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RELIGION / JOHN DART : Religious Right Often Dominate Annual Valley Prayer Breakfast

The National Day of Prayer, held the first Thursday in May, is mostly a conservative evangelical affair around the country, especially the annual San Fernando Valley Prayer Breakfast.

But an ex-Californian who chairs the sponsoring National Prayer Committee says the observance is not intended to be dominated by the religious right.

“We do not seek to make the Day of Prayer in any sense political toward a particular persuasion,” said Dick Eastman, whose Every Home for Christ missionary organization moved from Chatsworth to Colorado Springs in 1991.

“We actually instruct people to use caution to not make it a political pulpit,” Eastman said in a telephone interview.

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Yet, because local gatherings are autonomous observances organized by volunteers, they are free to pick the themes and speakers.

The 21st annual Valley Prayer Breakfast at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City has featured such vocal conservatives as Patrick Buchanan and Jerry Falwell. This year, the two speakers--singer Gianna Jessen and lawyer Brad W. Dacus of the Rutherford Institute--are involved with antiabortion issues. Matt Fong, Republican aspirant for the state treasurer’s job, will read Scripture.

“We will be commenting on the political aspects of our nation today that are disturbing and in need of prayer and political action, which I would call good citizenship . . . " said Gerald Christian Nordskog of North Hills, the breakfast chairman.

“Our nation and civilization is crumbling and the L.A. and San Fernando Valley areas are evidence of the moral decline in many aspects,” said Nordskog, who has organized all 21 prayer breakfasts in the Valley. This the last for Nordskog, who has moved his businesses to the Ventura area.

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The religious and ideological flavor of prayer breakfasts vary from region to region.

For instance, a prayer breakfast at the Crescenta Valley High School cafeteria Thursday has primarily a community flavor, said Sharon Beauchamp of the Crescenta Valley Chamber of Commerce. The event will feature a talk by John Goffredo, the school’s basketball coach, and a minister from the Unity Church of the Valley will lead prayers.

The Lancaster Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds, organized by business and professional people, will feature Tim Philibosian of Aurora, Colo., president of an organization that defends the Christian world view, according to a breakfast spokesman.

Eastman, who became the National Prayer Committee chairman in 1989, said the official all-day observances Thursday on Washington’s Capitol Hill will involve both liberals and conservatives whose common denominator is faith in God.

Days of prayer have been proclaimed intermittently in the country’s past, but the practice was revived by President Dwight Eisenhower as an annual observance.

By the late 1970s and early 1980s, a group of evangelicals began promoting the day as an opportunity to spotlight conservative Judeo-Christian perspectives.

In 1984, the National Prayer Committee, a private, non-governmental group then chaired by Vonette Bright, wife of Campus Crusade for Christ’s Bill Bright, began “spiritual lobbying” of Congress for a fixed date for the National Day of Prayer, according to Eastman.

Coincidentally, Eastman, Vonette Bright and Shirley Dobson, who heads the task force that deals directly with National Day of Prayer activities, are all associated with ministries that have moved out of Southern California in recent years.

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The Brights moved Campus Crusade from San Bernardino to Orlando, Fla. Shirley Dobson is the wife of author-radio psychologist James Dobson, who relocated his Focus on the Family ministries from Pomona to Colorado Springs.

Eastman and his wife, Dee, who lived in Valencia for 15 years, had more than 70 staff members at their Chatsworth offices when they decided in 1990 to join a burgeoning number of evangelical organizations relocating to Colorado Springs.

That move was cited by Eastman as an unusual example of the power of prayer.

Moreover, Eastman said his Chatsworth office was sold in early 1991 in the kind of coincidence that often strengthens the confidence of believers in prayer.

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As Eastman related in his recently published book, “The Jericho Hour, the Church’s Final Offensive,” the ministry had had no offer on its building for the many months it was listed for sale. One day in February, 1991, a person participating in the ministry’s monthly day of prayer accurately foretold that a buyer was headed their way.

Voicing her prayers aloud, the unnamed person first addressed God, then a buyer, describing a would-be purchaser driving in the area. Next, she startled the group by saying: “I command you to come forth now. Not tomorrow, not next week, not next month, but today.”

In an awkward period that followed, Eastman said, a staff member left the room, but re-entered moments later and tapped Eastman on the shoulder. The staffer said that an older man with his daughter had been looking for available buildings when he saw the ‘for sale’ sign. The man, who wanted to expand his business, made an offer and it was accepted.

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“A lot of people say that such things are coincidences,” Eastman said, after relating the story to a recent Christian seminar. “But all I know is that the more I pray, the more wonderful ‘coincidences’ seem to happen.”


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