- - Sunday, November 29, 2015

Throughout the nation’s history, our leaders have offered prayers as petitions and thanksgiving, to embrace our grief and sorrow, for our troops in harm’s way and first responders, in times of uncertainty and crisis, during war and in peace, for protection, provision, guidance and the acknowledgment that in and of ourselves, we are wholly insufficient.

This spirit is derived from deeply held Judeo-Christian values. We see these principles woven into the very fabric of our founding documents and through the legacy of the men and women who helped shape this country. They give substance to the freedoms we all cherish and echo in the words and prayers of Patriots who rose up together with one voice.

Perhaps one of the most illuminating examples comes from Abraham Lincoln, who, in a moment of national crisis during the Civil War, said, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.”

However, for decades, there has been a steady undercurrent of targeted efforts to remove God from every vestige of American life and culture. These battles confirm a tangible reality that the things we hold sacred are slowly eroding all around us. Thankfully, a new generation of leaders is emerging to fill the gap.

The Congressional Prayer Caucus — an official caucus of the Congress — was created in 2005 for this purpose. Nearly 100 members, co-chaired by Rep. J. Randy Forbes, Virginia Republican, and Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican, have united to protect our religious freedoms and help restore Judeo-Christian values to their rightful place in the marketplace of ideas. Many of them gather to pray for one another and for our nation before each legislative session in Room 219.

In 2005, the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation — a nonprofit, non-partisan organization — was created to work alongside the Congressional Prayer Caucus to build and support a nationwide network of lawmakers and citizens who are committed to prayer and action.

The American Prayer Caucus Network, with more than 500 members of like-minded national, state and local government leaders, represents the front-line defenders of faith and those who promote prayer and seek to protect our Judeo-Christian heritage, the rights of conscience and religious liberty through legislative prayer caucuses at the state level. America can still be a city on a hill and a light to the world, but it is imperative that we pray for our national and state leaders and for our country. Their fervent leadership is needed more than ever.

Protecting religious liberty does not infringe on anyone’s rights. No one should be forced to choose between strongly held religious beliefs and his or her livelihood, especially not in a nation with such a rich spiritual heritage. We have the right to exercise our deeply held beliefs without undue government interference, legislative maneuvering and media-fueled public derision.

Nevertheless, “we the people” must decide whether we are going to stand up against undue censorship, the dismantling of our heritage and efforts that give the state the ability to force us to leave our God-given liberties at the door of the public square — our places of business and our barracks, schools and government entities. It is our choice, and it is time to make a bold declaration to the halls of power and to do so with unity and resolve.

Elected representatives are again calling on God’s people to unify with one heart and one voice to pray for the country and those who lead her through the extraordinary PrayUSA Initiative. This unprecedented call for a nationwide prayer initiative was launched this year on March 7 by government leaders at the first-of-its-kind LIFFT America Religious Liberty Summit (the acronym is: Leaders Inspiring Faith and Freedom To America) in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The summit was convened by the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation along with Mr. Forbes and Mr. Lankford. Sixteen members of Congress and 36 legislators representing 25 states gathered to effectively challenge the growing anti-faith movement. In a solemn and historic ceremony, all who were present signed a Call to Prayer for America Proclamation (opposite page), declaring that people of faith can no longer be silent as our nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage and religious liberties are increasingly compromised.

Today, local congregations across the United States are scheduling PrayUSA Sunday Spotlights or special services with church and government leaders standing side by side in a show of unity and humble petition before God. Enthusiasm, inspiration, excitement, motivation: These are powerful and stirring words, but they do not fully capture everything that is happening.

This initiative is exploding across the nation. To date, nearly 900 government leaders, 50 leading organizations and 140,000 citizens have said “yes” to this historic movement. An inspiring three-minute video and downloadable kits are available at www.PrayUSA.com to help churches schedule a PrayUSA Sunday.

In an era not that long ago, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor, theologian and anti-Nazi dissident, offered these sobering words during World War II: “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act. Silence in the face of evil is evil itself.”

America, it is time to speak, it is time to act and it is time to pray. Together, we can demonstrate a renewed hope, a strengthened resolve, a sharpened focus, a bold declaration and an energized movement.

Lea Carawan is president and executive director of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established to unite and mobilize government leaders nationwide who are committed to protecting religious freedom, preserving America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and promoting prayer. For more information, visit www.cpcfoundation.com or Facebook at www.facebook.com/CPCFoundation.

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