It had not happened since President Lincoln.
On Tuesday, December 4, 2001, for two sacred and historic hours, about one-third of the US Senate and House of Representatives, with representation from both major parties, knelt together in solemn prayer and repentance. This did not take place in a Church. It took place in the Rotunda of the US Capitol.
Chairs were arranged so they all faced in a circle. Microphones were placed in aisles. In the center for the speakers was a prayer bench with knee padding and a microphone. Other prayer benches were scattered outside the seating area. Clearly visible were the large murals in the Rotunda itself, depicting prayer meetings. One shows the baptism of Pocahontas. The other shows a Bible study among the Pilgrims. Another mural depicts George Washington resigning his commission, while holding a copy of his Prayer for the States and State Governors in his hands.
It was a National Day of Reconciliation. The presence of God, the love of God, and our need for God's forgiveness and protection were among the dominant themes. "Who called this meeting...God did!" These were the words Chaplain of the Senate Lloyd John Ogilvie used in his opening remarks.
One Senator said that in the meeting, he could feel God forgiving us as a nation. Another elected official had the vision of the tribe of America marching toward the limits of God’s sovereign protection, but that their leaders had stood at the edge and began signaling to the people to begin turning.
At the heart of such a gathering is God's promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14, "If my people will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land."
Believers should rejoice that such a gathering took place. Although America's greatest sin, that of abortion, was not explicitly mentioned, some groundwork was laid for national repentance. After all, the attitude of humble prayer and worship is completely contrary to the attitude of "pro-choice." Prayer and worship says to God, "You are Lord of me, my life, and my choices." Pro-choice says, "I am Lord of me, my life, and my choices." The two just don't mix, and if we spend enough time on our knees, worship may begin to replace the destructive abortion mentality.
One's public and private life cannot be completely separated. One's beliefs and one's public service cannot be totally severed. As the US Catholic bishops have written, "Nor can we practice the Gospel of life only as a private piety. American Catholics must live it vigorously and publicly, as a matter of national leadership and witness, or we will not live it at all" (1998, Living the Gospel of Life, n.20).
Scripture urges us to pray for our leaders and our nation. Perhaps what happened on December 4, without the glare of media, will bring us a step closer to a Culture of Life.