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story.lead_photo.caption Former Missouri Governor and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft refers to an inscription on the wall as he delivers the keynote address at Thursday's National Day of Prayer Service in the Capitol Rotunda. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

In creating humanity, God respected liberty so profoundly that he allows people the liberty of even choosing against him, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said Thursday.

"I'm not here to impose my religion on anyone," Ashcroft said. "As a matter of fact, it's against my religion to impose my religion."

Who would he be, Ashcroft asked, to tell people he's going to impose a belief upon them?

As the keynote speaker in Missouri's annual recognition of the National Day of Prayer, Ashcroft instead told about 100 people gathered in the Capitol Rotunda that God gave people the liberty to make decisions on their own.

U.S. forefathers understood that liberty was the core value of creation, and he said it was no coincidence they listed liberty among certain inalienable rights with which the creator endowed people.

"For us to abandon that understanding and try to impose upon people an understanding of God the creator would be to deny the very nature of God the creator himself," Ashcroft said. "That does not mean — because we don't believe in imposing faith — that we should somehow refrain from (showing our faith)."

People have an opportunity to share faith without imposing it on others, he said.

It is something that has been worthy of doing at critical junctures of our nation, he said.

"Especially in moments of crisis in this country," Ashcroft said, "our leadership has called us to our knees."

He pointed out Abraham Lincoln in 1863 called America to a day of fasting and prayer because our country was in deep trouble.

"I feel like our country is challenged again," Ashcroft said. "And the responsibility and opportunity for prayer on the part of people of faith is so vitally important.

"We need to pray. As the old spiritual says, 'If we ever needed the Lord before, we sure do need him now.'"

The Bible, he said, provides examples of how to pray, what to say, and what to do when the need for prayer arises.

Ashcroft said we should aspire to have the right things. Ask for the right things. And act the right way.

When Solomon prayed to God, he prayed for wisdom and knowledge. God bestowed them upon Solomon because he didn't ask for wealth, prosperity or the death of his enemies.

"That tells us something very important — that we should ask for things that are consistent with God above, wisdom and knowledge," Ashcroft said.

Other things will fall into place, he added.

There's arrogance in the American culture right now, he said.

"But when you ask — I can't do this by myself. I need help — those are probably some of the most important words in all of life," Ashcroft said. "I need help."

The right prayer aspires for the right things and asks for the help of the Almighty, he said.

And God calls on people to act, he said.

"God gives us the privilege of participating in developing the answers to our own prayers," Ashcroft said.

As designated by Congress, the National Day of Prayer is observed on the first Thursday of May. It asks people to turn to God in prayer and meditation.

Joining Ashcroft on the stage inside the Rotunda were his son, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, Gov. Mike Parson and first lady Teresa Parson, Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe and others.

Parson told listeners he was grateful for the prayers Missourians send out on his behalf, but alongside faith, he didn't know where he would be without Teresa Parson.

"You never give the credit when you need to — to a wife, a mother, a grandmother and a dear friend," he said.

Sometimes, Parson said, he's not very comfortable reading the words staff have so strenuously crafted for him when he's discussing his faith.

"Say what you're led to (say)," he continued. "Don't try to be perfect about it, because we all know that we're not perfect."

When he looks across the state and sees the believers, pastors and clergy, Parson always thinks, "Where people are gathered, he is with us," Parson said.

"Trust me some of the toughest roads I've went down were during the last 14 months of my career," he said. "I've went around a lot. As many of you have. In my career and in my spiritual life, too.

"I'm telling you there is no way, no way you can be a leader in a time of a pandemic or crisis, if you didn't have faith," he said. "You can't do it, no matter how smart people think they are."

No matter how many people think they're experts, they're not, he continued. There's really only one expert when you go through trials in your life, Parson said.

"People like you who are sitting out here today — as me and Teresa travel, I'd open up a letter or I'd read an email," Parson said. "People all over this state that I never knew, never met — Sunday school classes, churches, pastors — it would say, 'We're praying for you and the decisions you have to make. We're praying for you as a leader."

That happened every time a decision had to be made.

"That was probably my most comforting level in the last 14 months," he said, "that I knew I had people out there that believed like I believed. And I had faith in God. And that's what it came down to."

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