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Americans Turning to Prayer and Worship

Friday, 28 September 2001 12:00 AM

President Bush's strong statement at the prayer and remembrance service at the National Cathedral on Friday the 14th, and the prayer service in Yankee Stadium last Sunday, were catalysts for this, observers said.

"The president's practice of prayer I think has trickled down," said H.B. London, vice president of Focus on the Family.

"There's not a pastor I've talked to, and I've talked to hundreds of them, who did not say that on that next Sunday the attendance was equal to that of Easter and Christmas," his said.

Since the surprise attacks on Sept. 11, over 90 percent of Americans have reported they have engaged in some form of prayer.

London's Pastoral Ministries alone handled over 1,000 phone calls from pastors looking for materials with which to encourage their congregations in the days immediately following the attacks.

"People have become aware of the uncertainty and brevity of life. We've seen what terrorism is and we've seen what sneak attacks are and we've seen how uncertain things can be. I think that's driving people back to church," he said.

Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, said the profound reflection Americans currently are going through is essentially "very healthy."

"People increasingly are focusing on the things that matter most - faith, family, freedom - and they're more inclined to set aside petty partisan differences and matters of less priority and focus on the things that are enduring and eternal," Connor said.

"One of the biggest dangers a society can experience is to have a false sense of security and to always make the mistake of equating prosperity with success," he said.

What concentrates Americans' focus on spiritual solutions since the attacks is the unprecedented number of casualties, which gives Americans a keen sense of their own mortality, Connor said.

"I would hope that this would have a chilling effect on the efforts of those who would seek to exorcise faith from the public square," he said.

"I would hope that they would recognize that faith is foundational to a society and that people can exhibit a robust, vibrant faith without running afoul of principals of separation of church and state. That separation was never intended to result in the extinction of faith in the public square," Connor concluded.

Wendy Wright, communications director of Concerned Women for America, agreed that a positive thing that came out of the tragedy was that there was little or no protest to public prayer.

However, groups that normally protest public prayer, such as Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and Freedom From Religion, chose not to protest the president's stance on prayer out of enlightened self-interest, she said.

"What we're seeing is that deep down these groups who want to sanitize God from secular life understand that the American public generally are religious people, so they are not going to push their agenda right now," Wright said.

"They know that their message would not be well received at this time, which means that the vast majority of people don't agree with that message. They just tolerate it at other times," she said.

A spokesman for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State said his group was more concerned with involuntary than voluntary public prayer.

"People felt the need for religious services and they pulled together various types of activities, and no one could realistically have a problem with that," spokesman Robert Boston said.

People also need to keep in mind that one of the motivations behind the terrorist attacks was an opinion held by some Islamic extremists that American secular society is a danger to the world, Boston said.

"They don't understand, or choose to ignore, that a secular framework still allows for wide religious expression in the country," he said.

"I think secularism is a positive thing. I think it allows for religious diversity and a wide range of religious expression. I don't think an officially religious state can really protect religious freedom. Only a secular state can do that," Boston said.

Wright, and other spokespersons for family groups, also cited as an example of religious intolerance a recent address by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) to Congress on the question of domestic partnership, in which Frank likened people with moral beliefs about marriage to the Taliban.

Of religious objections to domestic partnerships, Frank said: "I know there are religious views of this sort. We have heard them expressed recently in recent ways. Indeed, my guess is one could quote from the Taliban at great length about how terrible all of this is."

Joe Glover, director of the Family Policy Network, said Frank's comments are evidence that the attacks have tended to entrench people more in positions they held before Sept. 11.

"If God has a standard of conduct and there has been any impact by terrorist attacks to drive people to their knees and caused them to reflect on God's providence in the world... I don't see it," Glover said.

What Glover sees since the attacks is an emboldened majority in the United States who are even more committed to drowning out anyone with religious views, he said.

Copyright 2001

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President Bush's strong statement at the prayer and remembrance service at the National Cathedral on Friday the 14th, and the prayer service in Yankee Stadium last Sunday, were catalysts for this, observers said. The president's practice of prayer I think has trickled...
Friday, 28 September 2001 12:00 AM
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