Back in the antiquity of the New Testament, when Jesus of Nazareth walked this orb, in the Book of John, Philip found Nathanael, inviting him to come see whom Moses and the prophets spoke. Nathanael posed a puzzling question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Many of us now beg, “Can anything good come out of Washington?” Gridlock and rancor? Duplicity and political shenanigans? Profligate spending? Battles between the right and left? However, if one looked closely, one would’ve discovered a ray of hope on the Capitol this past week.
The 26th Annual D.C. Bible Reading Marathon took place from May 3rd to through May 7th, on the West Front of the Capitol. Ninety continuous hours of Bible reading, from Genesis to Revelation, without commentary. This event was established in 1990, by Dr. John Hash and Dr. Corinthia Boone, with a Joint Congressional Resolution, and President Bush “41” as the International Year of Bible Reading. It drew believers from around the country to read aloud the entire Word of God. The purpose was to call a nation to honor His Word, to celebrate our First Amendment freedoms of speech, assembly and religion. There were no divisions of denominational posturing. Only unifying the Body of Christ rallying around the Bible. Other branches of faith were represented, including Messianic and Orthodox Jews.
For twenty years this D.C. event ushered in the National Day of Prayer, that transcends race, denomination, or generational distinctions. Organizers emphasized this was a time for heartfelt worship, calling our nation to sincere and life changing prayer. Many agree this is a time to pray as we’ve never prayed before. The foundational verse for the five day event was Isaiah 55:11, “So shall my word be that goes forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” A black man was observed seated under a large green umbrella, behind a pulpit style, placard board, decorated with Bible verses, as he read aloud the Scriptures. He was flanked by a young white man, kneeled on the concrete, in fervent prayer.
Right out in the public arena. Not just in the Capitol, but towns and cities, taking place in many state capitals, legislatures, and county seats around the nation. Members of Congress participated. Teachers, military personnel, students, and pastors too. Ordinary citizens lined the street to take their turn to read God’s Word. While there’s a legitimate side for defending the Gospel in our increasingly secular age, one pastor wisely remarked, “God’s Word doesn’t need so much defending. Like a caged lion, just turn it loose.” That’s what happened in D.C. Some critics trotted out their hackneyed “violation of separation of church and state.” That’s an attempt to purge our public of religious influence. It riles the atheists. Their day’s on April 1st.
It’s clear to students of our brief Republic, that absent an unswerving reliance on the God of the Old and New Testament, there’s no freedom. Not a state sponsored push. One needn’t fear a theocracy. Civil liberty, and all the liberties, were characterized by John Witherspoon’s observation, “There is not a single instance in history in which civil liberty was lost, and religious liberty preserved entire.” We know the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights begins, “Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Those words were meant to protect religion from encroachments of government, and preventing the fed’s long arm from establishing a single, official religion. Most agnostics and atheist love the first part of that phrase. They park right there.
Some remarked the D.C. Bible Marathon is only symbolic; that “symbolism is a hollow shadow.” What about the thousands of hospitals around the nation that bear a Judeo/Christian origin? Does that diminish their efficacy? Where did the idea germinate to deliver palliative relief to the sick, and charitable societies begin? The Salvation Army didn’t hatch in some atheist society. Symbolism is couched in reality.
Christianity and biblical underpinnings fostered every freedom movement in America, from the abolition of slavery to the Civil Rights. It wasn’t Buddhists, Hindus, or Muslims. It’s self-evident that despite individual sins and foibles of Christians, overall Christianity is an undeniable influence for good. Robinson and Richards, in their book, Indivisible, make a poignant observation, “Sure, Christians can lie, cheat and steal, but when they do so, they’re violating their own beliefs. On balance, we all know society is better off if teenage boys go to a Bible study than to gang meetings.” Chicago and Baltimore could use a dose of that.
A five day saturation of national Bible reading has present and future implications. Christians are spiritually rejuvenated. It prompts a rarely discussed topic of eternity. The Apostle Paul, before his Damascus road conversion, was Saul “breathing out threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord.” Former Chief Counsel to President Nixon, Chuck Colson, after reading of C.S. Lewis’s conversion from agnosticism, was converted. Later he founded the international ministry, Prison Fellowship. Visible existential changes.
What happens when God’s Word is loosed? It trivializes the mundane. People get serious about praying. Sin’s uncompromising grip is broken. Lives are transformed. Shackles of bondage are loosed. Families are reconciled. Forgiveness breaks out. He comforts as only He can. History’s punctuated by revivals that changed cultures. Welsh revivals of 1904, transformed a country, bringing nearly 100,000 people to Christ, before the end, a year later, casting its’ long shadow on England, Ireland and Scotland. The Denver Post, January 20, 1905, headline, “An entire city paused for two hours of prayer,” and “the city was given over to meditation on higher things.” Imagine a similar headline in our papers. Is it possible? It would have to start with us. What do you think?
Mike Pyatt is a Natrona County resident. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org