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The National Day of Prayer (NDP)

The relation between the NDP and the NDP Task Force

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The National Day of Prayer (NDP) was created by Congress so that Americans of all religions who believe in one or more deities can pray together in fellowship. Most of the events associated with the NDP are  exclusively Evangelical Christian event organized by local Evangelicals and coordinated by the National Day of Prayer Task Force. There are some indications that a reversal in this trend has started, leading to inclusive celebrations at which people of all religious affiliations -- and none -- will be comfortable.

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Is the NDP task force in charge of the NDP?
Is the NDP an Evangelical Christian celebration?

The answers to both questions are: no, in theory, and yes in practice.

bulletThe NDP is a government-selected day of observance. This is proclaimed annually for the first Thursday in May by the President of the United States. Most, if not all, state and territorial governors follow suit. Because of the principle of separation of church and state, the government cannot actually participate directly in the organization of events without violating the Constitution.

According to The National Day of Prayer Task Force (NDPTF), an Evangelical Christian group:

"The National Day of Prayer belongs to all Americans. It is a day that transcends differences, bringing together citizens from all backgrounds." 1

Presumably "all backgrounds" includes persons of all religions.

In his annual proclamations, President Bush continues the original intent of the NDP by referring to it as an observance for persons of all religions. In 2005, he wrote:

"Since our Nation's earliest days, prayer has given strength and comfort to Americans of all faiths....I ask the citizens of our Nation to give thanks, each according to his or her own faith, for the liberty and blessings we have received and for God's continued guidance and protection." 2

bulletNDP events are organized by non-governmental groups: Actual NDP events are typically run by faith-based organizations that organize gatherings in a particular municipality, across a state, or throughout the country. By far the largest of these groups is the National Day of Prayer Task Force, an Evangelical Christian organization. The NDPTF selects their own annual honorary chairperson, a theme and sometimes a scriptural verse. All are consistent with their Evangelical Christian beliefs. However, other organizations are free to select their own honorary chairperson, theme and verse, following their own belief system.

Over time, the public, media, and government has begun to confuse the NDPTF and the NDP, as if the federal and state governments have authorized the NDPTF to fully control the NDP. Actually, the NDPTF is only one many possible expressions of the NDP. Other groups can and do select leaders, themes, slogans, etc. For example, the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United, Mainstream Baptists of Oklahoma, and the Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma, co-sponsored an interfaith NDP event in Oklahoma City, OK in 2005. Their theme was: "Let Freedom Ring: A Celebration of Freedom of Conscience." 3

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Confusion between the NDP and the National Day of Prayer Task Force:

A statement by the National Day of Prayer Task Force [NDPTF] on their web site attempts to differentiate between the National Day of Prayer [NDP] and themselves. They write:

"The National Day of Prayer was created by an act of Congress and is, therefore, intended for all peoples of faith to pray to the God of their understanding." 4

That is, a Muslim group similar to the NDPTF could organize a Islamic expression of the NDP in one city, a state, or a group of states. Interfaith group can and do organize a multi-faith expression of the NDP.

The NDPTF continues:

"However, our expression of that involvement is specifically limited to the Judeo-Christian heritage and those who share that conviction as expressed in the Lausanne Convenant [sic]. If peoples of other faiths wish to celebrate in their own tradition, they are welcome to do so, but we must be true to those who have supported this effort and volunteered their time to promote it. National Day of Prayer is not a function of the government and, therefore, a particular expression of it can be defined by those who choose to organize it. This is not a church/state issue." 4

The President, in proclaiming the NDP does not assign a yearly honorary chairperson or official theme or official Bible verse. In the same way, there is no chairperson, theme or verse associated with Thanksgiving or Christmas.

A state of massive confusion still exists between the NDP and the NDPTF:

bulletAll or essentially all state and territorial governors issue proclamations each year for the NDP. Most of the 2005 proclamations picked up the NDPTF's theme and Bible reference and integrated them in the proclamation as if they were the only expression of the NDP. For example, the 2005 NDPTF's theme is "God Shed His Grace on Thee;" the Bible reference is Hebrews 4:16. Most of the proclamations issued by state and territorial governors quoted the Task Force's theme and biblical reference. In reality, they were simply a theme and Bible verse selected by one non-governmental non-profit agency.
bulletThe press release issued by the NDPTF on 2005-MAY-01 does not clearly differentiate between the NDP and NDPTF:
bulletIts title is "Millions to unite in prayer requesting 'God to shed his grace on America." This is a reference to the NDPTF theme.
bulletThe subtitle is "President George W. Bush and all 50 governors will proclaim 65th annual National Day of Prayer." This is a reference to the government proclamation of the NDP.
bulletA casual observer might easily assume that the NDPTF was the official organizer of the NDP.
bulletThe first paragraph talks about the National Day of Prayer, as proclaimed by the federal, state, and territorial governments.
bulletThe second paragraph mentions the 2005 theme and Scripture reference as chosen by the NDPTF.
bulletThe third paragraph talks again about the National Day of Prayer.
bulletThe fourth paragraph refers to the NDPTF choice for its honorary chairperson, and its choice for a theme book.
bulletThe fifth paragraph refers to the history of the NDP. 5
bulletThe Texas Freedom Network Educational Fund lists some U.S. news sources which confused the 2005 NDP with the NDPTF -- perhaps because of the ambiguity of the NDPTF press release:
bulletThe Associated Press named Shirley Dobson as the NDP Chairwoman, not the head of the NDPTF, which is one of many non-governmental, non-profit agencies which promotes the NDP.
bulletThe New Orleans Times-Picayune named Rev. Max Lucado as honorary chairman of the NDP, not honorary chairman of the NDPTF. They also listed "God Shed His Grace on Thee" as the NDP theme instead of the theme selected by the NDPTF.
bulletThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution also named Shirley Dobson as Chair of the NDP instead of the NDPTF.
bulletThe Tampa Tribune stated incorrectly that the NDP was organized by the NDPTF.
bulletThe San Antonio Express-News printed a column by the local NDPTF coordinator. It named,  without any official sanction, the city’s theme as "God Shed His Grace on Thee." 6

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About the National Day of Prayer Task Force:

The National Day of Prayer Task Force (NDPTF) was organized in 1988 as a non-profit group "to encourage and promote events related to the National Day of Prayer." It received startup grants from Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, CO, where it still locates its headquarters. Its chairperson is Shirley Dobson, spouse of James Dobson the founder and head of Focus.

The NDPTF originally directed its activities to the Judeo-Christian community. On 2001-JAN, their web site stated that: "...the efforts of the NDP Task Force are executed specifically in accordance with its Judeo-Christian beliefs." 7 Some of the events in the early years were in Jewish locations or involved both Jews and Christians.  Since then they have modified their target audience in a subtle way. They now direct their events only to those Judeo-Christians who agree with the Lausanne Covenant. 8 The Covenant was accepted by Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Protestants from over 150 nations during the International Congress on World Evangelization at Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974. The Covenant includes such beliefs as the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, the Trinity, the imminent Second Coming of Jesus Christ, The Antichrist, the Great Commission to convert the entire world's population to Evangelical Christianity, the continuing "spiritual warfare with the principalities and powers of evil," concern over Christian faith groups who have deviated from historical Christian teachings -- sometimes called "cults," etc. The Covenant calls for the ending of oppression based on race, religion, color, culture, class, sex and age. It does not call for the banning of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The NDPTF's inclusion of only those of the Judeo-Christian heritage who agree with the Lausanne Covenant may at first seem confusing. The Covenant promotes the exclusivity of Christianity. It states that Jesus Christ is: "the only mediator between God and people. There is no other name by which we must be saved." At first glance, it would seem that few if any Orthodox, Conservative or Reform Jews could accept these beliefs. The Texas Freedom Network Educational Fund goes so far as to describe this position as "disingenuous." 6 However Jews for Jesus and other Messianic Jewish groups have combined Jewish traditions with Evangelical Christian theological beliefs. They consider themselves to be "completed Jews." But, from a theological point of view, they are Evangelical Christians and would have no difficulty in accepting every statement in the Lausanne Covenant. However, the NDPTF requirements would exclude any NDP event run by a traditional Jewish group, or by any other non-Christian organization, or by an inter-faith group.

Thus, the National Day of Prayer Task Force can now be considered an exclusively Evangelical Christian non-profit recognizing only those NDP events which are organized by Evangelical groups.

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Sponsored link:

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "National Day of Prayer: History of the Holiday," National Day of Prayer Task Force, undated, at: http://www.nationaldayofprayer.org/
  2. George W. Bush, "National Day of Prayer, 2005: A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America," 2005-MAY-03, at: http://ndptf.org/
  3. "Americans United Plans Oklahoma City Event To 'Let Freedom Ring' On National Day Of Prayer
    Wednesday, May 4, 2005. Inclusive Event Celebrates Freedom Of Conscience, Welcomes All Faiths And Philosophical Traditions,
    " Americans United, 2005-MAY-04, at: http://www.au.org/.
  4. "National Day of Prayer: About NDP," National Day of Prayer Task Force, undated, at: http://www.nationaldayofprayer.org/
  5. NDPTF press release for 2005, National Day of Prayer Task Force, 2005-MAR-01, at: http://www.nationaldayofprayer.org/ **
  6. "The National Day of Prayer Task Force: Turning a day of faith into a rally for the Christian Right," Texas Freedom Network Educational Fund, 2005, at: http://www.tfn.org/ **
  7. "National Day of Prayer Fact Sheet," National Day of Prayer Task Force, at: www.nationaldayofprayer.org/ as it existed on 2001-JAN-8. Accessed via the archive at: http://web.archive.org
  8. "The Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization," at: http://www.lausanne.org/

** These are PDF files. You may require software to read them. Software can be obtained free from: 

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Home > Christianity > Christian history, etc > Prayer > NDP > here

Home > Christianity > History, beliefs... > Practices > Prayer > NDP > here

or Home > Spiritual topics > NDP > here

or Home > Religious information > NDP > here

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Copyright © 2003 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 2003-APR-14
Most recent update: 2005-MAY-15
Author: B.A. Robinson

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