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Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, writes in a USA Today opinion piece:

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision not to invite clergy of any faith to commemorate the anniversary Sunday at Ground Zero is a mistake. The move is deeply offensive to the many Americans who find solace and healing in prayer.

In an open letter to Mayor Bloomberg Mr. Sekulow calls this a “damaging policy” and argues that “prayer is a powerful source of comfort for many who are still suffering—and it should be a part of the 9/11 anniversary.”

Michael Horton observes that “It’s not a question of whether prayer at public occasions of this kind is sanctioned by our Constitution, but, for Christians at least, whether we can participate (much less encourage) such acts of ‘non-sectarian’ worship.”

With regard to Sekulow’s critique, Horton thinks it “betrays assumptions about prayer that, in my view, can only trivialize this sacred act in the long run.” He asks:

Is the purpose of prayer mainly therapeutic: personal and national catharsis? Is it basically horizontal-human-centered (whether in individual or national images)? Or is it a solemn act of “calling on the name of the LORD” (i.e., Yahweh, the Father of Jesus Christ)? Does such an act have a personal object? Is that personal object the God who is revealed in Scripture as the Holy Trinity? Is the prayer directed to the Father, through the mediation of the incarnate Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit by whom we confess “Jesus as Lord”?

Imagine Elijah calling for a revival by trying to negotiate a public prayer or perhaps series of public prayers led by the prophets of Baal and the prophets of Yahweh. Israel, after all, has always been a religious nation. Isn’t it more important for the nation to acknowledge its piety than to become too obsessed with the theological specifics? The nation was divided, after all, and the point is to bring the people together through prayer, to bring them consolation in the face of national disaster. Of course, this isn’t how the story plays out at Mount Carmel, as the God of Israel proved that he alone is God and Baal is a helpless idol.

We don’t live under the old covenant, driving the prophets of Baal through with the sword. Rather, we have the privilege of religious freedom for true and false worship in this country. Nevertheless, we do not expect the state to create opportunities for the advance of Christ’s kingdom through his means of grace. . . .

Prayer is also an act of witness. What are we testifying to when we seek state acts of generic devotion to the Unknown God? To what-or whom-are we witnessing when we give the impression that people can find consolation from any “God” apart from the Father who is known only in his Son and is otherwise a judge who will not let sinners go unpunished? True prayer arises as a Spirit-given response to the Word that proclaims God’s righteous judgment and gracious forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

You can read the whole thing here.

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19 thoughts on “Prayer at Ground Zero”

  1. Dean Davis says:

    I vote for Sekulow.

    Horton’s misguided logic drives Christians from the public square of an avowedly theistic nation, whose historical roots sink deep into the soil of the Judeo-Chrstian worldview.

    Who is to say a devout evangelical cannot be loyal to his God, praying not only in Christ’s Name, but in the power of his Spirit, at an ecumenical gathering? I have seen it happen many times, and reckon it as a fine witness to the High King of heaven.

    Would Horton really be happy if all our public prayers were to anyone and everyone EXCEPT the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ?

    Beloved, let us not flee the public square, but do all we can to strengthen the things that remain.

    1. Richard says:

      Dr. Horton is attempting to keep our prayers and our worship as they should be–in the name of our Triune God. The witness to the world when we pray with Budhists, members of the nation of Islam, etc. is that we all worship the same God. Is THAT the type of witness we want? Horton’s logic is impeccable–and Christ centered.

      1. Dean Davis says:

        Each participant in an ecumenical service prays in the name of his god, Christians in the name our Triune God. So no problem there.

        I do not agree that the world infers from an ecumenical service that we all worship the same God. People are not usually that ignorant or stupid.

        What the world DOES take away is that here in America there is a practical commitment to religious freedom and tolerance. You would concur, I trust, that the world could do with a little more of that?

        1. Richard says:

          Christians aren’t the lapdog of any government, ready to baptize with legitimacy whatever the government does; Nazi Germany did this in spades. Christ said my kingdom is not of this world. Yes, there is a problem when we participate in any ecumenical service–especially one at the behest of government. Christian doctrine and witness ALWAYS suffers in this case. Horton is eminently correct.

          1. Brad says:

            I don’t think Horton was saying that praying in the public square has to be wrong. I think he was saying that the description of prayer offered by Sekulow wasn’t Christian prayer.

            Also, Sekulow wasn’t arguing just for Christian prayer. He was arguing that religion in general be included by Mayor Bloomberg. I think we should all re-read Sekulow and Horton’s articles again because most people are jumping to conclusions and not understanding what they are saying.


          2. Dean Davis says:

            Richard, you seem to have a jaundiced view of government, rather like our Anabaptist neighbors.

            Romans 13 tells us the government is–or at least should be–a minister of God. To serve and strengthen government is therefore to serve God himself, just so long as we do not compromise with any evil that infects its structures.

            Moreover, here in America the government is avowedly theistic. That’s a remarkable thing in our fallen world; just ask our Chinese brethren. Ought we not, then, to strengthen this theistic commitment any way we can?

            Horton’s article does not encourage true biblical separation; it encourages an unseemly Pharisaism that regards our leaders and our political institutions as too unclean to touch.

            The friend of sinners has a better idea.

  2. Middleberry says:

    thanks for posting…I think we are now seeing exactly what Schaeffer was discussing in his upper and lower story! He was a smart dude. This is just another example!

  3. MarkO says:

    Dr. Horton writes:

    Or is it a solemn act of “calling on the name of the LORD” (i.e., Yahweh, the Father of Jesus Christ)?

    * * * *

    I thot Yahweh was the Godhead which is the one being of three divine Persons. Is it correct to say that the name Yahweh only refers to Father God?

  4. kpolo says:

    I wouldn’t make a big issue of praying at Ground Zero until my own personal prayer life and Church’s corporate prayer life are vigorous.

  5. Daryl Little says:

    I think Horton is right. Worship and prayer (for the believer) are a uniquely Christian thing and are not to be done in concert with a non-believer.
    How can we agree in prayer with someone who is praying to a non-god? And all non-believers pray only to a non-god do they not?

    Yes, we ought to be in the public square, but to talk with and interact with people, not to worship with them.

    1. Dean Davis says:

      In this debate, context is king.

      In the context of the Church, we ought not to worship with non-believers. There, worship should be as pure, trinitarian, Christ-centered, and biblical as we can possibly make it.

      As Horton well knows, it is the Church, and not civil society, that is the anti-type of ancient Israel. Of course we should not make nice with the prophets of Baal–in the Church.

      But in the context of an avowedly theistic civil society, we have Gospel liberty to waltz right into their ecumenical gatherings–guarding our hearts and watching our words–so as to lift up the Banner of our King. That is, after all, a pretty nifty way for folks to hear about the one true God, and to see his glory displayed in his people.

      Horton’s logic carries back to the old Fundamentalism, to withdrawal from society and into a religious ghetto. If we go down that road, you may be sure the followers of Allah will gladly occupy the precious ground we have so foolishly given away.

  6. To specifically exclude the clergy at any remembrance celebration is a huge mistake, Beyond the theories of religious separation it sends a very bad message abroad. We are a united people of many faiths and this will not be represented.

  7. Glenn says:

    I have seen the government determine what Christian clergy can and can not say in these type of events. I agree with Dr. Horton, at this stage it would not be a true Christian witness of worship. It would simply be one clergy (Christian) among many who travel different roads and arrive at the same place. In this case, Ground Zero.

  8. donsands says:

    “…we give the impression that people can find consolation from any “God”…”-Michael H.

    If this is the case, then of course it is wrong. But, could a genuine saint of our Lord go up and pray to our Father, and our Savior, and from his heart cast his cares in a real way, and proclaim the Cross and the truth of Christ is the only name under heaven whereby a soul can be free from sin, and have eternal life? I think so. A true Christian can shine in the midst of Universalism.

    1. Nate says:

      Paul certainly did in Athens!

    2. Daryl Little says:

      I missed the part where Paul was praying together with the Athenians in a common cause.

      Paul didn’t do that at all. He showed up and pretty much said “You don’t know who to pray to and God has been merciful so far, but no longer. Pray to Jesus or don’t pray.”

      1. Nate says:

        Daryl, why would you presume that you would have to pray in a common way with others? That is my point, Paul did not go to Mars Hill to have a communal philosophy meeting, he spoke words of truth. The Christian pastor needs to speak the same way when he prays in that kind of setting. Muslims would have no problem praying that Allah is God and Mohammad is his prophet, so why do you think a Christian pastor should have to dumb down his theology when praying at public events. A pastor could pray about the tragedy and also extend the gospel that there no salvation in any other name but Jesus. If we refuse to stand in the public sqare and speak for God, the devil will have won the public square.

  9. We just launched an organization relating in a way to this post: Christianity and American government. I don’t think the founders intended mandated Christianity, but I believe many of them sought God’s guidance in their decision-making. Check us out at

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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