Washington (CNSNews.com) – Evangelical leader Dr. James Dobson said President Obama’s snub of Thursday’s National Day of Prayer left Christians “disappointed” – and a bit puzzled.
“When a professional baseball team wins the World Series, or when the Super Bowl is played, or when college teams win the national championship, they’re invited to the White House to celebrate,” Dobson said at a Capitol Hill news conference. “That’s important, apparently. But celebrating prayer, which is our heritage, is ignored.”
The founder and chairman emeritus of the Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family said evangelicals were "disappointed; not angry" that for the first time since 1993, the White House did not even send a representative of the Cabinet to this year’s National Day of Prayer event, which was held Thursday in the caucus room of the Cannon House Office Building.
“Bill Clinton did, during his eight years,” he said. “It goes clear on back to Ronald Reagan, who signed the order making the first Thursday of May the National Day of Prayer. Harry Truman is the first who called for a National Day of Prayer, but did not indicate what day it was.”
National Day of Prayer is the first Thursday in May. Calls for a national day of prayer and thansgiving date back to President George Washington.
Dobson’s wife Shirley is the chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force. During the Bush administration, the Dobsons and National Day of Prayer leaders were welcomed to the East Room of the White House.
Dobson said he had not asked to meet with the new president – and Obama had not asked to meet with him.
“But I would just like this country to remember its foundation, to remember its heritage and honor it, especially on the day set aside by George Washington, in the beginning, for prayer in this country," he said. "And I would hope that that would have occurred."
“We will not be disrespectful of him because of the office, and we do pray for him. But I do regret his lack of emphasis on the foundation of prayer on which this country is based,” Dobson added.
Obama sent word earlier this week that he would be spending the day praying privately -- and members of his Cabinet ignored the event. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs explained the president’s decision.
"I think the president understands, in his own life and in his family's life, the role that prayer plays," Gibbs said. "And I would denote that the administrations prior to the past one did proclamations. That's the way the president will publicly observe the national prayer day. But, as I said, privately, he'll pray as he does every day."
Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), co-chairman of the bipartisan Congressional Prayer Caucus, said the members of his group are not only disappointed that the president wouldn’t officially recognize National Day of Prayer, they also have a bone to pick with Obama.
“As many of you know, the president traveled half way round the globe and made the proclamation in Turkey that effectively said that we were not a Judeo-Christian nation,” Forbes told reporters.
In the comment, Obama said: “We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation, we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.”
That’s simply inaccurate, Forbes said.
“If you look at our history – I would suggest that there were two questions that needed to be asked and answered that he missed. The first one was whether we were a Judeo-Christian nation. And the second one was, if we were, when is that moment in time that he can point to that we ceased to be so?”
Forbes said American history is clear -- the United States was “birthed” on Judeo-Christian principles and it has never stopped being a Judeo-Christian nation.
“The very first act of the very first Congress --was to bring in a minister to lead Congress in prayer and read four chapters of the Bible,” Forbes said.
From the Founding Fathers to President Franklin Roosevelt leading the nation in prayer during World War II to the U.S. Supreme Court declaring in 1892 that “This is a Christian nation” – our history points to the fact that the U.S. has been a Christian nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles, he said.
“It’s not our role to challenge the president of the United States,” Forbes said. “He has a right to say whatever he wants to say. That’s what makes this country strong. I don’t question that he believes that. I just disagree with his conclusion. And I think, if you ask and answer the two questions we just raised, you’ll come to the same conclusion.”
He added: “Even people who don’t have any other faith at all are welcome - based on those very Judeo-Christian principles. But I would suggest that you find them so interwoven in this tapestry of inner freedom and liberty -- that gives us the liberty to stand here today -- that to begin to unravel one is to begin to unravel the other.”
Religious liberals, meanwhile, issued a news release defending Obama’s snub – and blasting Dobson and National Day of Prayer Task Force for “misrepresenting the purpose of this national observance.”
"It is a shame that the National Day of Prayer Task Force seems to think it owns the National Day of Prayer," said the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance.
"President Obama is not the pastor-in-chief of the nation and Shirley Dobson's Task Force is not the spiritual judge of the president's personal or official actions."