Piel: Could there be a day of prayer for all of God’s faithful?

Our neighbor George recently commented that he doesn't understand why this "confrontational" nation of ours couldn't be helped if all of the "national" religions came together in solidarity.

I told him I was not sure what he meant by "solidarity" but first what do you mean by the word "religions?" More than denominations like Baptists or Lutherans or Methodists or independents or whatever he replied. They talk a lot about one God and the love of Jesus but since their doctrine reigns not love for those who worship differently, I don't think they will ever be a unifying factor in America.


What I mean, he added, is what I call the Houston "miracle." As the rain came down people realized very quickly that they were in a disaster situation. People from all walks of life rallied to help. Citizens, so-called illegals, dreamers, Republicans, Democrats, and the rest all worked together to save lives without asking for a litmus test. But even more so, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, even atheists, all came together to help without asking each other doctrinal questions as to who is right and who is wrong and who is going to heaven or hell. That's what I mean by religious solidarity.

Sounds good, I replied. Maybe religious unity would be a good thing for our nation, but I don't think it will happen. The situation that you described in Houston brought religious people together, some strong in the faith, some weak, because of a disaster of nature. But when restoration begins to take place religious people often tend to revert to their old doctrinal ways. And those ways are often more divisive than they are unifying.

If that is true that is sad, George replied. It reminds me of a situation this past spring.

Every year in America there is a day called the National Day of Prayer. It sounds good. Do you think it could it ever be a "national" day of prayer for all Americans?

When I attended a morning breakfast National Day of Prayer gathering I found that it was really not a "national day" but a meaningful "Christian national day." The emphasis wasn't on solidarity or unity among all of God's people. Rather it was built on a very strong doctrinal stand surrounded by prayer and preaching. That evening I attended another National Day of Prayer service at a local church and the same thing happened. If a Hindu or Muslim or Buddhist attended they would have been out of place because, again, the emphasis was directed to those who follow Jesus.

Those who sponsor or plan the services you attended are probably nice people who have a strong faith but often what they believe is not supposed to unite anyone except their own followers. Religious faith can be a very powerful force of love but it can also be self-serving. I remember when we first moved into the community I attended my first local Christian National Day of Prayer. When the service was over I informally asked one of the leaders if it would be good to invited Jews to be part of the next service. The comment back was that "if they want a service like this one, they should do it themselves."

Personally, I believe that those who follow Jesus should reach out to other faiths in times of disaster. We find in the teachings of Jesus time and time again him breaking down the artificial walls of separation that we have created. Can we, through the power of the Holy Spirit, break down the walls that divide us even today?

Many Christ-followers want a more meaningful relationship with those of other religions but we have a dilemma. If my Christian "identity" demands that we are right and they are wrong (or misguided) then we often foster a hostile attitude to those of other faiths. For example, how do you translate the Biblical passage of Jesus saying "I am the way, the truth and the life — No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14.6).

On the other hand there is a concern that we may "water down" our faith in Jesus in the attempt to find "common ground" to the point where what we believe about Jesus becomes meaningless. I remember a county commissioner commenting that every prayer coming from a follower of Jesus must use the name of Jesus or it borders on the denial of Jesus as the Messiah.

Let me pose a "dilemma-question" (often called CRIS — conflicting religious identity syndrome), how can I remain committed and true to my own faith while at the same time finding some unity with those who share a different religious commitment? America (and the world) needs a unifying factor and apparently it is not going to happen today with our political leaders. The public comments of some are more divisive than ever often playing to their political base rather than trying to find some national common ground.

Could the "wind of God," the Spirit, that was at the beginning (Genesis 1) be a unifying factor? Does the "wind of God" blow wherever God wills it? Are there different responses to the presence of the Spirit? Can those different responses be brought together to create a meaningful worship experience?

Is it possible to create a National Day of Prayer that includes the recognition that there is only one God (is that even necessary?) along with passages of sacred scriptures from different religious faiths that call for oneness, unity and especially peace?

Is there a Christian congregation that is willing to host or even be a part of a true "national" day of prayer? Is there religious risk in doing so?

Let me ask one final question: Is your concept of Jesus big enough to allow him to be celebrated in worship along with other religions?


Let the dialogue continue. I only ask that you think on these things.

The Rev. Dr. Wm. Louis "Lou" Piel is pastor of Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Finksburg and can be reached at julo1@verizon.net.