Seeking to rally support for America's war effort, Jerry Falwell has launched a prayer campaign that verges on superstition.
"God has burdened my heart to gather and galvanize 1 million prayer warriors to pray for America at this critical time," he said. "America can unite in one accord in beseeching God's hand of protection over our nation."
In his Web site letter, he asked the question, "Why 1 million prayer warriors?" While he did not answer his numerical choice, he made statements about prayer that depart from the Christian understanding of prayer.
Falwell said, "Prayer can do anything God can do ... and since God can do anything, prayer is omnipotent."
Of course, Christians believe God and prayer are not synonymous. God is God. Prayer is a human activity directed toward God.
Jesus taught his followers to pray, "Our Father." Before his arrest, Jesus began three prayers with, "My Father." During the crucifixion, Jesus cried out, "My God." With word and deed, Jesus showed that prayer is conversation with God.
Prayer is what we do. We petition God. Prayer is not a spiritual force independent of God that operates on its own power. Such a view represents superstition, seeing prayer as a magical force field.
Falwell also said, "All our failures are prayer failures."
Apparently, when we fail at prayer, the magical shield comes down. We then experience failure--suffering, hardships, illness and even terrorism. Failure results from not enough prayer.
The biblical witness offers another understanding of prayer. Jesus prayed that the cup of crucifixion would pass from him. He wanted to do God's will, yet he prayed earnestly and repeatedly to avoid such suffering. Jesus' crucifixion was not a failure of prayer.
Christians understand moral failure (sin) in terms of commission (the wrong we do) and omission (the right we fail to do). Our failures result from sin.
Prayer neither guarantees we will avoid pain, nor promises we will escape evil.
Our failures are not failures of prayer, as Falwell said. We may fail to pray as often or as sincerely as we should, but genuine prayer is not omnipotent. God is, however.
Praying for America, and all nations, is in order. But let's not confuse the source of the power in prayer.
Robert Parham is BCE's executive director.