In his first public statement on the controversy surrounding his prayer as Honorary Chairman of the National Day of Prayer, Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias strongly responded to criticism that his prayer intentionally excluded the name of Jesus while a guest on The Paul Edwards Program in Detroit.
The transcript is below. The audio is here.
EDWARDS: You conclude your book, Dr. Zacharias, The End of Reason, by saying that “in the end the choice we face is really not between religion and secular atheism” but rather “between Islam and Jesus Christ,” a very bold statement for Jesus Christ. I know that you are a man committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and committed to the person of Jesus Christ, you have defended Jesus Christ ably as a Christian apologist around the world. I don’t know if you are even aware of the controversy that’s surrounding the National Day of Prayer and the way that prayer was concluded. Could you bring some clarity to us around that issue?
DR. ZACHARIAS: I don’t read and track all those things because…you know there’s a story, Paul, that when Christians are attacked, how they react. One of my friends years ago told me, he said, “Ravi, remember how donkeys fight and how horses fight.” He says, “When donkeys are attacked they turn their backs to each other and face the oncoming onslaught and end up actually kicking each other to death. When horses fight they form a circle, face each other and kick against the attacks.”
Whatever attacks have been coming, they’re fighting, really it’s a donkey-type battle; and it is so tendencious, so distorted, so false that it’s really not worthy of my response. I have not read them directly but people, my friends, have sent it quoting to me. Some of my Indian convert friends are horrified at this kind of behavior by so-called “Christians,” and they even wonder, you know, if some of them would have ever come to Christ if this is the version of Christianity they’d seen. This is the version of Christianity, by the way, Mahatma Gandhi saw, this kind of hostility even within the ranks. If they had an issue I think they could have dealt with it in a gracious way.
Here’s the story, Paul: When the National Day of Prayer was formed, Yvonette Bright struggled with bringing this in, and after President Reagan got it through – barely got it through in time, Evangelical leaders got together and realized that the ONE prayer that had limitations, just the one prayer of the Honorary Chairperson, would be limited because it goes into the Congressional Record; that no distinctive name could be used that would make it appear that Congress is supporting one religion over against the other, face a law suit and it would be finished.
My messages are not controlled. All of the venues that people pray, all of the other prayers there are not controlled. The Honorary Chairperson is restricted in this one protection, this distinctive, so that it doesn’t get banned. And people like this who cry out don’t realize the privilege we have of being there. And if they keep on crying out we’ll be evicted and ultimately it will be a hostile voice and a foreign voice of a different god that will take over in a totalitarian way.
I began my prayer with “Holy Father.” No other worldview will begin that way. And actually the way I prayed it at the White House itself (it was the only venue I prayed it at) was “In your precious and Holy Name.” And “God’s Holy Name” is revered. And “Holy Father” has only one Name. It is not the Islamic god. It is not the pantheistic god. It is no other reference. It is, I think, people who really want to argue on the minutia and forget the bigger picture. They want to win a battle and lose a war.
I risk my life every day, Paul. When I’m overseas (I could play some of my voicemails to you), threatened because of my defense of Christ all over the globe. To be hit by a group like this is so pathetic that I have received letters from friends all over the world, especially those from other faiths, who are shocked at what they hear. And the comments I will not even repeat sometimes on the air because of what it is they have been astounded it at.
I’m sorry that this has happened. They will not hear from me. You are the first one to ask me publicly on this and I appreciate it. But I don’t go to their blogs. I don’t go onto the Internet at all. If they want to make a living off something like this it’s their perogative. My staff is just shocked at it. We will march on. Christ is the only way to salvation and we only come to God through His Son, and that’s why we call Him, “Holy Father.”
EDWARDS: One blog actually reported, Dr. Zacharias, that you did not pray in the National Day of Prayer official event, but you’ve just said that you did.
DR. ZACHARIAS: I prayed at the White House. I prayed at the White House, which is the only place where it officially then actually goes into the record. I went from there over to the Pentagon, Paul, to be rushed through there. We got in late. It was raining. I literally had one minute to sit down.
When I finished at the Pentagon we were whisked back, Beth Moore, her husband, my wife and myself; got in to the Cannon House (Office Building). I was to come on in half an hour, so even the program was not given to me. And I just leaned over and noted quickly… said, “Will you be able to deliver your keynote right now?” So I quickly picked up my Bible and notes and delivered the keynote. I didn’t even know I was supposed to pray. Had I known I was suppose to pray I would have been happy to do that. No problem with it, because all of the other prayers were going to be given the liberty, mine was going to be “In God’s Holy Name” or “Your Holy Name” after I addressed Him as “Holy Father.”
It was thirty minutes later after I sat down when I was looking at the program and finally asked why and where all this was adjusted and found out Congress people could not show up, that I found that it said, “Message” or “Keynote and Prayer.” I had no idea. I was just given…my idea was to pray at the White House, to speak at the other two (the Pentagon and Congress). Had somebody even whispered and said, “Could you please close in prayer with your prayer?” I would have been happy to do it.
How these contingencies are taken and distorted into the image that is given, it just tells you what a deadly force the media can be when they take issues and distort them.
I’m not ashamed of that prayer. I hope and pray that they ask me again someday, and I will comply wih their strictures again, for the privilege of preaching the Gospel. Next Thursday Focus on the Family will be broadcasting that message. Anybody who has a problem with that message, and thinks the trade-off is not worth it, then I will just take issue with them and wish them well on a different path. It is not mine.