On Saturday, in the throes of America’s turbulent 2020 election, thousands of Christians gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for the inaugural National Day of Prayer and Return, a calling to repentance and prayer for healing.
Dueling rallies and worship services on either side of the Washington Monument attracted crowds of thousands. Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham held one rally with Vice President Mike Pence in front of the Lincoln Memorial Saturday afternoon, while Jonathan Chan and Kevin Jessup held “The Return” rally starting Friday night and continuing throughout Saturday in front of the U.S. Capitol building.
The rallies focused on a theme of repentance and prayer, rejecting sin and returning to God in turbulent times. Pence paraphrased 2 Chronicles 7:14, in which God promised King Solomon, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
“We stand today on an ancient promise that Americans have claimed throughout our history that if His people who are called by his name will humble themselves and pray and turn, He will do like he’s always done — through much more challenging times in the life of this nation — He’ll hear from Heaven and he’ll heal this land, this one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” Pence declared.
The vice president declared that prayer is a “great American tradition,” citing Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and noting that “President Donald Trump has observed many times that America is a nation of believers, and you’ve proved that again today.”
Pence received loud cheers when he urged the audience to “pray for all of our justices on the Supreme Court, including the remarkable woman that the president will nominate to fill the seat on the Supreme Court later today.”
While the vice president spoke at Franklin Graham’s Prayer March 2020, leaders at The Return read remarks from President Donald Trump.
“On this inaugural National Day of Prayer and Return, the First Lady and I join millions of Christians here in the United States and around the world in prayer, as we turn our hearts to our Lord and Savior,” the president wrote in his statement.
“Our great Nation was founded by men and women of deep and abiding faith–a faith that has stood the test of time,” Trump added. He cited the Pilgrims’ faith in Providence. “Following in our ancestors’ footsteps we continue the ‘firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence’ that provides us enduring strength and reassurance in our times of need.”
“The trials and tribulations the American people have faced over the past several months have been great,” the president admitted. “Yet, as we have seen time and again, the resolve of our citizenry–fortified by our faith in God–has guided us through these hardships and helped to unite us as one Nation under God.”
“As we continue to combat the challenges ahead of us, we must remember the sage words of President George Washington during his first Presidential Address: ‘propitious smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.’ As a country and a people, let us renew our commitment to these abiding and timeless principles,” the president added.
“Today, I am pleased to join my voice to yours in thanking God for blessing this nation with great power and responsibility. With reverence, humility, and thanksgiving, we beg for His continued guidance and protection,” Trump concluded.
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Other key speakers
Speaking after his prayer march, Graham noted that “many thousands of people have come from all over the United States to participate and to pray.”
“I think we’re at a crucial point in this country. We’re that close to losing this nation, and there are people that are wanting to manipulate the direction of this country and we just pray that God may intervene,” Graham added. He warned that “God’s judgment may fall on us one day due to the evil of abortion. “We confess that to God and ask for His forgiveness. These laws that are wicked, that he would turn them in another direction.”
Former Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.), Bishop Harry Jackson, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Martin Luther King Jr.’s niece Alveda King, homeschooling advocate Sam Sorbo, and many more addressed the crowds. Bachmann, Jackson, King, and likely others addressed both crowds.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), prayed with Graham at the World War II memorial.
Darryl Strawberry, a black former MLB right fielder, prayed for Americans in front of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture.
“We pray for compassion, we pray for kindness, we pray for respect, we pray for reconciliation, Father. We pray for the violence to stop,” he prayed next to Franklin Graham. “We want to pray for us to unite together as people of race. Father, we have been divided, we have been torn apart by the enemy. We rebuke the divider right now in the name of Jesus!”
Alveda King, a pro-life activist, prayed, “Father, we have sinned or misunderstood or just on purpose thought that we are separate races. We are one human race. … Let us love life, … life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness from the womb to the tomb.”
Bishop Harry Jackson, speaking at The Return, noted that “the root of all sin is pride and independence.” He claimed that God has “allowed there to come four major problems”: the coronavirus, “which is like a plague of the Old Testament;” racial division, “which is all about pride and our being arrogant about who we are;” the #MeToo movement; and divisions on the basis of class.
While it is essential for Christians to confess our sins, humble ourselves, repent, and turn to God, it remains unclear whether or not God’s promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14 can apply to American Christians today. God made that promise to Solomon, the king of His chosen people. America is indeed a blessed nation, but it is not God’s chosen country. That said, a nationwide movement toward repentance and prayer is fitting. God can indeed heal the wounds in this country, and Christians are right to pray for this healing.
This massive event should bring hope to Christians looking for a revival in these turbulent times. It seems particularly remarkable that Trump, who in 2016 said he had no need to seek God’s repentance, would celebrate a prayer event centered on the theme of return and repentance.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.