By Autumn Evans
The strength of faith was on display Thursday as Wheatfield's religious community gathered in the Community Center in honor of the 64th annual National Day of Prayer. The event itself is meant to encourage Americans to pray in accordance with their own religious beliefs and celebrate religious freedom in the country.
Reflecting the population of the town, the leaders of the event in Wheatfield came from various Protestant churches. It was led by Bruche Gamache, pastor of St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Sanborn. It was attended mainly by senior citizens.
The theme for this year's Day of Prayer was "Lord, Hear Our Cry," with Bible verse I Kings 8:28 chosen to be read. Different pastors and officials led other prayers for "segments of society."
Supervisor Bob Cliffe addresses the community.
The first to speak was town Supervisor Bob Cliffe on government, who began his speech by saying, given the current state of the world, governments are in need of prayer. Internationally, he referred to places in turmoil such as Ukraine. In the United States, he pointed to the issues brought out by the shootings in Ferguson and Baltimore. Narrowing in on the state, he cited leaders recently involved in scandals.
Then, Cliffe brought the issue home by recalling the town's response to a situation last year, when a Muslim family purchased Suzanne's with the intent to create a Muslim cultural center. Cliffe said he received hate mail and angry phone calls from residents questioning how the town could allow the transaction to happen.
He reminded the community Muslims believe in the same God as Christians and said, "I think we need to listen to these folks and find a way to get along."
The residents in attendance voiced their approval of the message of tolerance.
The next speaker, the Rev. Bob Heisner, speaking on the topic of military, said he heard similar hateful speech about the center at the time. Referring to those who "use the name of God" but don't follow his teachings, he said, "We have so much hypocrisy in the House of the Lord. ... We have the name, but we don't have the heritage."
What began as a celebration of faith and religious freedom was marred by just such hypocrisy as the meeting went on.
Later speakers placed less focus on tolerance of others' beliefs and spoke more about evangelization and converting those of other faiths, including Muslims, to Christianity.
More tellingly, the speaker on family, John Gordon, began his speech not with a celebration of family, but by decrying the legality of gay marriage, a topic that otherwise had not been discussed and which is divisive among different Protestant denominations.
The results of the Day of Prayer are perhaps not surprising, given the privately funded National Day of Prayer Task Force, the largest national organizer for the event, is a fundamentalist evangelical organization.
Despite the White House proclamation on the Day of Prayer encouraging "the citizens of our Nation to give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences," the Day of Prayer Task Force website makes it clear it only represents a Judeo-Christian version, based on the God of the Christian Bible.