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BY Jim Cosgrove
NEW YORK—Evangelical leaders in the United States have called on their followers to join in a 40-day fast for national revival starting March 1. They hope that 2 million Americans will take part in the fast.
The campaign, “Pray USA! '98,” is sponsored by an interdenominational movement, Mission America, but is mainly an initiative of Bill Bright, founder of the Campus Crusade for Christ. Winner of the 1996 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, Bright has used the prize of more than $1 million to promote fasting and prayer.
Bright conducted his own 40-day fast for the first time in 1994, with many Church leaders taking part. Similar national meetings have been held since, and at the fasting and prayer gathering in Dallas last November, participants called for the 40-day fast to roughly correspond with the 1998 period of Lent.
Bright and his wife, Vonette, are honorary chairpersons of the fast campaign. He said Feb. 20 that the event “seems to be really taking off,” noting that prominent religious broadcaster Pat Robertson and Bill McCartney, the founder and leader of the evangelical men's movement, Promise Keepers, also supported the fast.
“It is not far-fetched to think that millions will be joining in at least a part of the fast,” he said.
People who think they cannot undertake a complete fast for the entire period are encouraged to fast for certain days, give up one meal a day, or follow some other limited fast.
Bright, 76, said he would be making his fourth 40-day fast on only water and vegetable juices. He was able, he said, to continue most of his activities without eating.
For Bright, the fast is a response to a severe problem in the United States of moral decadence and turning away from God. President Bill Clinton's alleged involvement with a White House intern was only “one of the symptoms,” Bright said.
“We're losing our soul,” he said. As evidence, he mentioned “the murder of 35 million babies” since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973.
Another sign was the banning by some state authorities of prayer and Bible reading in public schools.
“The God to whom the founding fathers dedicated this nation is displeased,” he said. And, as with ancient Israel, the result could be national destruction. Bright's study of the Bible has convinced him that a combination of prayer and fasting is the way for believers to deal with the problem.
Fasting had been “overlooked in our generation,” Bright said.
Father Leonid Kishkovsky, a priest of the Russian-Orthodox Church in America, said he welcomed the new attention to fasting in the Protestant evangelical community. He noted that the Orthodox observance of Great Lent would begin this year March 2, and, when strictly observed, would exclude eating of meat, fish, eggs, or dairy products, but not require giving up all solid food. According to Father Kishkovsky, the rigor of a strict Orthodox fast, even though not as severe as Bright's, has usually been modified by “flexibility” according to individual circumstances.
Father Avery Dulles SJ, a leading American theologian, said the Second Vatican Council had tried to move away from the “juridical mentality” about fasting that emerged after the Council of Trent (1545-63). Pope Paul VI removed the legal requirements for fasting except on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday he said. More recently, some bishops had begun to encourage Catholics to fast as a personal spiritual discipline.