The Houston mega-pastor Kirbyjon Caldwellâ€”who presided over Jenna Bush’s wedding last month and has offered spiritual counsel to her fatherâ€”is a Christian VIP, so busy that his cell-phone voicemail says, “Do not leave messages here.” But on Friday mornings, whether he’s at church, in the car or on the golf course, Caldwell tries to dial into a certain highlevel conference call. At 9:30 Eastern time, a group of religious leaders gathers “telephonically,” as Caldwell puts it; for 15 minutes, they pray for Sen. Barack Obama.
“Typically,” Caldwell says, “whoever is praying always prays for the senator and his wife. For his safety, surety, soundness of mind, clarity of thought.” One person leads the prayer; everyone else listens. The leaders pray that planes land safely and that Secret Service agents keep their eyes open. (When Caldwell does the blessing, “he also prays for Senator Clinton and Senator McCain,” says the Rev. Michael Battle, president of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.) The number of participants ranges from a handful to 100. Obama is not on the line.
Americans are accustomed to images of pastors praying with politicians (Billy Graham has counseled nearly every president since Eisenhower), but never before has prayerâ€”nearly 75 percent of Americans say they pray once weekly or more, according to the Pew Research Centerâ€”been such an orchestrated part of a presidential campaign. In addition to the Friday-morning prayers, there are separate weekly prayer-and-strategy calls for the campaign’s Roman Catholic, Jewish, evangelical and African-American faith-group leaders.