2016-06-30
This Sunday night, people in more than 140 countries participated in the Global Vigil for Peace, sponsored in part by the National Council of Churches and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. They were praying for peace.

Meanwhile, citizens of Georgia finished off an official Weekend of Prayer, three days designated by Gov. Sonny Perdue for praying in support of President Bush and his administration.

Around the country and the world, people of faith are praying for opposite results. Since the conflict with Iraq gained steam this fall, both sides of the war debate have vigorously engaged their supporters as "prayer warriors." Their vigils, services, and even websites have forged a new prayer battle--with one side supportive of the president's policies and praying for him and his administration, the other antiwar and praying for peace.

Last weekend in Alabama, Governor Bob Riley, who stirred controversy earlier this year for holding after-hours bible study sessions in the capitol building, urged his constituents to act as prayer warriors in the battle against Iraq and in the battle in the U.S.

"If we are going to save this country, if we are going to re-establish that belief in God, it's up to us," Riley told attendees at the Christian Coalition's "Friends of the Family Celebration."

In his proclamation declaring March 14 through 16 the official Weekend of Prayer, Perdue declared, "We know that any battle is not won by might, but by His spirit, through His love and with His strength. May the brave men and women, whether on the front lines or back here at home, be filled with His spirit and touched by His loving hand."

Though the Georgia governor's proclamation is the most official sanctioning of prayer as a response to the impending war, many independent groups have cropped up to pray for the president and for U.S. victory in a war with Iraq. The president himself seems to have taken notice, and believes that prayer is having an effect. "One thing that's really great about our country is there are thousands of people who pray for me - who I'll never see, be able to thank," Bush said in his March 6 press conference about the Iraq conflict. "But it's a humbling experience to think that people I will never have met have lifted me and my family up in prayer. And for that I'm grateful. That's, it's been, it's been a comforting feeling to know that is true."

Many of those uplifting the president are doing so online. The Internet is home to dozens of sites urging readers to pray for Bush. These efforts, mostly Christian, include the Presidential Prayer Team, a group that claims 1.4 million members who encourage prayer for the Bush administration. "The President and Our Nation Need You," the site declares, and encourages readers to order a decal depicting Abraham Lincoln and George Washington praying over George W. Bush. Users can also order the special 2003 Presidential Prayer Team commemorative mug with a $25 suggested donation.

The Presidential Prayer Team explains that readers should "Pray for the President and his advisors as they consider which course of action to take regarding Iraq. Pray that God's hand will continue to move in the timing of any decision to be made."

The site is similar to others springing up around the Internet. PrayforGeorgeWBush.com calls itself a "non-denominational, non-partisan ministry dedicated to lifting up President George W. Bush in Prayer as he serves this country as President of the United States." It provides a complete list of "Prayer Action Items," a list of suggested things to pray for, including, "Pray that President Bush & those in his administration would have Godly discernment and wisdom in dealing with the decisions which face them" and "Pray for the salvation of our enemies, for the surest way to end their reign of terror is to see their hearts changed."

Other sites encourage fasting for the President. FastforBush.com asks readers to sign up for one day a month to pray for Bush, Vice President Cheney, and the Cabinet. Another site, Fast for George W. Bush, originally founded to encourage fasting for the president, has expanded to include fasts for "bipartisan unity, our nation's leadership, and our economy," The site sends reminder emails two days before each registered user's intended fast and claims more than 14, 000 fasters.

Other Christians are gearing up for the National Day of Prayer, May 1, 2003, when the war will likely be already underway. The theme of this year's National Day of Prayer is "Righteousness Exalts a Nation." The NDP committee commissioned a special "Prayer for Our Nation" for this year from Dr. Luis Palau, who is known for his evangelism throughout Latin America. This prayer asked God to "Deliver this great nation from all our enemies."

The Southern Baptist Convention offers a Prayer Guide, explaining the "biblical basics on praying for our nation."

And on Beliefnet's message boards, users are debating the merits of praying for the president during this time.

Many communities are organizing prayer services and vigils for people in their area directly affected by the war. The William C. Martin United Methodist Church in Bedford, Texas has started a 24-hour-a-day prayer vigil for members of the congregation in the military and the church's published prayer list includes members "in service of our country."

As war seems imminent, these prayers for troops are taking on added urgency, as are prayers for peace. Religious groups have been advocating prayers for peace since the fall. The National Council of Churches has advocated several days of prayer and fasting to protest war in Iraq.

Two weeks ago, the Pope urged all Catholics to pray and fast for peace on Ash Wednesday. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops posted a special Ash Wednesday homily that focused on peace. "This year our Lenten observance begins with a special meaning," it said, noting the Pope's call for prayer and fasting.

Some Catholic leaders have urged their congregations to make praying for peace part of their Lenten devotions.

Other Catholic groups are encouraging members to use prayer to act politically. Catholic Relief Services has published a "mantra for peace with Iraq." It is asking people to call Congress or administration members and leave the prayer on their voicemail.

The peace prayers are not limited to the antiwar crowds--even Christians who are supportive of President Bush and the war are praying for peace as well.

Richard Land, the Southern Baptist Convention's foremost spokesperson about the denomination's stance on war, led a group of other Baptist leaders in a call for prayer and fasting to avert war.

As the Baptist Press reported, the group explained in a letter, "Fasting and prayer are the Christian response to this perilous hour ... God in His providence may yet spare us from war. We must ask him to intervene. Pray that, by God's mercy, there will be no reason to go to war. Pray for wisdom for our leaders and for God's mercy on Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi people."

Signers of the letter included Land, Chuck Colson, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham, and Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

The letter also asked Christians to pray that if war occurs, "it will be short and that God will spare civilians. Pray too for the protection of those in uniform and that our leaders will be wise and merciful."

And though most of the members of both prayer camps are Christian, this phenomenon is not limited to American Christians. Jews, Muslims, and even Buddhists are joining the battle (though it is harder to find a member of these groups praying for Bush).

Among Muslims, the prayer warriors for peace have reached beyond the U.S. Last weekend in Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, an estimated 700,000 people gathered to pray for peace.

The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, led a special prayer for peace in Iraq last week.

Antiwar religious activists have been praying for peace since the threat of war began late last summer. Jewish, Muslim, and Christian groups sponsored an advertisement in various newspapers this fall that said, "At this moment of great danger, we turn toward God, Whose wisdom calls us not to old habits, not to wider destruction, but to fuller creativity.We are in spiritual crisis now, and we call all Americans to address this crisis through a fast that opens our hearts to compassion, our minds to wisdom, and our hands to acts of peace." The urged a multifaith fast during Ramadan.

With so many warriors, who's winning the prayer battle?

As war is likely to begin this week, the crowd praying for the president may be having more success. But, as Richard Mouw explains in this Beliefnet column, God may not be concerned with taking sides.

Even so, some still believe that prayer can change the tide of world events. Archbishop John P. Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said prayer can avert the war.

"God spared Nineveh after the inhabitants gave themselves over to 40 days of prayer and fasting," Foley said. "Perhaps after our own faithful recitation of the rosary every day for peace and after our own 40 days of Lenten prayer and sacrifice, the world might be spared another war."

As the U.S. ends its effort for United Nations approval and the opportunity for diplomacy, however, it seems the world won't have the chance to wait through the 40 days of Lent to find out.

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