I became interested in national prayer days after seeing that President Lincoln had called for national fasting, humiliation, and prayer at the beginning of the Civil War. I wanted to see if other presidents had issued such strongly religious calls and when they stopped doing so. After looking at every presidential prayer proclamation, from Washington to Obama, I wrote a 2,400-word piece. When I wasn’t able to find an outlet for such a long piece, I divided the material and published in The Dallas Morning News and on the website Patheos. Here’s an excerpt from The Dallas Morning News:
American presidents are proclaiming more national prayer days than ever before — three for 9/11 alone (Sept. 5-7 this year) — but as the number of prayer days has increased, the fervor of presidential prayer proclamations has cooled considerably. “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” has morphed into something closer to presidential renditions of kumbaya.
President Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 call for a Day of National Humiliation, Prayer, and Fasting speaks to a worldview that has almost utterly vanished, a way of thinking that now exists only on the far outer fringes of public discourse. Lincoln demanded a brand of repentance so intense and humble that it went by the name of humiliation. He didn’t use the word figuratively. In his 1864 Thanksgiving proclamation, he advised Americans to “get down in the dust.”