The National Prayer Breakfast was held in Washington, D.C. on February 6, 2020. Arthur Brooks gave a strong talk pleading for contempt and polarization to end. President Trump meanwhile followed Brooks talk and used it to settle scores and attack his perceived “enemies.” While pastors and staff laughed it became quite clear that the National Prayer Breakfast was never about prayer or bringing people to recognize the Lord. Instead, it is about the naked pursuit of power and trying to influence the executive and legislative branch. This blog is calling for the National Prayer Breakfast to be canceled and for Christians to do a lot of hard thinking about what they perpetuated and enabled. They don’t have the moral authority to lecture me about faith when they silently laugh and allow God to be mocked.
“No doubt, unity is something to be desired, to be striven for, but it cannot be willed by mere declarations.”
“Unity is strength, division is weakness.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:43″49 NIV
The Potomac River from the Kennedy Center.
When I lived in other parts of the United States the National Prayer Breakfast was an event that I heard of in the news. I didn’t give much attention to the event. That changed when I moved to the Washington, D.C. area in 2005. The first time I heard about it was in a sermon from Mark Batterson at National Community Church (NCC). Batterson spoke about being involved in the event. He said it was unique to have an event that brought people together from both sides of the political aisle. It brought together Republicans and Democrats to worship the Lord the Senior Pastor of National Community Church said. In different churches I met with people who worked on Capitol Hill. They told me stories of life in the House of Representatives and the Senate. At NCC you could also run into Attorney General John Ashcroft. I turned around one day and noticed him standing behind me against the wall. He smiled. I heard a story from someone who worked the sound booth at NCC who accidentally hit his microphone and disrupted his sermon. In that incident Ashcroft was a good sport.
The History of the National Prayer Breakfast
The National Prayer Breakfast has been held every February since it began in 1953. President Eisenhower was the first executive to lead and then President Trump the most current. Over 3,500 people attend each year and a number from different countries. I can tell you from living in the D.C. area this is a very coveted ticket in town. The Fellowship Foundation or The Family hosts this event. It is designed to be an event to bring everyone together regardless of political persuasion for prayer and reflection on the Lord. In addition to the President of the United States this event also features other individuals as well. Some of those speakers over the years have included Elizabeth Dole, Bono, Francis Collins, Max Lucado, Gary Haugen, Eric Metaxas and countless others. For the most part the National Prayer Breakfast has been bipartisan in its efforts and attracts people on all sides of the aisle.
What Jesus Taught About Forgiving Your Enemies and the Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon of the Mount is the longest sermon in the Bible that is recorded. Its in the book of Matthew and goes from chapters five to seven. The Sermon of the Mount starts out with the beatitudes. When you break down the Sermon of the Mount here are the main features of it.
- 5:13 deals with Christians being salt and light to the world.
- 5:17 deals with the fulfillment of the law.
- 5:21 is about hared in our heart being the equivalent of murder.
- 5:27 concerns adultery.
- 5:28 deals with divorce.
- 5:33 deals with not swearing oaths.
- 5:43 tells us to love our enemies.
- 6:1 on giving to the needy.
- 6:5 about praying in private and not being like a hypocrite in praying publicly for attention.
- 6:16 concerns fasting.
- 6:19 is about building up treasures in heaven.
- 6:25 deals with not worrying.
- 7:1 concerns not judging others.
- 7:7 is about asking, seeking and knocking in one’s effort to know the Lord better.
- 7:15 is about true and false prophets.
- 7:21 true and false disciples.
- 7:24 on wise and foolish builders in the context of faith.
There are many parts of scripture that people often appeal to, however the command of forgiving your enemies comes form the Sermon of the Mount. This is actually one of the pillars of the Christian faith. And its one that is known an recognized by those outside the Christian faith. Its one of the most powerful parts of scripture for many Christians.
Arthur Brooks Speaks About Loving Your Neighbor. President Trump Then Rejects Jesus’ Teachings And Goes After his Enemies at the National Prayer Breakfast
At the National Prayer Breakfast on February 6, 2020 Arthur Brooks gave a talk in which he appealed to politicians to stop living in contempt. Brooks said that contempt is tearing apart our country. Brooks stated that the polarization is an opportunity for people to come together. He then proceeded to quote Jesus and said that one is to love your neighbor as yourself. Brooks spoke about loving your enemies. The danger today is contempt and its leading to friction and problems. In the break up of marriages contempt became a habit. In 2020 we are practicing contempt as a hobby and its tearing our society apart. In order to break the habit of contempt this is what Arthur Brooks challenged people to do.
First: Ask God to give you the strength to do this hard thing — to go against human nature, to follow Jesus’ teaching and love your enemies. Ask God to remove political contempt from your heart. In your weakest moments, maybe even ask Him to help you fake it!
Second: Make a commitment to another person to reject contempt. Of course you will disagree with others — that’s part of democracy. It is right and good, and part of the competition of ideas. But commit to doing it without contempt and ask someone to hold you accountable to love your enemies.
Third: Go out looking for contempt, so you have the opportunity to answer it with love. I know that sounds crazy, to go looking for something so bad. But for leaders, contempt isn’t like the flu. It’s an opportunity to share your values and change our world, which is what leadership is all about, isn’t it?
In closing he challenged people to be missionaries for love.
Next President Trump stood up and gloated about the acquittal from his impeachment. And despite what Arthur Brooks just said, Trump then used the National Prayer Breakfast as a platform for attacking his enemies. In a true narcissistic fashion he played the victim in the process. He proceeded to attack House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Utah Senator Mitt Romney. I like what the Associated Press said in their article, so I will use that below. Trump stated that he didn’t agree with Arthur Brooks.
“I don’t know if I agree with you,” said Trump. He then took a swipe at Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who had cited his faith in becoming the only Republican to vote for Trump’s removal.
“I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,” Trump said.
“Nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you’ when you know that is not so,” Trump added, in a reference to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has offered that message even as she led the impeachment effort.
Pelosi, a practicing Catholic, reiterated that she often prays for Trump.
“I pray hard for him because he’s so off the track of our constitution, our values, our country,” she said after the breakfast. “He really needs our prayers.”
One can say with certainty that if one believes they have the right to attack people then basically they are attacking what Jesus taught. That is what happened. Trump basically mocked and attacked Jesus in what he once taught in the Sermon of the Mount. But this also had a dark side as well which was revealed at the National Prayer Breakfast.
The Silence of Christians in Response Shows the National Prayer Breakfast is About Power
With the exception of Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas who will be looked at next what really struck me about the National Prayer Breakfast is the silence by many evangelicals and those who claim they are of faith. Their silence is deafening and it conveys a very disturbing message. The first is that they are okay as Christians with a “Christian” leader they follow who mocks Jesus. The fact that no one pushed back and said, “What a minute President Trump do you realize what you are saying in the context of what Jesus taught?” This 2020 National Prayer Breakfast revealed to me that this entire event is about capturing and preserving power. The reason why many Christians are silent is that they are drawn to that raw political power and they are afraid of compromising it.
But while many Christians remain silent others have not. I have seen several newspaper columns that point out the issue. In the Washington Post on February 9, 2020 E.J. Dionne wrote a column about how political idolatry is an enemy of of faith. Consider what he writes in, “Political idolatry is the enemy of religious faith.” I have part of the column down below.
My Post colleague Michael Gerson, a beacon of moral clarity in the conservative evangelical world, noted that Trump’s address was a tribute to his “remarkable ability to corrupt, distort and discredit every institution he touches.” Gerson is right, but I confess that there has always been something troubling about the prayer breakfast. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the faith of many of its organizers. There have been moments when politicians, including presidents, have used the occasion to promote humility in the face of God’s judgment and call each other to fellowship across their political differences. Nonetheless, the whole exercise seems idolatrous. The gatherings encourage the suspicion that many politicians are there not because of God but because of their own political imperatives. They want to tell the world how religious they are and check the faith box on the advice of their political advisers. You worry that this is as much about preening as praying.
And, as historian Kevin Kruse pointed out in his book “One Nation Under God,” the prayer breakfast was a component of a public elevation of religion in the 1950s designed at least in part to serve the cause of conservative politics. In his always crude but always revealing way, Trump has exposed the underside of long-standing political habits and practices. He is not the first politician to exploit religion. He just does it in a way so at odds with the core tenets of the Christian faith he claims to uphold that he pushes the hypocritical aspects of public religion to a breaking point.
Trump proceeded to make a thinly veiled attack against Mitt Romney of Utah, the only Republican senator to vote for the president’s removal: “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.” And then a shot at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.): “Nor do I like people who say, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ when I know that is not so.” The rest of the speech alternated between pedestrian civil religion and Trump campaign riffs. The stock market is up. Do I hear an “amen”? Gallup personal satisfaction numbers are rising. Preach it, brother!
What did Trump accomplish in his 26 minutes or so at the podium?
First, the president again displayed a remarkable ability to corrupt, distort and discredit every institution he touches. The prayer breakfast was intended to foster personal connections across party differences. Trump turned it into a performative platform to express his rage and pride — the negation of a Christian ethic. Democrats have every right and reason to avoid this politicized event next year. And religious people of every background should no longer give credence to this parody of a prayer meeting.
Second, Trump has again shown a talent for exposing the sad moral compromises of his followers, especially his evangelical Christian followers. Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress and Eric Metaxas don’t have it easy after an event such as this one. Not only do they need to defend Trump’s use of a prayer breakfast as a campaign rally. Not only are they required to defend his offensive questioning of religious motivations. They must also somehow justify his discomfort with a central teaching of the Sermon on the Mount and his use of a prayer meeting to attack and defame his enemies. These evangelical Christian leaders will, of course, find some way to bless Trump’s sacrilege. But he makes their job ever harder and their moral surrender ever more obvious.
Third, Trump’s unholy outburst (and the White House event that followed) shows we are reaching a very dangerous moment in our national life. The president is seized by rage and resentment — not heard on some scratchy Watergate tape, but in public, for all to see and hear. He now feels unchecked and uncheckable. And he has a position of tremendous power. This is what happens when a sociopath gets away with something. He or she is not sobered but emboldened. It took mere hours for Republican senators who predicted a wiser, chastened president to eat their words. The senators are, in part, responsible for the abuses of power to come. And they are not alone. At the prayer breakfast, some cheered and whistled for Trump’s bitterness and vindictiveness. Many evangelical Christians seem attracted to the least Christian elements of his appeal — his anger and his cruelty. They are encouraging the president to fight an enemy they have ceased to love.
If this is what the National Prayer Breakfast has become, it has ceased to be religious, ceased to be useful and ceased to be necessary.”
Its Time to End the National Prayer Breakfast
While the Christians stayed silent as President Trump mocked Jesus it was the usual crowd of “court evangelicals” who puckered up and did their usual ass kissing. Leading the pack is Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas, a Southern Baptist Church known for its embrace of Christian nationalism. Jeffress as you can watch from the clip above defended Trump and once again fell all over himself to protect his access. Those who acted on their faith such as the Speaker of the House or Senator Romney who is LDS were attacked. Meanwhile the person attacked the most and totally rebuked was Jesus Christ. In watching and studying some of the footage its safe to say that the National Prayer Breakfast was never about prayer. It was about an evangelical group who worked to influence two branches of government. In the course of time they sold their soul. In the prayer breakfast they did not defend Jesus and let him be mocked and more. Why do evangelicals get upset when an atheist mocks God and yet at an event like the National Prayer Breakfast they roll over and ignore the mocking of God completely?
After watching this event play out its time for me to state the following. The National Prayer Breakfast needs to come to a close. Its outlived its purpose. This years event showed what it was all about. Its about the naked pursuit of power while pretending to be spiritual. When I think of doubters like myself who struggle with faith events like these on;y highlight the problems of the culture wars. And they result with people like me pushing away from faith. This blog is calling for the National Prayer Breakfast to be canceled and not to be held again. Also those in leadership and the pastors who showed up need to explain why they were silent and why the remain silent on The President mocking and trampling of Jesus. And if you can’t do that then please don’t lecture me about my faith as I am on the edge from everything.