WASHINGTON (AP) — The National Prayer Breakfast is one of the highest-profile and longest-running events in Washington bringing religion and politics together amid concerns that the gathering has become too divisive.
The organizer and host of this year’s breakfast, scheduled for Thursday, will be the National Prayer Breakfast Foundation, led by former Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark).
Sen. Chris Coons, a regular and chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, said the move was motivated in part by concerns in recent years that members of Congress did not know important details about large multi-day gatherings.
Coons (D-Del.) said that in the past, he and Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., the committee’s vice chairman, had questions about who was invited and how to raise money.
Coons said in an interview that the annual event “goes on for several days, has thousands of people, and is very large and somewhat complicated to organize.” How it is organized, who is invited, how it is get funding. Many of us in leadership positions really cannot answer these questions.
That led lawmakers to decide to take over the organization of the prayer breakfast themselves.
Pryor, the new foundation’s president, said the COVID-19 shutdown gave members a chance to “reset” breakfast and bring it back to the way it was – a change he said had been discussed for years.
“The whole reason the House and Senate want to do this is to bring it back to basics, where members of the House and Senate can come together and pray for the president, for his family and his administration, for our government, for the world,” Pryor said. Say.
Members of Congress, the president, vice president and other administration officials, as well as their guests, will be invited to a prayer breakfast Thursday at the Capitol Visitor Center, Pryor said. He expects 200 to 300 people to attend.
Pryor said he hopes the smaller event will restore a similar sense of intimacy to the weekly non-denominational prayer gatherings held on Capitol Hill. Groups of senators and representatives have long held informal meetings to communicate and put aside political differences.
For 70 years, the Presidential Prayer Breakfast has been the highlight of the multi-day event. In February 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first president to attend the meeting, and every president since has addressed it.
The larger event, held by a private religious group called the International Foundation, has been centered on “the person and principles of Jesus, with an emphasis on prayer for leaders in our country and around the world,” a spokesman for the group said. A. Larry Ross, in an email.
More than 1,400 people registered for the two-day event, a third of whom were from outside the United States.
President Joe Biden, who has spoken at breakfasts for the past two years, will do so again. He made the remarks at a virtual White House breakfast in 2021, a month after supporters of former President Donald Trump sought to block certifications for the 2020 election were attacked.
In a speech to the Capitol last year, Biden talked about the need for members of Congress to get to know each other better.
“It’s really hard not to like someone when you know they’re going through the same thing you’re going through,” he said.
In recent years, questions about international foundations, their funding and attendees have led some to reconsider congressional participation.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., stopped attending in 2016 because the event “has become an event for entertainment and lobbying rather than an opportunity for spiritual reflection,” a spokesman for Kaine said in an email response to questions. wrote in the email. Kane will be in attendance on Thursday.
The rally came under heightened criticism in 2018 after Russian operative Maria Butina pleaded guilty in 2018 to conspiring to infiltrate conservative U.S. political groups to advance Russian interests. According to court documents, she attended two breakfast meetings in hopes of establishing informal connections between Russian and U.S. officials.
Trump’s break with the convention of using speeches as respite from partisan squabbles is politically charged. In his 2020 speech, he criticized his first impeachment campaign and attacked political opponents, including Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.
Earlier this month, the Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter to the White House and members of Congress signed by 30 groups asking them to boycott the campaign because of its doubts about the international foundation.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, the group’s co-president, said that despite parting ways with larger religious gatherings, the foundation’s fundamental concerns about breakfast remain.
“For decades, the FFRF has protested the National Prayer Breakfast as a quasi-government gathering, forcing the president and Congress to show piety and send a message that America is a Christian nation,” she wrote.
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