Praying for President Obama: Prayer in politics: Piety or pandering?

Published: Monday, Oct. 24 2011 9:00 a.m. MDT

Devout Christians who follow the Biblical mandate to pray always about everything see nothing amiss in praying for the leaders of the country — even if they disagree with their politics.

"We believe prayer is the most important power in this entire world," Jim Bolthouse, president of the Presidential Prayer Team, told CNN. "We don't necessarily agree with everything our president is doing, but that doesn't stop us from praying for our president. That is a mandate."

The Christian non-profit Presidential Prayer Team is celebrating its 10th year of "encouraging, inspiring and practicing prayer on behalf of our president, nation's leaders and our troops," according to the PPT website.

The group wants to help Americans develop a "robust prayer lifestyle," and provides tools like daily e-mail devotionals, a 24-7 prayer watch and updates from Washington about issues they believe deserve additional help from above.

"Ultimately, we believe that prayer will transform our nation, one heart at a time," according to the site.

Prayer has come up frequently in the presidential race, as candidates pray on the campaign trail, talk about the importance of petitioning God, and even suggest people who need prayers, like Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who recently asked the country to pray for President Barack Obama, "to give him wisdom, to open his eyes."

Back in April, Perry also proclaimed three "Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas," to combat a massive drought, though the summer passed as one of the driest and hottest on record.

"Is this Rick Perry's fault, a slap to a man who doesn't believe that humans can alter the earth's climate — God messin' with Texas? No, of course not," writes Timothy Egan in a New York Times opinion piece. "But Perry's tendency to use prayer as public policy demonstrates, in the midst of a truly painful, wide-ranging and potentially catastrophic crisis in the nation's second most-populous state, how he would govern if he became president."

Far too often, prayers from candidates become more political than pious, writes Lisa Miller in the Washington Post.

"Prayer itself is not unusual. Seventy-five percent of Americans pray to God at least weekly, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life," Miller writes. "But voluminous public prayers by political candidates on policy specifics, like health care reform and EPA rules, seem less like expressions of personal faith than plain old politics."

She goes on to say that when a candidate prays or talks about praying, it's almost a code for "'I'm like you,' and in a general election, that sense of familiarity — whether about religion, education, family or corporate experience — reassures and galvanizes voters."

However, along with uniting, prayer can also divide and has "served this function for millennia — pitting Christians against Jews, Protestants against Catholics, Southerners against Northerners," Miller writes. "Abraham Lincoln regarded this last instance with anguish. Though both sides 'pray to the same God,' he said in his second inaugural address, 'each invokes His aid against the other.'"

email: sisraelsen@desnews.com

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