The organizers of the Nationwide Prayer Breakfast hope that prayer can unite the nation in separate occasions
(RNS) – The organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast faced a number of challenges in running the annual event in 2021.
An ongoing pandemic that forced the prayer breakfast online for the first time in its 69-year history. A Capitol riot followed by Donald Trump’s second impeachment. And the feeling that religion divides Americans more than they unite them.
For Delaware Senator Chris Coons, one of the organizers of the Thursday (February 4th) event, the prayer breakfast is still well worth it. Prayer, he said, can enable people of different faith groups to see good things in their fellow citizens, even in partisan divisions, and to concentrate on what people have in common.
It is also an opportunity for President Joe Biden to encourage Americans and people from around the world.
“Our country is in a challenging, difficult and divided moment. Part of what President Biden brings to our nation’s needs right now is deep compassion, care and concern for his fellow Americans, and a personal life and story ingrained in belief, ”he told reporters during an online Press conference on Wednesday.
The program for the annual event, which took place on the first Thursday in February, was pre-recorded due to the pandemic. It will be broadcast from 8 a.m. on C-SPAN. The event will also be streamed online at 2021nationalprayerbreakfast.org.
Biden will give an address. Former Atlanta Mayor and Ambassador Andrew Young will also speak at the event, which will be shorter than in previous years.
In recent years, the annual God and Land event has been controversial.
This is in large part because the event has been organized by the Fellowship, a nonprofit organization also known as the Family and International Foundation, with the help of Congressmen since the 1950s. The group has been criticized for using religion as a means of promoting its political and social goals both in the US and around the world.
The non-partisan group has denied the idea that it is a Christian organization. Instead, it claims to be organized according to the teachings of Jesus.
During the press conference, Coons defended the prayer breakfast, saying it was not an exclusively Christian event.
“This is not a Christian nationalist event,” he told reporters. “It is an event that acknowledges the teachings of Jesus, but is in no way limited to Christians or Christianity.”
Coons also said Biden’s approach to religion as a source of comfort in troubled times rather than a political force is the right approach for this year’s event.
“For millions and millions of Americans, their beliefs are a crucial part of how they get through tough times,” he said. “We are in one of the most difficult times of my life. Thousands of Americans will die from this pandemic today. And most of them will die in pain and alone. “
The Delaware Senator said the prayer event was often filled with moments of profound significance. He noted the closing remarks made by Congressman John Lewis at last year’s event. Lewis, fighting the cancer that eventually killed him, gave the blessing at the 2020 event via video.
“We have to believe in each other,” said Lewis. “We must never give up on our fellow human beings.”
Like last year, the 2021 event will be overshadowed by the impeachment. President Trump appeared at the 2020 Prayer Breakfast with an issue of the Washington Post titled “Trump Acquitted” and targeted his political enemies during the event.
This year, Trump faces a second impeachment trial for allegedly instigating the January 6 riot in the Capitol.
Coons said that there are always mixed motives when people gather for prayer. Some are there to worship, others to make connections, others to show off a new outfit. And others come to testify of the power of faith.
“At the end of the day, a prayer breakfast is just that,” he said. “It’s a prayer breakfast.”
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