Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

Billy Graham’s Inaugural Prayers, Section 2

posted by Mark D. Roberts

Part 11 of series: Rick Warren, the Obama Inauguration, and Praying in Jesus’ Name
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In my last post, I began examining four prayers offered by the Rev. Billy Graham at presidential inaugurations (1969, 1989, 1993, 1997). I note considerable variation in length (though I don’t have the full text of the 1989 prayer). I also note something I 2find most curious, namely, that none of the Graham’s inaugural prayers contains the words “Jesus” or “Christ,” though he figures prominently in them by other names. (If you want to read these prayers, please go to my last post for the links.)
Today I want to comment on several other features of the inaugural prayers that I find interesting:
1. Every prayer is offered to “Our Father and our God,” though the 1993 prayer reverses the order.
2. Within the first few words of the prayer, Graham mentions “this historic occasion,” though in 1997 he refers to is as “this historic and solemn occasion.”
3. Every prayer refers, near the beginning, to the spiritual “foundations” of the United States. The 1969 and 1989 prayers quote a passage of Scripture that reads: “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” This is Psalm 11:3 in the KJV.
4. Every prayer also mentions the nation’s “forefathers,” except the 1989 prayer doesn’t use the word “forefathers,” but mentions George Washington by name instead.
5. Every prayer contains some confession of national sin. Two prayers include a request for foregiveness (1989, 1997).
6. Every prayer includes quotation of Scripture, though in varying degrees. Here’s my count:

1969 – 7 quotations
1989 – 2 quotations
1993 – 2 quotations
1997 – 2 quotations

7. Not only did the 1969 prayer contain more Scripture quotations, but also it was the one prayer that was openly evangelistic. It included such lines as:

Help us this day to turn from our sins and to turn by simple faith to the One who said, “Ye must be born again.”
We pray this humbly in the Name of the Prince of Peace who shed His blood on the Cross that men might have eternal life.

Can you imagine the furor if Rick Warren had prayed like this? Whew! It is interesting to me how much has chanced in our culture in the last 40 years.
8. The similarities between the opening lines of the 1969 and 1989 prayers are striking. It seems almost as if Rev. Graham pulled out the 1969 prayer when he was writing the 1989 prayer. This isn’t a criticism, by the way. Good prayer language deserves repetition. Just ask any faithful Catholic or Episcopalian. At any rate, here are excerpts from the 1969 and 1989 prayers (italics added):

1969: Our Father and our God, Thou hast said, “Blessed is that nation whose God is the Lord.” We recognize on this historic occasion that we are “a nation under God.” We thank Thee for this torch of faith handed to us by our forefathers. May we never let it be extinguished. Thou alone hast given us our prosperity, our freedom and our power. This faith in God is our heritage and our foundation! Thou hast warned us in the Scriptures, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?”As George Washington reminded us in his farewell address, morality and faith are the pillars of our society.
1989: Our Father and our God, Thou hast said, ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.’ We recognize on this historic occasion that we are a nation under God. This faith in God is our foundation and our heritage. Thou hast warned us in the Holy Scriptures, ‘If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?’ We confess that we are in danger of destroying some of those foundations, for at times our faith in Thee has faltered and we chosen to go our own way rather than the way that Thou wouldst have us go, both as individuals and as a nation. Forgive us, we pray, as we turn to Thee in repentance and faith. Restore us to Thyself and create within us a desire to follow Thy will for all our lives. As George Washington reminded us in his farewell address, morality and faith are the pillars of our society.

9. You’ll notice that in both of these prayers, Rev. Graham refers to God with “Thee” and “Thou.” This was common prayer language for people who used the King James version of the Bible. I expect it was how Graham prayed in private, as well as in public. Strikingly, in the 1993 and 1997 prayers, he addressed God with “You,” having retired the more antique language of the earlier prayers.
More next time . . . .

Comments read comments(2)
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J Falconer

posted January 27, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Thanks Rev. Roberts for your series & comments. Also thanks for all the photos!! Your readers & posters appreciate your prayers for themselves personally & our country. Hopefully, our faith will produce some miracles this year 2009. Thanks Again & God Bless & Regards to Your Family!

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posted May 7, 2009 at 2:22 pm

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