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James Lankford (Associated Press/Photo by Sue Ogrocki)

Escape from acrimony

Congress | A Republican and two Democrats encourage members of Congress to pray for our president

WASHINGTON-At the National Prayer Breakfast in February, President Obama noted that his friend Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., prays for him. "It's comforting to know people are praying for you who don't always agree with you," he said. "Even though we are on opposite sides of a whole bunch of issues, part of what has bound us together is a shared faith, a recognition that we pray to and serve the same God."

But the conversations between Capitol Hill and the White House haven't been so lovey-dovey this year. Instead, the acrimony has been tangible. Wednesday, for example, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said Obama was making arguments that were "intellectually lazy." (See "'Disappointed,'" Oct. 26.) For the president, there's no love lost with Republicans: He has said in recent speeches that the GOP plan for the economy is to have "less people with health insurance."

But this week, a freshman Republican and two Democrats dissipated a little of the acrimony. The three congressmen-Reps. Dan Boren, D-Okla., Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., and James Lankford, R-Okla.-distributed to all 435 members of the House of Representatives a book titled Obama Prayer: Prayer for the 44th President, by Charles Garriott, who ministers to those in the federal government through Mission to North America, an arm of the Presbyterian Church in America.

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The congressmen included a letter with each book, where they wrote, "All of us who have served our nation as members of the House understand the place and significance of prayer. Over the years we have prayed for presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush Sr. and Jr." They added that the book is "a means of encouraging specific and thoughtful prayer for President Barack Obama."

Lankford said, "We'll pray for those in authority … when we line up in the same party. That's not the biblical mandate. He added that Christians should "pray for the president, no matter who he is."

The congressman then pulled out his iPad in the thronging Speaker's lobby by the House floor during a vote to read from Proverbs 21:1: "The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord."

Lankford said he's had good feedback from Republican members who received the book.

"There are issues there, in Congress, with how we speak about each other," he said. "This is a place that sometimes feels like middle school. The more you criticize, the more you're encouraged."

Lankford sees prayer for leaders as a Christian calling, regardless of his disagreements with the president as one of the fierce freshman conservatives. "We can strongly disagree," he said. "That does not remove our respect for each other."

The book contains about a dozen prayers for the president: prayers for his relationship with God, for wisdom, for his safety, for his family, for his advisers, for his friends, for his ability to govern with justice and mercy.

"Thoughtful, intelligent and persistent prayer for our leader is part of what it means for us to be salt and light in a needy world," Garriott writes in the book.

Between the prayers are short chapters on how to pray for specific issues. The book is carefully apolitical, but for one deft reference to abortion in a prayer: "We pray that we would defend the weak and homeless, both in and outside the womb."

Obama said at the National Prayer Breakfast this year that pastors Joel Hunter and T.D. Jakes from time to time come and pray with him in the Oval Office. And the chapel at Camp David seems to be the most consistent church for the Obama family. In speaking about his own prayer life at the breakfast, the president said, "When I wake in the morning, I wait on the Lord, and I ask Him to give me the strength to do right by our country and its people. And when I go to bed at night I wait on the Lord, and I ask Him to forgive me my sins, and look after my family and the American people, and make me an instrument of His will."

White House spokesman Shin Inouye didn't know if Obama had read the book of prayers for him, but said, "President Obama deeply appreciates the prayers of millions of Americans, including from members of Congress, and each day joins Americans in prayer for our great country."

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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