The National Day of Prayer (NDP)
The relation between the NDP and the NDP Task Force
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.
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.
||The 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
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
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
||NDP 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
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."
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:
||All 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.|
||The press release issued by the NDPTF on
2005-MAY-01 does not clearly differentiate between the NDP and NDPTF:|
||Its title is "Millions to unite in
prayer requesting 'God to shed his grace on America." This is a
reference to the NDPTF theme.
||The 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
||A casual observer might easily assume that
the NDPTF was the official organizer of the NDP.
||The first paragraph talks about the
National Day of Prayer, as proclaimed by the federal, state, and
||The second paragraph mentions the 2005
theme and Scripture reference as chosen by the NDPTF.
||The third paragraph talks again about the
National Day of Prayer.
||The fourth paragraph refers to the NDPTF
choice for its honorary chairperson, and its choice for a theme book.
||The fifth paragraph refers to the history
of the NDP. 5
||The 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:
||The 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.
||The 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.
||The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also named Shirley Dobson as
Chair of the NDP instead of the NDPTF.
||The Tampa Tribune stated incorrectly that the NDP was
organized by the NDPTF.
||The 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."
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
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." 7Some 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.
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
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.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"National Day of Prayer: History of the Holiday," National Day of Prayer Task Force, undated, at:
George W. Bush, "National Day of Prayer, 2005: A Proclamation by the President of
the United States of America," 2005-MAY-03, at:
"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:
"National Day of Prayer: About NDP," National Day of Prayer Task Force, undated, at:
NDPTF press release for 2005, National Day of Prayer Task Force,
"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:
"National Day of Prayer Fact Sheet," National Day of Prayer Task
www.nationaldayofprayer.org/ as it existed on 2001-JAN-8. Accessed via
the archive at: http://web.archive.org
"The Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization," at: http://www.lausanne.org/
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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