Friday, April 18, 2008

America Must Pray - Benjamin Franklin

Many historians believe Franklin was at best a deist but the jury is still out as to that issue. Franklin was generally quiet about spiritual things, but not always. Many of the colonial leaders kept their faith, or lack of, in silence. As with Abraham Lincoln, they rejected the denominational and sectarian bickering and disputes but their trust in God, and Christ, may have been genuine. So with Benjamin Franklin!

With George Washington chairing the proceedings, Constitutional convention delegates poured into Philadelphia in the middle of September 1789. Tempers flared and debates proliferated. Realizing the squabbles were becoming more heated and susceptible to political impasse, Franklin took to the floor out of frustration and addressed the delegates on the importance of their turning to prayer. In doing so he gave his most inspiring speech ever!

I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probably that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it."

Without His concurring aid we shall succeed, in this political building, no better than the builders of the Tower of Babel. Do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance now that we have won the war of independence?

I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate at this service.

Roger Sherman of Connecticut seconded the motion, though others sat in silence. They were either embarrassed or unconvinced that in drafting a constitution there was need for prayer. But because the Congress was debating the issue of separation of Church and State, they were afraid to follow Franklin’s advice. That issue had to do with a formal State church, or denomination, having dominance over the political affairs of the nation, not the fact that God could be beseeched for His guidance in the blessings of the realm!

Franklin’s suggestion was temporarily defeated but later assemblies understood the wisdom of his words because he had earlier reminded them: "In the beginning of this contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of dangers, we had daily prayer in this room for divine protection. Now we no longer need His help?" Those words must have taken deep roots. Because in time, prayer would become the standard opener for various governmental bodies in America for generations to come.