President Bush has declared Friday, Sept. 16, as a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
“I ask that the people of the United States and places of worship mark this National Day of Prayer and Remembrance with memorial services and other appropriate observances,” he said.
Bush called upon Americans “to pray to Almighty God and to perform acts of service.”
Urging Americans to contribute financially to relief organizations, the president said, “We pray that God will bless the souls of the lost, and that He will comfort their families and friends and all lives touched by this disaster.”
When the president called for a national time of worship, he spoke as a pastor with the words of comfort and charity, kindness and prayer.
What would the Hebrew prophet from Tekoa say about a national day of prayer?
Speaking for God, Amos said: “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts, I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.”
Amos said that God rejected their acts of worship—feasts, solemn assemblies, offerings and music.
What God wanted from the people was something far different from what their leaders provided.
Amos said that God wanted justice, not words of worship, not worshipful acts.
“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,” said the prophet.
Amos said that from the divine perspective justice was more important than self-centered, empty acts of worship.
The shepherd-turned-prophet thundered the word of the Lord, denouncing those who sold “the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes,” who trampled “the head of the poor into the dust of the earth” and turned “aside the way of the afflicted.”
He condemned rich women, the “cows of Bashan,” for oppressing the poor and crushing the needy through their lifestyles.
He rebuked those who turned justice into wormwood, hated the truth and stretched out in luxurious living.
What then would Amos say about a national day of prayer?
The text about feasts and solemn assemblies in the context of a message about social injustice gives us a straightforward answer. Amos would condemn a national day of prayer, if it is severed from a commitment to do justice.
He would likely see a nationalistic piety as false worship, offering comfort but not justice.
For Amos, justice today would mean a transformative faith in a sinful world. Justice means practicing fairness in the market place, working for an equitable society, empowering the poor, protecting for the powerless and pushing rich Christians to adjust downward their lifestyles.
Amos would surely condemn those political leaders who plan tax cuts for the wealthy, wage cuts for the working poor and budget cuts in programs that care for society’s weakest members.
Will the prophetic message of justice surface at the heart of the national day of prayer? Will the preachers play politicians? Will the politicians play preachers?
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.