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Powerful politicians are turning to prayer in pandemic

Back in March, the state of Louisiana wasn’t far behind places like New York and Italy for the number of confirmed coronavirus cases. Some speculated the surge was related to Mardi Gras events. In February, more than a million revelers from all over the world converged on New Orleans. 

In the months since, Louisiana has worked hard to control the effects of the pandemic. Three weeks ago, Vice President Mike Pence spoke in Baton Rouge, addressing a summer spike.

“Your state leadership and your healthcare workers have already demonstrated that the people of Louisiana know how to slow the spread. They know how to flatten the curve. They did it before, and we’re very confident that Louisiana is going to do it again,” he said.    

Two days later, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, a pro-life Democrat, held a press conference. About 23 minutes into it, he made a surprising appeal — a call for three days of fasting and prayer. 

Edwards said the idea came from a phone meeting that has become a regular part of his schedule. “Every couple of weeks I have the opportunity to have a conference call with hundreds of pastors across the state of Louisiana,” he acknowledged before reporters. He went on to ask people of all denominations to join him in one purpose: “Praying for the people of Louisiana. Praying for the sick. Praying for those who care for those who are sick, and praying for the families of those who have passed on.”

On July 19, Calhoun, Louisiana Pastor Don White stood behind his pulpit and encouraged his congregation to act on the governor’s initiative.   

“I’m asking Jerusalem Baptist Church to join in with Governor Edwards and the rest of the state for these three days and participate in this fast,” he said. “Listen, if we will do what we can do, God will do what we cannot do. I just want you to trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not to your own understanding, and we believe that God is going to see us through these very trying times.”

Other leaders in Louisiana reminded participants to pray for those whose livelihoods have been threatened by the pandemic and for scientists in their search for a vaccine. 

Governor Edwards later tweeted that he believes in the power of prayer, as well as the power of working together and being good neighbors to overcome COVID-19. He also referred to words found in the book of James — faith without works is dead. 

That encourages Phillip Juban, a Baton Rouge resident who serves on a committee that plans the governor’s annual prayer breakfast. “What better proclamation to come out of a politician’s mouth than to ask for prayer and asking for God to come and answer those prayers,” he told me by phone. “We can be united in this effort, although in so many other areas in this day and time we are not united. But this is one specific area I think everyone is united, so we just need to follow through with it and go to Him in prayer.”

Edwards wasn’t the first governor to call his state to pandemic prayer this year. Back in April, Governor Mike Dunleavy of Alaska promoted a day of prayer and hope. During a livestream event, he offered a personal prayer for his state, then was joined remotely by religious and community leaders.

And here in Mississippi, Governor Tate Reeves offers prayers for the state on Facebook Live. On a Sunday afternoon in June, he spoke candidly to residents about the threat of COVID-19, then prayed aloud. Afterwards, he opened a Bible and shared verses from Psalms, James and Proverbs. Then he prayed again.

You can contact Kim Henderson at kimhenderson319@gmail or follow her on Twitter at @kimhenderson319.