When a murderous gunman mercilessly slaughtered 26 innocent men, woman, and children, many of the nation’s leaders called the nation to prayer. Among the first was President Donald Trump, who was in Japan on an extended trip to Asia.
The president appealed to God to be with the people of Sutherland; “May God be with the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas.” The president added, “All Americans pray to God to help the wounded and the families of the victims.” House Speaker Paul Ryan followed the president’s appeal, saying, “The people of Sutherland Springs need our prayers right now.”
The subsequent response from the political left was swift and nauseating, often taking the form of mockery and self-righteous condemnation. These hate-filled rants condemned the call for prayer, then went on to politicize the tragedy to advocate government gun control. It would be one thing if the rabid anti-prayer response were from anonymous bloggers, but the attack on prayer took a decided turn when politicians took it up.
Among the first was Rep. Ted Lieu of California, who walked out of a minute of silence in the House of Representatives set aside to pray for the victims of the Sutherland attack. While Congress prayed for the victims, Lieu filmed his walk-out on Facebook, self-righteously exclaiming that he could not do this again. The optics of men, woman, and children needing his prayer and support in Texas hospitals while Lieu callously exploited the event to advance a personal political agenda seems lost on the congressman.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, from Washington, joined the growing chorus against a call for mourning and praying for the victims of the Texas, tweeting, “They don’t need our prayers. They need us to address gun violence crisis & pass sensible regulation.” The heartlessness of such comments is disturbing, and betrays a disconcerting trend in the United States.
This Is Not the America We Have Known
Such hostility to prayer in time of adversity and trouble is new to the nation. For most of the nation’s history, prayer was respected and expected in time of crisis. Even those who may have disagreed with prayer respectfully set aside their political agendas to support the appeals to heaven for wisdom, healing, and guidance. Among the strongest calls for prayer in the nation’s history arguably occurred in 1787 during the Constitution Convention. When the meeting floundered, Benjamin Franklin rose and said,
I will suggest, Mr. President, that propriety of nominating and appointing, before we separate, a chaplain to this Convention, whose duty it shall be uniformly to assemble with us, and introduce the business of each day by and address to the Creator of the universe, and the Governor of all nations, beseeching Him to preside in our council, enlighten our minds with a portion of heavenly wisdom, influence our hearts with a love of truth and justice, and crown our labors with complete and abundant success!
Franklin’s statement resulted in two chaplains being hired to lead prayer for God’s blessing and guidance in Congress. This remains in place to this very day.
There are scores of other examples from across the nation’s 241 years of national leaders calling for prayer during times of trials and calamity. Among the most moving was President Lincoln’s call for prayer and fasting after the defeat of the Union Army at the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861. Never was the survival of the nation more at question then at this moment. In this hour of need, the president wrote;
It is fit and becoming in all people, at all times, to acknowledge and revere the Supreme Government of God; to bow in humble submission to His chastisement; to confess and deplore their sins and transgressions in the full conviction that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and to pray, with all fervency and contrition, for the pardon of their past offenses, and for a blessing upon their present and prospective action.
And whereas when our own beloved country, once, by the blessings of God, united, prosperous and happy, is now afflicted with faction and civil war, it is peculiarly fit for us to recognize the hand of God in this terrible visitation, and in sorrowful remembrance of our own faults and crimes as a nation and as individuals, to humble ourselves before Him and to pray for His mercy…that the inestimable boon of civil and religious liberty, earned under His guidance and blessing by the labors and sufferings of our fathers, may be restored.
Americans Still See the Effects of Prayer
In my lifetime, I too have witnessed and felt the effects of the nation praying. This unforgettable time occurred during Desert Storm. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein ordered an invasion and occupation of Kuwait in August 1990. In response, the United States organized a large multi-national coalition to liberate Kuwait.
I deployed to Saudi Arabia with the Second Armored Cavalry Regiment. Our task was to lead the main attack into southern Iraq as part of the VII Corps to engage and destroy Saddam’s elite Republican Guards. President H.W. Bush called the nation to prayer in this time of war. The American people embraced this request and “pray for our troops” became an improvised national motto, with yellow ribbons being tied to trees and telephone poles to remind people to pray. My wife Rebecca rallied more than 20 churches to specifically to pray for my unit.
A swift and easy victory over the Iraqi Army was not a foregone conclusion. During the buildup to war, we were told to anticipate high casualties and a hard fight against our adversaries. This is where prayer made the difference. Our chief concern was the Iraqi Army using chemical weapons once we attacked.
All the indications were that Saddam would do this. Baghdad used chemical weapons extensively during its long war against Iran (1980-1988), and even against its own Kurdish people (1988). The prevailing winds generally blew out of Iraqi into Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. This meant that the environment favored Iraqi use of chemical weapons. Yet prayer changed the course of nature and perhaps the outcome of the war.
The Second Armored Cavalry Regiment began the attack into Iraq the day before the actual ground war. Artillery and U.S. Air Force aircraft bombarded forward Iraq positions while our tanks advanced. As the first of our tanks crossed into Iraq at 1:30 p.m. on 23 February 1991, I witnessed the wind literally change direction from its northwesterly prevailing course to a southwesterly one.
I was speechless, for as the unit’s intelligence officer (S2), I spoke often of the problem the prevailing winds posed. The wind change meant the Iraqi Army could not use chemical weapons, as the wind would blow it back on its own troops. The precise timing of this can only be the result of prayer.
That Wasn’t the Only Miracle We Saw
This was not the only weather phenomenon to give us the decided favor in what otherwise should have been a costly war for the United States and its coalition partners. The last major tank engagements of the twentieth century was called the Battle of 73rd Easting. It was 26 February 1991, and my regiment was about to begin its tank battle against the Iraqi Republican Guards. The morning began with artillery strikes and USAF engagements against the enemy tank formations (which were dug into the desert).
As our tanks advanced, a strange rain and sand storm swept across the desert and settled directly over the Iraqi Tawakalna Republican Guards Division, blinding them to our advancing force. This happened just as our tanks were nearly in range of the Iraqi guns. The storm deprived them of their advantage, effectively blinding them, and enabled our regiment to decisively break the back of this enemy unit. There is no other explanation of the perfect timing of this storm other than God honoring the prayers of his people.
I experienced God’s protection firsthand, while flying into a trap the Iraqi 12th Armored Division laid. Another time I was nearly run over by a vehicle, but saved by a soldier God directed to leave the perimeter for my position just in time to stop the approaching vehicle. I witnessed firsthand many other cases of God’s unseen hand changing history and saving lives. This is what happened when a nation honored God, and humbled itself before him in prayer.
Evil Happens When Men Forget God
Something is wrong in a country where elected national officials can speak publicly with disdain towards those who call the nation to prayer in the midst of a national tragedy. For these same officials to go onto to exploit the deaths of women and children to advance a nefarious political agenda speaks volumes of the moral condition of our land.
How did we get to this point? Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a dissident who suffered the wrath of atheistic Soviet authoritarianism, spoke of what happens to a nation on a path of self-destruction. During his 1983 Templeton Prize lecture, he spoke of why such great calamities befell his Russia:
More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.’ Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; … [and] if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.’
It is disconcerting to see a growing segment of leaders in the United States who have not only forgotten God, but drive any vestige of his presence from public fora. Walking out of moments of silence and rejecting prayer for healing is a sign that a nation is on a perilous path that will only lead to more tragedies against innocent people.
It seems that we have lost our way and need a return to the humility and supplication of prayer that made this nation great. George Washington penned a prayer for the nation that seems particularly acute today. May his prayer start the healing that leads us back to God.
Almighty GOD; we make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy protection, that thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United States of America at large. And finally that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of The Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation. Grant our supplication, we beseech thee, through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Douglas V. Mastriano is a retired U.S. Army colonel and a veteran of the Cold War, Desert Storm, and Afghanistan. He has a PhD in history and four master’s degrees. He wrote an award-winning book on Sgt. Alvin York and led two major studies on Russia’s growing threat to the Baltic nations.
Photo Lieutenant Douglas Mastriano in a Blackhawk Helicopter during Operation Desert Storm.