Let Us Say: It’s Time to End the National Prayer Breakfast

President speaks at the 2020 National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

President Donald Trump strutted onto the stage at the National Prayer Breakfast last week, brandishing newspapers with bold headlines declaring him acquitted in the Senate impeachment trial. In his address the president took what the Chicago Tribune termed “a scorched-earth victory lap” by blasting “dishonest and corrupt” people for putting him, his family, and our country through what Trump termed “this terrible ordeal.”

They have done everything possible to destroy us, and by so doing, very badly hurt our nation. They know what they are doing is wrong, but they put themselves far ahead of our great country.

While the Washington Post pointed out how Trump brought his trademark disruptive approach to this event, they erred in describing the National Prayer Breakfast as a “gathering meant to promote reconciliation, unity, and prayer.” In fact, Trump has helped expose for all to see the inner workings of the prayer breakfast host, the Family (aka the Fellowship Foundation). This secretive, right-wing organization (that counts among its “friends” Vice President Mike Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) has worked since its inception during the Great Depression to promote a capitalist form of Christianity.

While believers in other religions may be present at the annual breakfast, author Jeff Sharlet has observed that the Family’s “specific vision of Jesus as the ideal ‘strongman’ governs their political theology,” adding they “found, in strongman-sympathetic Trump, an ideal vessel for their beliefs.” In his first address at this breakfast, Trump promised to destroy the barriers between church and state:

Our republic was formed on the basis that freedom is not a gift from government, but that freedom is a gift from God. …Among those freedoms is the right to worship according to our own beliefs. That is why I will get rid of, and totally destroy, the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution. I will do that —remember.

As Rob Boston, editor of Church & State magazine and Humanist columnist told me after this year’s National Prayer Breakfast, held February 6,

President Trump touted the “inclusive society” he’s supposedly building and claimed he’s lifting up Americans of every religion and creed. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Trump administration has introduced countless policies that misuse religious freedom to license discrimination, policies that are especially harmful to LGBTQ people, women, religious minorities, and the nonreligious.

“From his Muslim ban to his new guidelines that encourage coercive prayer in public schools, the president is causing dangerous divisions in our society and facilitating the Christian nationalist movement to inject one particular faith into our laws,” Boston added. “That’s not protecting religious freedom; that’s establishing religious privilege. It’s unconstitutional, un-American and unacceptable.”

Invitations to the National Prayer Breakfast, at which every sitting president has appeared since its founding in 1953, offer a backdoor to American diplomacy by allowing individuals access to the president without going through the usual vetting process by the State Department. As referenced by Sharlet in his bestselling book The Family, by “introducing powerful men to Jesus, the Family has managed to effect a number of behind-the-scenes acts of diplomacy.” The Family’s focus appears to be on connecting the most powerful people in the world, regardless of their involvement in atrocities such as killing gays in Uganda, and their ongoing embrace of Russia.

A month prior to this year’s breakfast, The Young Turks reported that presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and several other Democrats would not be involved (in the past Klobuchar spoke at the prayer breakfast and has been a co-chair). If a moderate politician who has engaged in this event since 2008 can walk away, what prevents others like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the nearly 200 members of Congress in attendance at this year’s breakfast from doing the same? (On a side note, one wonders why Mother Pence was present but the First Lady chose not to attend.)

Beyond boycotting, it’s time to call for an end to this “Christian” circus once and for all. Can I get an “Amen?”