Thursday, May 7, 2020

Thoughts about prayer breakfasts. . .

The idea of a national prayer breakfast so near to the echo of the impeachment acquittal was bound to become an obscene spectacle.  President Trump understandably was itching for payback and was never known to withhold comment for the sake of propriety.  That does not let him off the hook but merely suggests that he was being himself.  At this prayer breakfast it seemed that the goal was for people to not be themselves.  The hope was that for one brief moment the principals in a very public war could set aside their personal animosity for the sake of decorum and in deference to the holy occasion.  But it did not happen.  I have much to say about what happened or what did not but I have more to say about the whole idea of prayer breakfasts.

The best thing about prayer breakfasts, in my view, is the breakfast.  This puts a great responsibility upon those who prepare the eggs, bacon, toast, fruit, juice, and coffee.  Aside from the breakfast part of the occasion, I am not at all sure what is left that is salutary.  According to the internet, churches hold prayer breakfasts as a way to encourage members to start their day off right. ... Use creative prayer breakfast ideas to encourage members of the church, as well as others in the community, to take part in the event. Treat everyone to a hearty breakfast, motivational speakers and a free gift.  

Add to this some history on the National Prayer Breakfast.  The National Prayer Breakfast is a yearly event held in Washington, D.C., usually on the first Thursday in February. The founder of this event was Abraham Vereide.The event—which is actually a series of meetings, luncheons, and dinners—has taken place since 1953 and has been held at least since the 1980s at the Washington Hilton's International Ballroom, typically attended by some 3,500 guests, including international invitees from over 100 countries. It is hosted by members of the United States Congress and is organized on their behalf by The Fellowship Foundation, a Christian organization. It is designed to be a forum for the political, social, and business elite to assemble and pray together. Since the inception of the National Prayer Breakfast, several U.S. states and cities and other countries have established their own annual prayer breakfast events. 

You can blame or credit President Eisenhower for inventing this (the same President who once encouraged Americans to pray to their respective god).  Apparently Ike was not so sure but Billy Graham thought is was a great thing and the President deferred to the de facto spiritual advisor to Presidents to go ahead.  From an initial gathering of 400, it has certainly grown  into a veritable Who’s who’ of the political and evangelical worlds.” Invitations suggest that this event is an opportunity for the notable political leaders to “seek the Lord’s guidance and strength … and to renew the dedication of our Nation and ourselves to God’s purpose.”

It is inevitably more political than religious and this is true for more prayer breakfasts than the one President Trump attended most recently.  And that is part of the problem.  These prayer breakfasts have become diverse events with many different religions represented and featured.  The inspiration has not lasted long in a city replete with people who keep score and vow revenge upon their enemies. Yes, we hope for some civility but I am not at all sure a prayer breakfast is the solution.  In fact, I fear that events like these do more harm than good -- even if everything else goes well they only reinforce the false idea that we all pray to the same deity and doctrine matters less than good will.  And that is why I suggest that the food is the better part of the event and the food had better be pretty good to rescue a political event and give it some integrity.

In the end, I am not much a fan of events in which we act like we agree on things we don't and prayers that imply that the god you pray to is less important than what you pray for.  So, I guess I am not as excited as some by the President's boorish behavior.  Frankly, I had pretty low expectations going into this and have generally not be disappointed.  There are better ways for us to inspire virtue and encourage good citizenship on the part of citizens and civil servants.


Anonymous said...

As twisted as it has become, the prayer breakfast is a civic observance that recognizes God and His gift of freedom. It is a call to community. I know there are a lot of doctrinal issues with civic observances, but the goal of appreciating religious freedom in this country is good. - Ted Badje

John Joseph Flanagan said...

I agree with Ted.