American Heritage

Gerald Ford

GeraldFordWith Nixon’s resignation, Ford was thrust into office. On the day prior to the formal resignation, Ford and his wife spent the day praying “for guidance and assurance for the responsibilities” that were being thrust on him.[1] When he took the oath of office, he confessed to the American people that he was well aware they had not elected him with votes, and he poignantly pleaded, “I ask you to confirm me as your president with your prayers …”[2]

His words were not superficial. “I definitely pray, and have most of my life. I do it because of a tradition in our family…it means a great deal to me on a personal basis. I pray every night. It’s a daily routine…” His favorite verse of Scripture was Proverb 3:4-5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and lean not to your own understanding …[3]

Jimmy Carter

JimmyCarterPortrait2No modern President seemed more down-to-earth, than the Georgia Sunday School teacher and peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter. Defeated in his first attempt to become governor of Georgia, his sister, infused a new level of faith in his life and Carter became a ‘born again’ Christian. As President, he set aside a private space, just off the Oval Office for prayer. At difficult moments, he would retreat to the area, “I wanted to benefit from God’s help…to make the right decision.”[4]

On September 5, 1978, with the world watching, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and Jimmy Carter met. A Jew, a Muslim and a Christian. Carter said they all wanted to pray. He worked on the language of a prayer, and garnered the aid of a prayer group. All three men made changes to the draft, then approved it. Prayer became the basis of the negotiations. After a week, the talks had failed. Sadat was leaving. Carter went to his cabin, and what followed as a “sharp exchange” after which Sadat said he would reconsider. Carter then found a quiet place for private prayer. Within three days, the Camp David Accord had been signed.[5]

Ronald Reagan

RonaldReaganReagan would say that he learned prayer at the knee of his mother and nothing she gave him was more important than that gift of talking to the Lord.[6] It would be his mother’s Bible that was used when he was sworn into office, opened to 2 Chronicles 7:14.

William Clark, the Chief of Staff for Reagan, said he was amazed by the natural way Reagan prayed. Riding horses together, at some vista point, Reagan would utter a prayer. When the two went to the Soviet Embassy to sign a condolence book at the passing of Leonid Brezhnev, Reagan mischievously suggested, “Do you think they would mind if we just said a little prayer for the man?” And they did.[7]

When John Hinckley sent Reagan to the hospital in an attempted assassination, the President would say that he “couldn’t ask for God’s help while at the same time” harboring “hatred for the mixed up young man who had shot” him. So instead of praying for himself, Reagan recalled, “I began to pray for his soul and that he would find his way back to the fold.”[8] Unlike previous Presidents who attended a local church or had services in the White House, Reagan did neither. However, he did order an interdenominational chapel be built at Camp David. He said at one point that he believed America was “in the midst of a spiritual awakening and moral renewal.” And he characterized the Soviet Union as more than a politically oppressive and bad government. He called it an “evil empire,” and then implored prayer “for the salvation of all who live in totalitarian darkness, pray,” he urged that “they will discover the joy of knowing God.”[9]

Truman had signed into law a National Day of Prayer. Ronald Reagan, on Jan. 27, 1983, fixed a date for the National Day of Prayer. He reflected that during the revolutionary war period, the nation had persistently prayed: “In 1783, the Treaty of Paris officially ended the long, weary Revolutionary War during which a National Day of Prayer had been proclaimed every spring for eight years.”[10]

President Reagan made the first Thursday in May, annually, the official National Day of Prayer. There are many calls to prayer, many days of prayer, but the National Day of Prayer is only one that has the force of the Presidential Office behind it. “Americans in every generation have turned to their Maker in prayer…We have acknowledged…our dependence on Almighty God.”[11]

There are numerous calls to prayer, but the National Day of Prayer held each May is mandated by law. Each year, the President signs a new proclamation and a call to prayer. Until the current Obama Administration, each year there had been a National Day of Prayer service in the White House.

[1] Larry King and Irwin Katsof, Powerful Prayers (Los Angeles: Renaissance Books, 1998), 68.

[2] Gerald Ford, Public Prayers of the Presidents of the United States: Gerald R. Ford, August 9 – December 31, 1974 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1975), 1-2.

[3] Ibid, 67.

[4] Jimmy Carter, Personal Beliefs, 98.

[5] Moore, 408.

[6] Moore, 402.

[7] Moore, 411.

[8] Paul Kengor, God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (New York: Regan Books, 2004), 429.

[9] Public Prayers of the Presidents of the United States: Ronald Reagan, 1983, Vol. 1, January 1 – July 2, 1983 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1984), 359-364.

[10] Presidential Proclamation 5017, President Ronald Reagan – National Day of Prayer, January 27, 1983.

[11] Presidential Proclamation 5767, President Ronald Reagan. – National Day of Prayer, 1988.

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