Bible reading wasn't on the itinerary. But when Hun Jang stepped off a Washington tour bus this week and heard scripture coming from the west lawn of the US Capitol, he walked over to see what was going on.
Volunteers at the 17th Annual US Capitol Bible Reading Marathon invited the South Korean soldier to the podium. He began at Proverbs 5 - "My son, attend unto my wisdom ..." - using a Korean Bible, one of 84 translations on hand. "I feel really good when I am reading the Bible," he says. "I feel something full in my mind."
The 90-hour marathon, which will include readings by about two dozen members of Congress and their staffers, is a lead-up to Thursday's National Day of Prayer. President Harry Truman signed the day into law in 1952 as an interfaith event. But in recent years, evangelical Christian groups have taken the lead in organizing activities around the day, especially those located near seats of government. And in Washington, as in real estate, location counts.
Critics say that evangelical groups and their allies in Congress are staging events like the Bible Marathon near centers of power as a bid to link secular Washington to Christian ideals. Supporters say they're simply trying to remind people of the important role that faith played in America's founding.
It's important to have the event so close to the Capitol, says co-director Terry Shaffer Hall, citing Biblical accounts of the reading aloud of sacred texts at times of national renewal. "Most of the foreign visitors who join us for the reading can't read the Bible from the seat of their own government. It's precious to do it here," she says.