Archive for Saturday, April 12, 2003

Web sites provide prayer outlet

April 12, 2003


Her Arizona home is thousands of miles from the streets of Baghdad, but Christa Wiggans believes she spans that distance daily with prayers for American troops and their cause.

The power of prayer, she says, has boosted weary soldiers, brought clarity to political and military leaders and influenced battles to swing America's way. With U.S. forces in the heart of the Iraqi capital, prayer in the conflict has been "right behind the military, right behind the soldiers," Wiggans said. "Prayer is absolutely as powerful."

Combatants throughout the centuries have shared Wiggans' beliefs. Indeed, people on both sides of the Iraq war have invoked God's name and asked for divine help in battle.

While many theologians say the nature of prayer is not a matter of God choosing one side or the other, that fails to dissuade believers.

In America, Wiggans and thousands of other Christians have prayed fervently for soldiers, President Bush and other military leaders. Some see prayer as a personal comfort, others as a tool in a battle against spiritual and physical evil.

The Web site Presidential Prayer Team, where Wiggans is membership services director, has signed up 1.7 million members to pray, including about 770,000 who have pledged to pray daily for one of 140,000 servicemen who have registered.

A different site, Pray for Our President, offers a daily prayer for Bush and is getting about 70,000 hits daily since the war started, close to what it used to get in a week, said Terry Posey of Greenville, S.C., the site's founder and a Baptist. The Web sites are two among many, in addition to prayer groups at local churches around the country.

"We know we have an impact," said Wiggans, who attends a non-denominational Christian church.

A dramatic turn toward prayer is normal in times of crisis, though Christians have varying views on what it accomplishes, said Philip Goff, executive director of the Center for the Study of Religion & American Culture at Indiana University.

To those who call themselves "prayer warriors" -- a term used mainly by conservatives -- prayer is a way to actively take part in defending American values, Goff said.

"To many, under the surface, this is a religious war," Goff said. "It's not necessarily versus Muslims. It's a war of Christian America versus anybody."

Terry Posey, a free-lance writer, is founder of a Web site called
Pray for Our President. The site offers a daily prayer for
President Bush and has received about 70,000 hits daily since the
war in Iraq started.

Terry Posey, a free-lance writer, is founder of a Web site called Pray for Our President. The site offers a daily prayer for President Bush and has received about 70,000 hits daily since the war in Iraq started.

Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., said he believes that God favors the allied forces because they stand for freedom.

Still, prayer can influence events, he said. For instance, if more Christians had been praying, weather in Iraq would have been more favorable in the early stages, allowing troops to avoid the sandstorms they encountered, he said.

"The more people pray, the more God's perfect will be fulfilled," Haggard said.

The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance Foundation in Washington, D.C., disagrees.

He said God has no favorite in war and rejects that the idea that God -- not the strength of the combatants -- determines its outcome. Gaddy said God desires peace, and those who pray for success in war are dragging God into their side of a political dispute.

"When you politicize religion, you rob it of its integrity and power," he said.

The Rev. Joseph Hough, a theologian and president of Union Theological Seminary in New York, said God doesn't field sometimes contradictory requests from pro- and anti-war Christians and Muslims, then decide who gets their wish.

Rather, divine power works through prayer by moving people to act in ways that fulfill divine purposes, even if the person praying doesn't know what those purposes are.

"God is always on the side of transforming evil into good," Hough said. "We can't make the assumption we are always on the side of good."

Prayer's greatest effect may be internal changes in the person kneeling before God, said the Rev. Anders Eliason at North Shore Assembly of God in Malden, Mass. The communion with God helps bring about understanding and comfort in the middle of conflict, he said.

"I think the biggest change is in us," he said. "Our hearts change."

Patty Harger, 57, of Tucson, Ariz., joined the Presidential Prayer Team before the war and "adopted" a serviceman she knows only as Doug R. from Texas, who has a wife and three children.

She prays for him when she wakes, just before sleep, and any time he comes to mind, asking God to keep him safe and free of fear. She has no doubt prayer helps Doug R. and boosts troop morale.

"At this point in time, it's one of our greatest hopes," she said.

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