Jerry Newcombe
A politically-incorrect prayer
By Jerry Newcombe
June 13, 2024

This year happens to be the 250th anniversary of the beginning of the first Congress (then known as the Continental Congress). Its first session opened in prayer. And Congress has opened each session in prayer since then.

But earlier this year, the prayer opening the 118th Congress caused quite a stir. Among other things, the preacher dared to pray in the name of Jesus.

On January 30, 2024, at the request of Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson, Pastor Jack Hibbs of California opened Congress in prayer. But he didn’t pray “To Whom It May Concern,” and many on the left blew a gasket.

26 members of Congress, including Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Muslim, objected to Speaker Johnson for inviting Jack Hibbs to speak. By inviting Hibbs, Speaker Johnson was guilty—said the Congresspersons—of using “the platform of the Guest Chaplain to lend the imprimatur of Congress to an ill-qualified hate preacher who shares the Speaker’s Christian Nationalist agenda and his antipathy toward church-state separation.” One wishes these opponents of the Speaker could get equally furious about the flood of illegal immigration, or the frightening rise of antisemitism in America.

Jack Hibbs is the pastor of Calvary Chapel in Chino Hills, California, and author of Living in the Daze of Deception.

I interviewed him for a radio segment recently about this prayer incident. He told me that about two-thirds of his controversial prayer was based on historical phrases coming from those who founded the country: “I just borrowed from our history, and they couldn’t take that.”

For example, an historical source Hibbs borrowed from in his prayer was Rev. John Witherspoon, who served in the Continental Congress as a delegate from New Jersey.

Witherspoon, the president of Princeton, was the founding father who educated so many other founding fathers about a biblical perspective of government. One of his star pupils was James Madison, a key architect of the Constitution.

Another historical source Pastor Hibbs drew from was Rev. Jacob Duché. Duché offered the first prayer in the first official opening of the first Continental Congress. That day was September 7, 1774. And this took place in Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia.

The day before, some of the founders huddled together to discuss how they should open the first official day of their proceedings. Should they open in prayer? That was a longstanding tradition. Some of those present, including professing Christians, thought it might be unwise since men from the different Christian denominations represented prayed in slightly different ways.

But Samuel Adams, a Congregationalist from Massachusetts, stood up and persuaded them to hold prayer. His distant cousin, John Adams, tells what happened: “Mr. Samuel Adams arose and said that he was no bigot, and could hear a Prayer from any gentleman of Piety and virtue, who was at the same time a friend to his Country.” Having heard good things about the Anglican Rev. Duché, Sam Adams recommended that Duché lead the opening prayer. They agreed to this.

So the next day, September 7, 1774, Rev. Jacob Duché led the whole group in prayer in a memorable service. George Washington was there. Patrick Henry was there. John Jay was there.

It was a very moving session, wherein Duché read Psalm 35— which just happened to be that day’s scripture reading on the Anglican calendar.

In Psalm 35, David, who is being unjustly persecuted, pours out his heart to God and asks for divine vindication: “Plead my cause, Oh, Lord, with them that strive with me, fight against them that fight against me.”

The words felt appropriate since British troops were getting ready to bear down on Boston at that very time.

John Adams wrote his wife, Abigail, about the impact of this psalm and prayer meeting:

“I never saw a greater effect upon an audience. It seemed as if heaven had ordained that Psalm to be read on that morning. After this, Mr. Duché, unexpectedly to everybody, struck out into an extemporary prayer, which filled the bosom of every man present. I must confess, I never heard a better prayer, or one so well pronounced…. It has had an excellent effect upon everybody here. I must beg you to read that Psalm.”

Since that day to the present, for the last two and a half centuries, Congress has been opening its sessions in prayer— though not always as Christianly nor fervently.

Pastor Hibbs stirred a hornet’s nest by praying in the tradition of those who founded this country.

It is apparent that many of those who currently serve in our government are either unaware of this nation’s founding or they disagree with it. That shows how far down the road we have gone away from our spiritual roots as a country. But Patrick Henry warned us: “It is when a people forget God, that tyrants forge their chains.”

© Jerry Newcombe


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Jerry Newcombe

Jerry Newcombe, D.Min., is the executive director of the Providence Forum, an outreach of D. James Kennedy Ministries, where Jerry also serves as senior producer and an on-air host. He has written/co-written 33 books, including George Washington's Sacred Fire (with Providence Forum founder Peter Lillback, Ph.D.) and What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? (with D. James Kennedy, Ph.D.). @newcombejerry


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