Distressed by a rising crime rate and other problems, Birmingham, Ala., Mayor Larry Langford lit on an unusual solution in April: a prayer service featuring sackcloth and ashes.
Comparing himself to the king of Nineveh in the Book of Jonah, Langford proclaimed April 25 a “day of prayer in sackcloth and ashes” and called on “all bishops, priests, pastors, ministers and all citizens of various denominations and creeds to join in.” He then proceeded to order 2,000 sacks.
Challenged on the appropriateness of the event, Langford replied, “Even if you get upset, we’re still going to have it. This city needs to humble itself.”
More than 1,000 people turned out for the prayer service at Boutwell Auditorium the evening of April 25, reported The Birmingham News. The newspaper said the event “featured collective prayers for forgiveness and fiery sermons calling for the city to repent in order to stop the violence plaguing the city.”
Langford told the crowd, “Let there be no misunderstanding: Satan is at work in this town, and it’s time to pray.”
A handful of protestors showed up to express concern about the mixing of religion and government. Langford, however, insisted that he had paid for the burlap sacks himself (former coffee bags, many emblazed with the logo “Cafe Do Brasil,” which attendees wore over their regular clothes) and that he paid to rent the auditorium.
“The city paid for nothing,” he said.
In a video posted on al.com, Langford said, “Any nation that puts God first, he blesses it. Any nation that turns its back on him, we pay for it. It’s really just that simple.”