Prayer in America— an important part of our history, or a distraction?

Steve Ruth

James P. Moore’s book, “One Nation Under God,” is an amazing source of insight and understanding into the role of prayer starting at the very beginning of the American experience. A summary of Moore’s book states that it “brings together the country’s hymns, patriotic anthems, arts, and literature as a framework for telling the story of the innermost thoughts of the people who shaped United States we know today.” Beginning with Native Americans “One Nation Under God” traces the prayer lives of Quakers, Shakers, Muslims, Catholics, and Jews, from the earliest days of the United States through the advent of cyberspace, the aftermath of 9/11 and later presidential elections. It probes the approach to prayer by such diverse individuals as Benjamin Franklin, Elvis Presley, Frank Lloyd Wright, Martha Graham, J.C. Penney, Mary Pickford, Cesar Chavez, PT Barnum, Jackie Robinson, and Christopher Columbus it includes every president of the United States as well as American farmers, clergy, immigrants, industrialists, minor sports heroes and scientists.” This talk will take the audience on a trip across centuries of American history, focused almost entirely on prayer. In case that sounds boring, the speaker guarantees that there will be abundant surprises, not just about the many historical personalities that will be examined, but also about the amazing ways that prayer has solidified the country, particularly in times of serious trouble. An example is Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer” which his publishers were unwilling to release because of its explosive political ramifications. We will examine dozens of these examples of the importance and the relevance of prayer, including FDR’s famous note to the Allied troops before the Normandy landings.

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