May 03, 2018
There was a time, not too long ago, when Americans wondered if the National Day of Prayer could even survive an administration as hostile to faith as Obama's. But, every May for eight years, even the most liberal president in history -- whether out of obligation or sincere belief -- couldn't escape what America is and has always been: one nation, under God.
Now, a year and a half into an administration that runs to our Christian heritage -- not away from it -- today is a celebration. Under President Trump, the National Day of Prayer isn't a just 24-hour cease fire in the government's war on faith -- but the acknowledgement of a year-round culture change, where religion and freedom matter. In sharp contrast to the previous administration, President Trump is committed to protecting and promoting religious freedom 365 days year. As he said today, "We must cherish our spiritual foundation" and the actions of this administration back it up.
At today's Rose Garden ceremony, I was one of the dozens of faith leaders on hand to witness the latest proof of this president's sincerity: the kick-off of the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative. By executive order, President Trump took the last two administration's attempts at faith-based outreach and turned it into a powerful and expanded agent of inclusive change. The new office, which will report directly to the White House, won't be a symbolic gesture or a pretext for pet projects, but a commitment to ensure the ability of individuals of faith to be at home in every U.S. agency.
Unlike past offices, Trump's emphasis is giving faith groups a stronger voice on areas like poverty, religious liberty, education, family, prisoner reform, mental health, and human trafficking. This White House wants religious groups and organizations to have "strong advocates" across the federal government -- which is a radical departure from the presidents of the past. Specifically, the order states:
Faith-based and community organizations have tremendous ability to serve individuals, families, and communities through means that are different from those of government and with capacity that often exceeds that of government. These organizations lift people up, keep families strong, and solve problems at the local level. The executive branch wants faith-based and community organizations, to the fullest opportunity permitted by law, to compete on a level playing field for grants, contracts, programs, and other Federal funding opportunities. The efforts of faith-based and community organizations are essential to revitalizing communities, and the Federal Government welcomes opportunities to partner with such organizations through innovative, measurable, and outcome-driven initiatives.
Even the project's unveiling was significant. At one point in today's ceremony, the president took the opportunity to single out John Ponder, a fatherless kid who grew up on the streets and in gangs. John was in and out of jail for years until, at age 38, he was arrested for robbing a bank. He ended up in federal prison, in solitary confinement. That's where, as President Trump put it, "God found him." After reading the Bible and listening to Christian radio, John woke up one night with a jolt to the voice of Billy Graham in his head, and he accepted Christ.
The first day John got out of jail, he had a knock on his door. "It was the man who put him in jail, FBI Special Agent Richard Beasley. "I want you to know that I've been praying for you very strongly," Beasley told him. "God called me to the FBI in part because of you, John." As for John, he runs a full-time prison ministry now. But the moment was important for a couple of reason -- one, which the president himself pointed out when both men were on stage. "You notice a big difference between now and two or three years ago?" he asked. "[America] was going in the other direction rapidly, right? Now, it's straight up."
What an incredible difference this administration has made in the simple expression and acknowledgement of faith! Two years ago, he's absolutely right. These men wouldn't have been held up as an example -- Richard probably would have lost his job! Instead, the president of the United States is using them as a living testimony of everything FRC is fighting for: the ability to do your job, guided by faith. Under Obama, they wouldn't have been an illustration of devoted service, but unacceptable behavior!
No longer are Americans punished or excluded from the public square because of their faith, rather they are welcomed and protected by our government. So today, of all days, let's be grateful -- not only that we're a nation of prayer, but that we're also a nation of answered prayer.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.