Prayer and the Declaration of Independence
FOUTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
As we celebrate the fourth of July this year, let us remember the important role that “Prayer” played in the American struggle for independence. On that first day, when The First Continental Congress gathered on September 5th 1774, the suggestion to start the Congress with prayer was met with opposition because (as John Adams reports in his letter to his wife) “we were so divided in religious sentiments—some Episcopalians, some Quakers, some Anabaptists, some Presbyterians, and some Congregationalists—that we could not join in the same act of worship”. The next morning, though, having agreed to start The Congress with prayer, they invited an Episcopalian priest to pray before they would begin Congressional deliberations, and he did, by reading Psalm 85. John Adams reports “I never saw a greater effect produced upon an audience….George Washington was kneeling there, alongside him Patrick Henry, James Madison, and John Hancock. By their side there stood, bowed in reverence, the Puritan patriots of New England… They prayed fervently for America, for Congress…. And who can realize the emotions with which they turned imploringly to Heaven for divine help. It was enough to melt a heart of stone. I saw the tears gush into the eyes of the old, grave, pacifist Quakers of Philadelphia."
As we can see, The First Continental Congress is an inspiring example of what prayer can do; a fraternal unity was forged among a religiously diverse congress after they prayed together. This power of prayer is the same power we need today to heal our ethnically diverse, divided and hurting nation; a power that is also present to us if we can turn to God and seek His face upon our country.
As we know, the 4th of July celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the birth of a nation that believes that all human beings are created equal and are endowed with basic God-given rights, and points to democracy as a noble vehicle for the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness for all, and propagates a notion of freedom that demands rights and respect for others, justice and fairness for all, integrity and responsibility and accountability on the part of government and citizens, and that no one is above the law. So what we are celebrating, on this day, is a democracy that is based on right-heartedness and the sense of common good, demanding that we, as citizens, act in accordance with proper moral character and self-restraint.
This year, as we deal with this 2020 pandemic environment, which is also marked with racial tensions, sickness and pain, loss of loved ones, anguish, bigotry, desperation, poverty, unemployment, and sorrow, it is good for us to remember the final line of the Declaration of Independence which states: “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.” By this statement, our founding fathers are basically saying to us that we owe to each other the fundamental responsibility of working together to defeat and eliminate all factors that are counter -productive to our national ideal. For us to do this, it is important that we consider prayer as our first weapon in the pursuit of racial integration, racial and gender equality, and justice and fairness for all, just as our founding father did, by believing that “in God we trust”.
Therefore, as we celebrate this Independence Day, let us turn to God in prayer that all forms of systemic racism and bigotry may be eradicated from our country. Let us pray for courage and strength to stand and fight against structures that limit, inhibit, prohibit, and hold people back people from rising to their highest potentials and possibilities. Let us pray that justice and fairness may be for all, and that our judicial system will always hold responsible and accountable all those who perpetrate egregious acts of murder, oppression, repression and subjugation against others. Let us pray for courage to become the voice of the voiceless, the down-trodden, the forgotten and abandoned, the poor and the bullied, the margins of our society, the most vulnerable among us, and the pushovers of our capitalistic system. Let us pray that this Independence Day celebration may be a true liberation in freedom, justice, fairness, and happiness for all Americans. May the good Lord hear our prayers, Amen!