U.S. Sen. James Lankford discusses National Day of Prayer
U.S. Senator James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, will co-host the National Day of Prayer Observance set for 6:30 p.m. (Central Time) tonight, Thursday, May 4, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
In a recent telephone interview, Lankford, former director of the Oklahoma Baptists’ Falls Creek youth camp near Davis, discussed the prayer day observance and how it is a representation of religious liberty in America.
Sen. Lankford: It’s part of American history. From President George Washington on, presidents have called for a national day of prayer that is now a part of public law, actually, that the first Thursday in May be set aside as the National Day of Prayer. That was done in the 1980’s. It’s been a longstanding tradition to be able to encourage the nation to be able to stop and pray for the nation and for each other. There’s a tremendous amount that we have to pray for obviously, both with what’s happening in the world and what’s happening in our own country; to be able to basically reset who we are as a nation, in our faith and our basic values, to be able to honor God and each other is a good value.
Q: People will be able to watch the national observance live this year (http://www.god.tv/liveevents). Why is it important to utilize online technology to help connect citizens to events like the prayer day observance?
Sen. Lankford: It’s a huge gift. It was done by radio before and by television. It’s a National Day of Prayer – it’s not just an event that happens here in Washington, D.C. It’s happening in churches and in places of business, homes and in our Capitol. So all over the country, people will stop and have national prayer time during that same hour that we’re having national prayer time in Washington, D.C. This is not just a gathering in D.C., this is a national call to say ‘gather in small groups just for a moment to pause and pray.’
Q: In all these different observance that I’ve been to here in Oklahoma, there are people who are asked to pray for specific issues. Have you been asked to pray for a specific issue or theme?
Sen. Lankford: I will be doing Scripture reading from Daniel 9, that main chapter. So for myself on the Senate and also Louie Gohmert, who is the co-chair from the House side, we will both have a part of the observance. Mine will be a reading from Daniel 9 and a quick moment to reflect on what this means.
Q: Having said that, can you talk about this year’s theme?
Sen. Lankford: It’s always a good thing to be able to say that we’re both praying for the nation but also trying to keep in focus that we understand that we are a world of nations but we also believe that there is a creator of the world who has both purpose and a plan for each of our lives and for each nation; that we are at our best when we allow Him to direct our personal lives and our nation, to be able honor each other and to be able to honor Him; to reflect and say ‘we recognize you as the Creator and that you have a purpose and a plan’ is a valuable thing to do.
Q: You have spoken out previously about the need for the protection of religious liberty. Is the National Day of Prayer a form of religious liberty or symbolic of religious liberty?
Sen. Lankford: It is. There is no national mandate to force everyone to pray. It’s a recognition that there are people of faith in the country and for those that are people of faith, we are encouraging them to stop and pray. It is religious liberty at its best. In the Capitol, from the time that it was built, it was used as a public meeting space. There were, in the early days of the Capitol, four church services a day from four different churches who used the exact same room that we’ll be meeting in. There have been churches that have met in that room since literally the early 1800’s, so we’ve got 200 years of history of people being able to meet and pray in this spot. While some people will stand up and talk about Jefferson saying there needs to be a wall of separation between church and state, literally within days of Jefferson writing there should be a wall of separation between church and state, he was in a church service in the U.S. Capitol worshiping, so clearly he didn’t intend that as the wall of separation – that there should be this total disconnect between people of faith and people in government or federal facilities.
It was an individual decision that was made, regardless of their physical location, they should be allowed to practice their faith. We’re a nation where you can have any faith or no faith and you’re still honored as an American. You still have protected rights. We don’t take away rights or privileges from people because they have no faith or because they have a different faith. People can have both a faith and live their faith, regardless of where they are.