President Barack Obama issued a proclamation on Wednesday that would recognize the National Day of Prayer on Thursday. Some pastors have reacted in response.
The proclamation, which was issued by the White House on Wednesday, would recognize the National Day of Prayer this year on May 7. The president emphasized the religious diversity of the United States.
"I invite the citizens of our Nation to give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings, and I join all people of faith in asking for God's continued guidance, mercy, and protection as we seek a more just world," Obama wrote.
The president contended that the U.S. is strong because it allows everyone to practice their faith in whatever manner they choose.
"We protect the fundamental right of all peoples to practice their faith how they choose, to change their faith, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free from persecution and discrimination," Obama wrote.
Obama argued that prayer was "an important expression of faith."
"Through prayer we find the strength to do God's work: to feed the hungry, care for the poor, comfort the afflicted, and make peace where there is strife," Obama wrote. "When we pray, we are reminded that we are not alone - our hope is a common hope, our pain is shared, and we are all children of God."
The president also turned his focus on religious persecution around the world.
"We remember those who are prisoners of conscience - who are held unjustly because of their faiths or beliefs - and we will take every action within our power to secure their release," Obama wrote.
One of those "prisoners of conscience" included American pastor Saeed Abedini, who is currently imprisoned in Iran and has suffered greatly for his Christian faith there. According to Jordan Sekulow of ACLJ, Abedini's 35th birthday falls on the same time as the National Day of Prayer.
"Pastor Saeed - a U.S. citizen - will spend his third birthday wrongfully imprisoned for his Christian faith," Sekulow wrote. "Yet as that day approaches, he wanted to express his encouragement for the Christian Church in America."
Seklow noted that Abedini was able to deliver an open letter through a family member who visited him last week. He hoped that Christians across the U.S. would read his message.
"As an American and as a prisoner for Christ, I have spent many hours praying and crying out to God for revival for this great nation," Abedini wrote. "We all hope for the success of our nation and for America to be blessed, but without revival there can be no true success or blessing."
Abedini then cited the passage of Ezra 10:1 in the hopes that American Christians would help rebuild "the spiritual wall of our beloved country."
"In times of need, we see how much government and authorities can influence our everyday life, and when we see that their decisions do not match with our beliefs and standards, our initial reaction is to blame the leadership or the situations surrounding us for our hardships," Abedini wrote. "But the truth is that change has to start with us, just as a wave has power to lead it's surfer so by revival we, as the people, can help or push our leaders to follow their callings."
The imprisoned pastor hoped that Christians would use their "freedom for the Kingdom of God."
"Remember my chains in your freedom and chain together in unity for our beloved America," Abedini wrote. "Know that I am chained with you in prayer on that day in seeking God for America."
However, other pastors in the United States questioned the idea of a holding such an event in the first place. J. Andrew Daugherty, executive pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Denver, wrote an editorial published in the Huffington Post arguing that this "spiritual occasion" could water down "authentic prayer."
"Generic mentions of God and benign expressions of prayer in the public square, although constitutional, are inadequate substitutes for authentic religious service and practices of private devotion," Daugherty wrote.
Daugherty argued that God, not government, should deal with prayers.
"The state's job is not to administer such a sacred function any more than clergy or houses of worship are to endorse politicians, pass legislation, or plan road construction projects for America's interstates," Daugherty wrote. "Further, religio-political leaders searching for political style points should not desecrate prayer in order to earn it."
Daugherty's overall point was that Americans should "not confuse patriotism and genuine piety."
"Neither is it spiritually wise to lump a practice as sacred as prayer into the narrative of American exceptionalism with the flashy spectacles of what can be construed by even the most bona fide of the blessed as a self-congratulatory occasion," Daugherty wrote.