Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 3, President Joe Biden called for an end to the partisan rancor that has divided the country.
“As I stand in this citadel of democracy that was attacked one year ago, the issue for us is unity,” Biden said. “How do we unite us again? Unity is elusive, but it’s really actually necessary. Unity doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything, but unity is where enough of us, enough of us, believe in a core of basic things.”
The breakfast is an annual private event sponsored by the Fellowship Foundation (aka “The Family”), a Christian nationalist organization that ministers to people of wealth and power. Its origins stretch back to the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Although the breakfast usually takes place in a Washington, D.C., hotel, this year’s event was smaller and was held in the Visitor Center of the U.S. Capitol.
The event has come under increasing criticism in recent years. In an opinion column on MSNBC, Anthea Butler, a professor of religious studies and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote, “At a time when Christian nationalist beliefs are being acted out in the form of book bans, book burnings, restrictive abortion laws, anti-vaccine stances and campaigns against lessons about slavery, a prayer breakfast isn’t what America needs. American democracy is slipping away, and a sumptuous breakfast accompanied by prayer is not sufficient to save it.”
Americans United also criticized the event and called for its end.
“The National Prayer Breakfast is an empty exercise in ‘civil religion,’ which many truly devout people would say isn’t meaningful religion at all,” observed AU on its “Wall of Separation” blog. “It sends a message of exclusion to the millions of Americans who are not Christian or not religious. Rather than try to rebuild it, we should just discard it.”