December 2, 2016

FDR’s Episcopal Prayer for America

FDR is remembered for his famous D-Day prayer, which he composed himself with help from the Episcopal Church Book of Common Prayer, broadcast on nationwide radio on June 6, 1944. But there is another prayer he read to the nation, less remembered, on the eve of Election Day 1944, which was the first American presidential election conducted during a great war since 80 years earlier during the Civil War.

Cited as “a prayer sent to me not long ago,” FDR doesn’t mention the author, new Washington, D.C. Episcopal Church Bishop Angus Dun, who would in six months co-officiate FDR’s White House funeral, closing, at First Lady Eleanor’s urging, with FDR’s celebrated words “nothing to fear but fear itself.” Unlike his predecessor, who was banished from FDR’s presence for imploring the President to deposit his eventual corpse in a National Cathedral crypt, Dun was apparently liked by the President. Dun himself, who was a widely revered figure, was recalled by The Washington Post upon his 1971 death:

During his 18 years as the Bishop of Washington, Angus Dun was a force for tolerance, for interracial understanding and for freedom. Behind the austerity of his official mien, there lay a wealth of humor and kindness. He was concerned more to help than to punish, to heal than to condemn…. Such a life must bring its own rich sense of duty done and of rewards that lie beyond any earthly grasp.

Bishop Dun must have contacted FDR in a pastoral spirit prior to FDR’s final reelection. It was of course exceptional for America to showcase its democracy when most of the world in 1944, much of it war torn, lived in tyranny. FDR reminded the public of its unique blessings:

Tomorrow, you the people of the United States again vote as free men and women, with full freedom of choice—with no secret police watching over your shoulders. And for generations to come Americans will continue to prove their faith in free elections.

But when the ballots are cast, your responsibilities do not cease. The public servants you elect cannot fulfill their trust unless you, the people, watch and advise them, raise your voices in protest when you believe your public servants to be wrong, back them up when you believe them to be right.

But not for one single moment can you now or later forget the all-important goals for which we are aiming—to win the war and unite our fighting men with their families at the earliest moment, to see that all have honorable jobs; and to create a world peace organization which will prevent this disaster—or one like it—from ever coming upon us again.

To achieve these goals we need strength and wisdom which is greater than is bequeathed to mere mortals. We need Divine help and guidance. We people of America have ever had a deep well of religious strength, far back to the days of the Pilgrim Fathers.

And then FDR concluded by offering the prayer Dun had transmitted to him:

Almighty God, of Whose righteous will all things are and were created, Thou hast gathered our people out of many lands and races into a great Nation.

We commend to Thy overruling providence the men and women of our forces by sea, by land, and in the air; beseeching Thee to take into Thine own hands both them and the cause they serve.

Be Thou their strength when they are set in the midst of so many and great dangers. And grant that, whether by life or by death, they may win for the whole world the fruits of their sacrifice and a just peace.

Guide, we beseech Thee, the Nations of the world, into the way of justice and truth, and establish among them that peace which is the reward of righteousness.

Make the whole people of this land equal to our high trust, reverent in the use of freedom, just in the exercise of power, generous in the protection of weakness.

Enable us to guard for the least among us the freedom we covet for ourselves; make us ill-content with the inequalities of opportunity which still prevail among us. Preserve our union against all the divisions of race and class which threaten it.

And now, may the blessing of God Almighty rest upon this whole land; may He give us light to guide us, courage to support us, charity to unite us, now and forevermore. Amen.

FDR’s words, and Bishop Dun’s, are of course still instructive for America today.

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