We’ve watched from afar the devastation and tragedy brought by Hurricane Harvey to the Gulf Coast of Texas. Our hearts are with those who are just beginning the recovery process. As difficult as the past week has been, there is some comfort in watching, as we often do, Americans coming together to aid those in the area through donations and volunteering.
Rather than focus on what has brought everyone together, however, President Donald Trump today held a press event in the Oval Office with a bevy of religious fundamentalist leaders and signed a proclamation declaring Sunday as a National Day of Prayer. (Texas governor Greg Abbott issued a similar proclamation.)
President Trump's call for an official day of prayer divides, not unites, Americans. (Screenshot from YouTube)
During the event, Pastor Robert Jeffress, a Southern Baptist minister from Dallas, hailed Trump as a unifying leader. Yet the president’s actions today were anything but.
Official proclamations calling for everyone to pray don’t bring Americans together, they divide us.
First, the victims of the storm may find solace in different ways – some embrace religion, but others do not. Houston, like our country, is religiously diverse. Trump’s officially sanctioned call for prayer ignores this rich diversity. His proclamation and the distinctively conservative Christian event that surrounded it do not represent all Houstonians or Americans.
Second, the government should never presume to tell people when or how to pray. Americans are quite capable of deciding when (or whether) to pray. We know that many have prayed for people in Houston, but they did so without needing the president to tell them to do it.
Trump has reportedly pledged $1 million to relief efforts. He could have talked about how he’s been personally praying for the victims and rallied all Americans by encouraging people to do whatever they can to help. Instead, he lined up another photo opportunity to please his Religious Right base.
The people of Houston – and indeed all Americans – deserve better.