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Susan Campbell: Standing on the Corner to Pray

Today's post is from Susan Campbell, author of Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl. Campbell's writing has been recognized by the American Association of Sunday and Features Editors; National Women's Political Caucus; the Sunday Magazine Editors Association, and the Connecticut chapter of Society of Professional Journalists. She was also a member of the Hartford Courant's 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning team for breaking news. You can follow her frequent musings on religion and life at her Dating Jesus blog.

Dating Jesus: link to Beacon Press page for the bookIn the spoken gems that comprise Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, the fledgling savior included this: When you pray, do so in the privacy of your own home. Shut the door behind you, and God-- who sees what's done in secret-- will reward you. Don't stand on the corner and pray in public, like the hypocrites.

So why a National Day of Prayer that gets us out in the open and stands us on street corners like-- well-- hypocrites?

And why one that has been high-jacked by the same evangelicals who founded and run the conservative Christian group, Focus on the Family? We are, after all, a multi-faith country-- multi-faith and no faith, if you pay attention to the recent American Religious Identification Survey. We are increasingly unaffiliated, agnostic, atheist. We are, said one newspaper account of the survey, a nation of freelancers.

But the National Day of Prayer Task Force-- the primary organizers behind the day-- is headed by Shirley Dobson, wife of James Dobson, Focus on the Family's founder. The task force and Focus are housed in the same Colorado Springs building, though the task force's website insists the efforts of the task force "are executed specifically in accordance with its Judeo-Christian beliefs"-- which effectively eliminates the influence of a world full of other theological thought.

But that sounds like puffery to me. Somehow, even the nod to Judaism is missing from a pledge that volunteer coordinators must sign that says: "I commit that NDP activities I serve with will be conducted solely by Christians while those with different beliefs are welcome to attend."

A must-sign statement of faith is even more exclusive. It includes the lines: "I believe that the Holy Bible is the inerrant Word of the Living God. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only One by which I can obtain salvation and have on ongoing relationship with God."

If you're an evangelical Christian of a particular stripe, that might make you feel warm and fuzzy all over, but for the rest of the world? By making them feel less than welcome, Christians render themselves increasingly irrelevant. I'm not America's best Christian-- not by a long shot-- but I'm enough of one to say we gain nothing by shutting the doors on our brothers and sisters in mosques and temples, or on those unaffiliated with any religion. At best, it's tacky. At worst, it's mean.