The air that September morning of America's First Continental Congress was fraught with anxiety and trepidation. The men who gathered had a monumental decision to make: will the colonies stand united and challenge British rule or will they disband and leave each to its own? Yet, they couldn't even decide on who should lead prayer.
Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Quakers, Anabaptists and Congregationalists were all present at the assembly, and their differing traditions caused some to oppose the motion of opening the meeting in prayer. But after some consideration, a local minister from Philadelphia named Jacob Duché was found and summoned to pray.
I'll leave it to John Adams, who was present at this historic meeting and wrote to his wife Abigail in detail about it, to tell the rest:
"Accordingly the next Morning [Rev. Jacob Duché] appeared with his Clerk ... and read several Prayers, in the established Form; and then read the Collect for the seventh day of September, which was the Thirty fifth Psalm," recounted Adams to his wife.
This psalm begins, "Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me! Take hold of shield and buckler and rise for my help! Draw the spear and javelin against my pursuers! Say to my soul, 'I am your salvation!'"
These words pierced straight through the hearts of those present at the assembly, tearing down the fear and animosity that had permeated the beginning of the assembly. "I never saw a greater effect upon an audience. It seemed as if heaven had ordained that Psalm to be read on that morning," wrote Adams.
But the good Rev. Duché was not finished. To everyone's surprise, he broke into an unexpected prayer:
"Be Thou present, O God of wisdom, and direct the councils of this honorable assembly," he prayed. "Enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation. That the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that order, harmony and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish amongst the people."
"I must confess, I never heard a better prayer, or one so well pronounced," said Adams. "It has had an excellent Effect upon every Body here."
All of this took place Sept. 7, 1774 — seven months before the famous "shot heard 'round the world" at the Battle of Lexington and Concord officially inaugurated the Revolutionary War. No matter how much historians and political commentators might argue, our history cannot be rewritten: America's fight for independence began with Scripture and with prayer, not with muzzles and gunpowder.
Yet, as undeniable as the influence of the Bible is in our traditions and values, America seems bent upon attacking the very faith that strengthened our Revolutionary War heroes. While our Founding Fathers turned to God in supplication for wisdom and truth, we've driven prayer out of our schools and torn down the Ten Commandments from our public buildings. Like an autoimmune disorder that cannot recognize friend from foe, we turn against ourselves when we deny the faith of our founders.
On this Independence Day, I'm praying for a spiritual awakening in America that will lead us back to God and to the values that have made our country great. And I'm praying we will remember American freedom is won not only on the battlefield but also on bended knees.
God Bless America!