The National Prayer Breakfast (NPB) took place this morning. Despite its name, the breakfast is not a government-sponsored event – although top political leaders, including presidents, members of Congress and others attend.
Americans United has made it clear over the years that the NPB is an empty exercise in “civil religion.” During the Trump presidency, the event was often nothing short of an embarrassment. Trump used it to criticize his political foes, unveil harmful policy proposals and generally behave in an immature manner.
President Joe Biden does none of that – his remarks this morning were a call for unity that will probably be ignored in a deeply divided Washington – but it’s still clear that there’s nothing about this event that’s worth salvaging. Its origins go back only to the 1950s when a shadowy Christian Nationalist group called the International Foundation (AKA “The Family”) began putting on the event.
Is The Family Really Stepping Back?
This year, there has been a bit of media buzz after The Young Turks website reported that The Family will no longer sponsor the event. Instead, a scaled-back event will be coordinated by a new group called the National Prayer Breakfast Foundation.
But is this really a change? Literary journalist Jeff Sharlet, a leading expert on The Family and author of the 2008 book The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (which became the basis for a popular Netflix series), told Religion News Service that he is skeptical that things have really changed, noting that the board of the new organization includes many people with ties to the International Foundation.
“Any step toward reducing this mostly off-the-books weeklong lobbying festival is good news,” Sharlet, a member of Americans United’s Board of Trustees, said. “On the other hand, the change appears largely cosmetic.”
The Prayer Breakfast’s Un-Democratic Message
In an interview with Jonathan Larsen of The Young Turks, I criticized the National Prayer Breakfast for its “un-democratic message that to be a good American, you must also be Christian. Everything the event represents is contrary to our country’s founding promise of the separation of church and state.”
This event has outlived its usefulness – if it ever had any to begin with. It’s time to call it a day.
P.S. If you want to attend an event in Washington, D.C., that celebrates true religious freedom as opposed to Christian Nationalism, register for AU’s Summit for Religious Freedom April 22-24.