Those who claim the United States is a Christian nation have no shortage of evidence in their arsenal. Do not the very coins we carry in our pockets say “In God We Trust”? Does not our pledge to the flag contain the words “One Nation, Under God”? Did not the Declaration of Independence close by asserting “firm reliance on the protection of divine providence”? Does not Congress open each day with some minister offering prayer before God? Did not even public school commence with prayers until the Supreme Court controversially ended the practice in the 1960s? On all counts, the answer is a resounding yes.
But does any of this make us a Christian nation? Hardly. One doesn’t need to read much of the Bible to understand that God cares little about a nation’s public declarations of faith, and more about the way the nation’s citizens actually live their lives. As Christ said of Israel, He would say of America: “these people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.” Legal abortion is perhaps the most visible way in which Americans fail to live as a godly people, regardless of what our coins and pledge attest.
The National Prayer Breakfast, held annually in Washington DC, is one of the more grotesque examples of empty god-talk to be found in America today. Inoffensive, but pious-sounding generalities are the norm at the breakfast. Occasionally though, the organizers accidentally invite someone who gives a good speech. Perhaps most famously, Mother Teresa forcefully condemned abortion in 1994, and just last year, Evangelical author Eric Metaxas did so as well.
One day, I found a transcript of the 1973 prayer breakfast in an old issue of the Congressional Record. It was held on February 1, just ten days after the Roe ruling. And five days after the cease-fire in Vietnam. And two days after Senator John Stennis (D-MS) was non-fatally shot. As one might expect, the latter two events were the ones on the mind of the breakfast participants. Then, as now, the massacre of the unborn was out of sight, and out of mind. And so, with a false air of piousness, the breakfast proceeded.
Nixon aide Ann Armstrong gave the opening prayer. Then Representatives Al Quie and John Myers made some forgettable statements. And then, who should give the Old Testament reading, but Harry Blackmun!!! Yes, Justice Harry Blackmun, the author of Roe, was there before a large crowd of professed Christians, reading from Isaiah 40. And what a passage to read! Isaiah 40 is one of the most powerful statements of God’s absolute sovereignty over humankind. “He reduces princes to nothing,” read Blackmun, “He annihilates the rulers of the world.” Was the same man who just decreed that unwanted babies were to be annihilated now daring to cast himself as a devoted servant of God?
Next up was Senator Mark Hatfield (R-OR). In the months to come, he would strongly advocate a right to life amendment to the Constitution. He had a unique moment in history to speak truth to power – to really give Blackmun the words he deserved at that moment. He had a chance to direct the attention of everyone to the legalized genocide which Blackmun had begun a week and a half ago. And as Hatfield spoke, that seemed a real possibility.
“If we pray to the Biblical God of justice and righteousness,” he told the breakfast, “we fall under God’s judgment for calling upon His name but failing to obey His commandments. Our Lord Jesus Christ confronts false petitioners who disobey the word of God when He said “why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do the things I say?” God tells us that acceptable worship and obedience are expressed by specific acts of love and justice… Today our prayers must begin with repentance.”
But then, as Hatfield continued on, it became clear that he had the Vietnam war in mind rather than Roe. He was going after Nixon rather than Blackmun. For all his insight, Hatfield had sadly gotten swept up with the Nixon hatred of the day, and failed to address his excoriation toward the man who most needed it. Still, edit out a few references to the war, and the speech holds up well today. “Those who truly follow Christ,” he pointed out, “will more often find themselves not with comfortable majorities, but with miserable minorities.” Or again, “Lives lived under the Lordship of Jesus Christ at this point in history may well put us at odds with the values of our society.”
None of the other speakers after Hatfield said anything of note. Mere meaningless civil religion. Forty years later, legal abortion still exists, and so does the National Prayer Breakfast. Apparently, many self-professed Christians in Washington continue to believe that God can be fobbed off by an annual spectacle of vacuous spirituality. In truth, as all but the most willfully blind can easily discern, God is not mocked; whatever a nation sows it shall reap. In four decades, America has sown the blood of 55 million children. Is it any wonder that we have reaped another term for Obama?