Pam Olsen, a self-proclaimed candy junkie with a syrupy sweet voice and big blond hair, hasn't touched an ounce of chocolate since the stroke of midnight on Wednesday, Sept. 20. Not one Hershey's Kiss, not one Butterfinger, for the past eight weeks.
"I can't tell you how much I love sweets," Olsen says. "But I've given them up in the name of the Lord." Not to mention the name of Texas Gov. George W. Bush. "Instead of eating sweets, I have been spending time in prayer for the truth to prevail in the elections," says the Tallahassee, Fla., stay-at-home mom. And the truth, she says, is that Bush is the nation's president-elect.
Olsen is president of the Florida Prayer Network, a sister organization of the Christian Coalition. In late September, the group joined other prominent members of the Christian right -- including Christian Coalition and Focus on the Family -- in what was initially supposed to be a 40-day period of fasting and prayer for the outcome of the 2000 elections -- namely the sending of Bush to the White House. Olsen claims "hundreds of thousands, if not millions" are participating. Yet, much like the seemingly unending presidential race, the fast itself has dragged on, and tested their faith. After all, how can they be sure whose side God is on?
Even after all the Bible-thumping from both sides of the ticket -- both candidates boast born-again credentials; and Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Joe Lieberman certainly mentions God more than anyone else -- it's not entirely clear who the Almighty One would chose. What, the group was left to wonder, would Jesus do?
"I don't think God is a Democrat or a Republican, nor do I think that he cares much about Social Security or prescription drugs or any issues like that," Olsen says. "But I do think, just by reading the scriptures, that God is pro-life, and since only one candidate on the two major tickets is pro-life, I just have to believe that Bush is the leader that God has selected."
Still, they aren't leaving anything to chance. Over the last week, Olsen says her group has organized massive prayer meetings all over Florida, including one gathering Monday night in West Palm Beach that turned out 500 faithful. "The spiritual battle is very intense here," Olsen says. "We have been on our knees before God asking him to remove the confusion and deception from what is happening here in Florida."
Indeed, it's hard not to find one Gore-fearing, er, God-fearing religious group that hasn't admonished its members to fast and pray in hopes of affecting the outcome of the election. The Christian Coalition, in a series of e-mails to its membership in recent days, has pressed for "urgent prayer" because of the election holdup, while its founder, Pat Robertson, yesterday told his audience on "The 700 Club" to fast and pray that the "election is not stolen."
Another group with close ties to the Christian Coalition, the Fellowship of International Churches, also has weighed in, with its head, Wellington Boone, telling online magazine Religion Today on Monday that the Florida recount is simply God's way of telling his people that there should be prayer and repentance. "The delay in announcing a winner is a time for God to look at which side would be humble enough to plead with him to get his will done," Boone told the newspaper. "All of the ballots may already be in hand, but God works outside of time to accomplish his will."
But can prayer really provide that crucial edge that can swing an election whose margin exists somewhere between the dancing angels on a head of a pin? Maybe, says Rabbi Barry Freundel of the Kesher Israel Synagogue in Washington, a congregation that counts Lieberman among its members. He says that even though God does hold a stake in who ultimately ends up picking out drapes in the White House, there's only so much sway a higher power has.
"No doubt there are people on both sides praying for a certain outcome, but God gave mankind a free will, free capacity to choose what we want to do," Freundel says. "You can pray if you want to, but ultimately, I think this is in the hands of human beings."