the days following the Sept. 11 attack on America,
By Janet Chismar
"pray" has become the rallying cry heard around the nation - and topics
of religion and faith have surged front and center in the news. One
Washington, D.C., commentator noted, "No one is asking for atheists they
can interview on their talks shows" and Fox News reported Saturday,
"We've seen a resurgence of public religion - Americans are
rediscovering the power of faith."
Perhaps nothing so vividly symbolizes that public resurgence as when the
members of Congress stood shoulder-to-shoulder and sang "God Bless
America" on the Capitol steps.
Even secular newspapers are looking for prayers to print. USA Today will
feature a full page ad tomorrow - "To help America speak to God with one
voice: A Prayer by the Nation, For the Nation" - co-sponsored by the
National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), America's National Prayer
Committee, the National Day of Prayer Task Force, and the Mission
The NAE also urged its 51 member denominations and 43,000 churches to
mobilize for a "National Day of Mourning and Prayer," on Sunday, Sept.
16. "Many people will look to churches, pastors, and people of faith for
guidance and help," said Dr. Edward L. Foggs, NAE's chairman of the
board. "The National Association of Evangelicals encourages
denominations, churches and organizations to look to the Word of God for
wisdom at this time and to be the people of God in the midst of
Focus on the Family president James Dobson urged a national TV audience
Friday to teach children to pray as a way of helping them learn to deal
with the tragedy. He told CNN's Larry King: "Americans are very
resilient. They have many resources, and two of the greatest are their
families and their faith. And I believe that's where we will turn this
President George W. Bush set the tone at the government level when he
designated Sept. 14 a "National Day of Prayer and Remembrance," asking
Americans to attend religious services of their choosing on their lunch
hour and conduct candlelight prayer vigils in the evening.
Former Presidents Clinton, Bush, Carter and Ford joined Bush at the
Washington National Cathedral service Friday, which was broadcast
nationally. "Our purpose as a nation is firm," said Bush. "Yet our
wounds as a people are recent and unhealed, and lead us to pray.
"In many of our prayers this week, there is a searching, and an
honesty," Bush continued. "At St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York on
Tuesday, a woman said, 'I prayed to God to give us a sign that He is
still here.' God's signs are not always the ones we look for. We learn
in tragedy that His purposes are not always our own. Yet the prayers of
private suffering, whether in our homes or in this great cathedral, are
known and heard, and understood."
The Rev. Billy Graham told the congregation: "Today we come together in
this service to confess our need of God. We've always needed God from
the very beginning of time. But today we need Him especially."
Graham noted that the tragedy "can give a message of hope to the present
and future. Yes, there is hope for the present because I believe the
stage has already been set for a new spirit in our nation," he said.
"One of the things we desperately need is a spiritual renewal in this
country. We need a spiritual revival in America. God has told us in His
Word time after time that if we repent of our sins and we turn to Him,
He will bless us in a new way."
At the Pentagon, crowds of employees gathered for several ecumenical
prayer services in memory of the victims of the terrorist attack. The
service held at noon Friday in the Pentagon auditorium concluded with an
overflow crowd of tearful employees singing "God Bless America."
Americans in all 50 states joined together Saturday for "America Prays,"
a vigil led by some of the nation's top pastors and speakers. Franklin
Graham, James Dobson, Max Lucado, Bruce Wilkinson and John Maxwell led
the nation in prayer from Glad Tidings Church in Lake Charles, La.
The event was captured and sent via satellite to some 1,500 churches and
broadcast on FamilyNet and Sky Angel; webcast on Crosswalk.com, and
broadcast on radio through both the Salem and Moody networks.
Sunday church crowds rivaled those seen on Christmas, a fact reported by
most major news organizations. In the center of Manhattan, in
Washington's suburbs, and across the heartland of America, sanctuaries
filled with overflow crowds.
According to the Washington Post, some people said they had taken "an
unfamiliar step into a church to feel a solidarity with their fellow
bereaved citizens," while others said they'd come for healing and to
pray for the dead.
The two morning services at the Washington National Cathedral drew about
7,000 people of all faiths, with hundreds more listening to the sermon
on loudspeakers in the plaza outside. Sunday services normally draw
about 1,500 people, a cathedral spokesman said.
Fox News reports that at St. Ignatius Loyola Catholic Church on New York
City's Upper East Side, firefighters from the East 85th Street station
carried bread and wine to the altar for communion. The fire brigade at
East 85th Street was one of the early crews on the scene, and has one
known fatality plus nine others missing. Afterwards, as they somberly
walked back down the aisle to leave, the congregation bid them farewell
for several minutes with an emotional standing ovation. Parishioners
But some pastors conducted "business as usual." Rod Stafford, senior
pastor of Fairfax Community Church in suburban Virginia, said he did not
need to prepare a special sermon.
"On any given Sunday," explained Stafford, "no matter what is going on,
the church has something relevant to say. We don't need to change our
message on the basis of world events."
While the terrorists may have intended to bring America to its knees,
perhaps they did not realize how fitting an analogy that would be. It
has driven the nation to prayer. As Billy Graham said, "...those
perpetrators who took this on to tear us apart, it has worked the other
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