2016-10-20 / Faith Community

Pastors Pray for Country

By James Merolla

Praying for the nation is nothing new. Patriots have been doing it since before the states of America became, well, “United.”

In an election cycle that may be the most divisive in U.S. history, the country continues to be divided by the things that have always split it – Democrats vs. Republicans, white vs. black, citizens vs. immigrants, men vs. women, rich vs. poor.

With the attitude that the deeper chasm between church and state is a raw scar that has to be healed, three local pastors and a small contingent of their flocks have gathered every Thursday at noon around the stairs that lead down from the front entrance of Newport City Hall.

Pastors Paul Hoffman, Steve Robinson and Mike Pike, who lead Evangelical Friends Church on the Middletown/Newport line, CrossPoint Church in Newport, and Portsmouth’s United Methodist Church, have been praying each week for the community and the country – on government property, in an age when school prayer, and Nativity scenes have been collectively removed.

“No one [in City Hall] has told us to leave,” said Hoffman. “I don’t expect they would since we are praying for them, not demonstrating against them. We are inclusive. We are not in anybody’s face. We do it quietly, peacefully.”

The genesis of the external midday City Hall prayer meetings began in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when a black man, Alton Sterling, was fatally shot by officers while pinned to the ground on July 5. It continued with the death of Philando Castile, who was killed by police during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, after reaching for his license and registration.

The latter incident became an Internet linchpin for anti-police rioting and subsequent violence, culminating just days later with the assassination of five police officers in Dallas, Texas.

Recognizing such racial divisions, Hoffman called an impromptu peace prayer rally at the steps of Newport City Hall during a peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration organized by a Middletown resident around Washington Square on July 9 – a blend of colors, ages, and religious dominations holding hands in a prayer circle for over an hour, calling for an end to the violence and racism.

Time passed, streets emptied, and such gatherings turned into smaller meetings as the unprecedented tenor of presidential political rhetoric has brought the nation to a fever pitch on the eve of the general election.

“The noonday prayer at City Hall addresses some of the problems our nation is currently experiencing. As a result, pastors from different denominational and racial backgrounds have decided to pray together,” said Robinson of CrossPoint. “I believe this prayer tells our city and, perhaps, even our nation, that where unity exists, all things are possible, including the healing of social, political, and racial divides."

“People are hurting and are just longing for something deeper than what they see. Prayer is the language of the heart,” added Hoffman. “We needed to do something constructive, so we gathered people from different races, classes, and socioeconomic backgrounds to pray together. Only God can bring true and lasting change.”

Their spiritual mantra of this effort lies in the Old Testament’s Jeremiah 29: 7-11, which begins: “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

“Christians are glomming onto this text,” said Hoffman. “It says, basically, ‘Don’t hate this world that may contradict your values. Pray for it. Don’t just live through it, do nothing, and die.’ We believe that prayer is a very powerful element in this for our elected officials and our country.”

“This prayer brings people together for the express purpose of fostering unity for the greater good. It shows others that we are truly ‘One Nation under God.’ I hope [it] will send a message of love and acceptance to everyone,” Robinson said. “That can only happen when we throw away the labels and accept one another as an extension of ourselves.”

The leaders say the gatherings may go beyond Nov. 8.

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