WASHINGTON—Faith in the military took center stage Thursday at the 62nd observance of the National Day of Prayer in Washington, D.C, as lawmakers and faith leaders gathered on Capitol Hill.
After a series of speakers addressed those gathered at the Cannon Office Building, U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. William D. Lee, took the microphone to represent Americans serving in the military. Lee told the crowd he had 10 minutes of carefully prepared remarks, but he decided to leave them in his chair and “speak from the heart” instead. Lee, who described himself as “a man of deep abiding faith who happens to wear a uniform,” went on to defy any efforts to stop military personnel from openly sharing their Christian faith—a topic sparking widespread controversy in the media this week. (See “Religious battle lines" by Edward Lee Pitts.)
Lee mentioned last year’s record high number of military suicides, 349—roughly one per day—and said every 65 minutes a military veteran will take his or her own life. “I want you to remember that number,” he said.
He recounted a recent meeting with a 24-year-old soldier who had attempted suicide but survived his self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Lee said when he heard the man’s story, he knew the rules said he should send the man to a chaplain, but his heart said to give him a Bible.
“The lawyers tell me that if I do that, I’m crossing the line,” Lee said. “I’m so glad I’ve crossed that line so many times.”
Lee pledged not to back down from “my right under the Constitution to tell a young man that there is hope.”
Lee received several standing ovations during his brief remarks. He requested prayer for Christian military personnel to “weather the storm that I am almost certain will come.”
The rear admiral wasn’t the only one in the middle of a controversy: Greg Laurie, the honorary chairman for the 2013 National Day of Prayer Task Force and pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., addressed the crowd before Lee, despite homosexual activists’ attempt to force him to withdraw from giving the keynote address. Laurie has unashamedly held to the biblical definition of marriage and said he wouldn’t back down from his stance.
Laurie, who earlier in the day spoke at the Pentagon, focused most of his remarks on the need for prayer that would spark revival. He prayed that God would “send a spiritual awakening that will turn the hearts of men and women, boys and girls, back to You. Forgive us, and heal this troubled land we love so much.”
Featured speakers at the Washington event also included, among others, James and Shirley Dobson; Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala.; Vonette Bright, co-founder of Campus Crusade for Christ; Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va.; and Barry Black, U.S. Senate chaplain.
The National Day of Prayer, which President Harry S. Truman signed into law in 1952, is recognized on the first Thursday of each May. The national observance in the nation’s capital was one of many observances held across the country.
In his 2013 National Day of Prayer proclamation, President Barack Obama said, “Prayer brings communities together and can be a wellspring of strength and support.” He called on Americans to remember those affected by the recent tragedies in Boston, Newtown, Conn., and West, Texas.