Many religious leaders have opposed the war, and many churchgoers have prayed for peace. But as U.S. troops invaded Iraq yesterday, Christian "prayer warriors" across the United States were doing their bit for victory.
In homes and churches, over the telephone and on the Internet, thousands of Christians joined in prayer chains seeking God's protection for President Bush and Americans in uniform. Some adopted names from a list of 83,000 troops whose relatives have asked for the prayers of strangers.
"Unfortunately, there probably are people in other lands who are praying against the president and against us. So I think it's important for us to have our share of prayer warriors," said Terry Posey, 43, of Greenville, S.C.
Posey is the founder of www.prayforourpresident.com, one of dozens of Web sites encouraging Americans to sign up to pray for Bush and U.S. troops. In the 24 hours after the president's speech Monday night giving Iraqi President Saddam Hussein two days to go into exile or face war, Posey's site had 52,219 visitors, he said.
Prayer warriors are "mainly conservative Christians who believe that they are in a battle with Satan and Satan's minions; it's a pitched battle, and prayer is an important part of it," said William Martin, a professor of religion and public policy at Rice University in Houston.
Many recognize that people of other nations and religions may be praying for opposite events -- such as America's defeat. "But they don't think God is weighing their prayers against Muslims' prayers," Martin said. "Most of the conservative Christians who are praying for the president and for America's victory have the full confidence that it's only their own prayers that have efficacy."
Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of the 9,200-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, said he believes that God hears all prayers. He also said he believes that Christians should pray "for presidents and kings and people in authority on all sides of a situation like this."
But Haggard does not believe God is neutral in this war.
"Everybody is praying to whomever they claim is the sovereign God, so we all agree that however this comes out, it will be God's will," he said. "In the end, Saddam is going to have to accept the fact that it was not God's will for him to remain in power."
Haggard is president of the World Prayer Team, which has encouraged prayers for Hussein to leave office peacefully. A sister Web site, www.presidentialprayerteam.org, has signed up more than 1.4 million people to pray for Bush and lists the names of men and women in uniform whose families have requested prayers.
One of those legions, Cathy Hawn, 56, of Edmonds, Wash., prays at least twice a day, every day, for the president and U.S. troops. She said she often phones her prayer partner, an 87-year-old woman in Seattle, and together "we just talk to Jesus."
But, she added, "we don't just pray for George W. Bush to win. We pray for the Iraqi people. We don't care what faith they are; they have children and families just like we do."
In recent days, Islamic centers across the United States have also held prayers for peace, and all of the major branches of Judaism -- reform, conservative and orthodox -- have distributed prayers for the safety of U.S. troops. In Egypt, meanwhile, al-Azhar University, the highest seat of learning for Sunni Muslims, issued a call for Muslims around the world to prepare to "defend themselves, their faith and their honor" if an enemy "descends upon Muslim land."
"This is a very humbling moment when you recognize that everyone on all sides has been praying to their God," said Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership in New York. "It might be a good moment for everyone to step back and put God out of the equation just a bit."