After This Year’s Embarrassment, It’s Time To End The National Prayer Breakfast

  Rob Boston

Fallout continues from President Donald Trump’s petulant, and frankly immature, behavior during yesterday’s National Prayer Breakfast.

The event is allegedly designed to bridge the partisan divide, at least temporarily, by bringing religious believers who work in government together for fellowship. Trump was having none of that. He used his time at the podium to attack U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who had the temerity to vote to impeach Trump, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has been a frequent Trump critic.

Trump treated Pelosi with ill-disguised contempt. She was sitting just a few seats away from him on the dais, when Trump remarked, “Nor do I like people who say, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ when I know that is not so.”

The petty remark was a slap at Pelosi, who has pointed out that even though she strongly disagrees with Trump on policy issues, she prays for him.

The fact that Trump refuses to believe that Pelosi might pray for someone even if she doesn’t see eye to eye with that person says a lot about the stunted state of his theological beliefs and the unfortunate influence right-wing evangelicals have had on them.

In fact, praying for a person you might consider a foe isn’t unusual. Kind, decent Christians do it all of the time. That’s not surprising because many Christians believe it is a clear commandment of Jesus. The idea is alien only to those Christians who have elevated division, hate and fear above what many would consider to be the plain teachings of the faith’s founder.

Washington Post columnist Michel Gerson, himself a conservative evangelical, wrote that Trump’s latest outburst should be a challenge to Trump’s evangelical band of sycophants.

“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,” Gerson wrote. “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.”

Gerson also said he’d understand if Democrats chose to not attend the breakfast next year, and he recommended that “religious people of every background should no longer give credence to this parody of a prayer meeting.”

Indeed. As we noted yesterday, the National Prayer Breakfast, a private event, is sponsored by the Fellowship Foundation (aka the Family), a far-right evangelical group whose theology and public policy goals exclude millions of Americans (members of the LGBTQ community, nontheists, non-Christians, progressives, feminists, etc.). Trump’s decision to use the event to mock conventional Christian theology – which, it’s worth pointing out, has been met with a veritable wall of silence from his Christian nationalist chorus – is only the latest embarrassment for this “God and country” charade.

The National Prayer Breakfast is an anachronism. It’s also beyond reforming. After yesterday’s travesty, the best thing to do is shut it down.

P.S. Want to learn more about the group behind the National Prayer Breakfast? Jeff Sharlet, an award-winning literary journalist and an expert on the group, will be the featured speaker at Americans United’s inaugural National Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C., March 22-24. Sharlet is the author of The New York Times bestseller The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power and C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy as well as executive producer of a Netflix documentary series based on the books. More information about the Summit is available here.

Photo: Screenshot from C-SPAN

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