- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

The chief threat to America is not terrorism but a loss of righteousness, National Day of Prayer organizers said on Capitol Hill yesterday.”America now stands at a unique position in the world,” Attorney General John Ashcroft said at a four-hour prayer service in the Cannon House Office Building. “[As] the mightiest earthly power perhaps the world has ever known … it is important for us not to become intoxicated with the power America now has, but to see ourselves in a position of opportunity to reflect the values that are very important: human dignity, grace and forgiveness, and reconciliation and healing.”The real threat to America, he said, “is that we’d forfeit our own righteousness on the altar of our own aspirations and desires.”“President Bush commands the good and mighty armed forces of the United States, but he understands that it is faith and prayer that are the sources of this nation’s strength,” Mr. Ashcroft said.The service was one of 40,000 to 50,000 gatherings around the country yesterday to mark the 52nd annual National Day of Prayer. Traditionally set on the first Thursday in May, the gatherings in parks, stadiums, on the steps of county courthouses and state capitals feature representatives from Jewish as well as Christian communities.This year’s Day of Prayer theme: “Righteousness Exalts A Nation,” is based on Proverbs 14:34, which continues with “but sin is a disgrace to any people.” The double meaning of the verse, along with frequent mentions of the war in Iraq, made for a somber gathering inside the U.S. Capitol.”It’s not enough to say ‘God bless America,’ ” National Day of Prayer Chairman Shirley Dobson said. “We need to say ‘God bless and forgive America.’ “Some 150 other religious leaders and military chaplains appeared at a similar service at 7:30 a.m. yesterday in the East Room of the White House. The president then left for the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln near San Diego to announce the end of combat operations in Iraq. “This past month has been another time of testing for America and another time of intense prayer,” Mr. Bush told the gathering. “Americans have been praying for the safety of our troops and for the protection of innocent life in Iraq. Americans prayed that war would not be necessary, and now pray that peace will be just and lasting.”Mrs. Dobson, who attended the White House gathering, later said, “Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you have to give credit to a president who gives priority to prayer.”One Catholic priest at the Hill service warned that large numbers of Americans function as agnostics.”In this age, even the pursuit of the question of what truth consists of has been — in some of our most prestigious institutions of learning — abandoned,” said the Rev. Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Mich. “Some folks fear people like us who are given to participate in days of prayer,” he said. “They are afraid that our claim to be able to know truth means that we seek and are willing to impose our truth claims on others. They fear that we are theocrats, which we are not. On the contrary, it is precisely because we do not know all truth this side of eternity that we seek the face of One who does not merely point the way to truth, but is truth in a certain person.”Moreover, he added, “There is a fear that once people know the truth, they will be under an obligation to make a decision regarding that truth.” The Rev. Luis Palau, an Argentine-born evangelist, exhorted the crowd at the Capitol in his keynote speech to “practice righteousness, proclaim righteousness and love righteousness so God will be good to our nation.”• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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