You likely have heard various things about the National Prayer Breakfast that was held on Thursday morning. The first thing I saw reported was about DJT asking those in attendance to “pray for Arnold” (Schwarzenegger) and his ratings on The Apprentice.
Fair enough, I guess. Good speakers usually start off with something in a light-hearted vein—although ordinarily not quite so vain.
The POTUS had some good lines in his speech, which you can read herein its entirety. For example, even though he is a billionaire, DJT declared that “the quality of our lives is not defined by our material success, but by our spiritual success.” Quite true.
The President also emphasized that “we are all united by our faith, in our creator and our firm knowledge that we are all equal in His eyes.” No disagreement there.
While there may be some discrepancy between these words of DJT and what he has said and done in the past, most of us are able to applaud those statements.
The worst part of the talk by the POTUS was his promise to eradicate an important safeguard in the separation of church and state. "I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution," he said.
As most of you know, the Johnson Amendment, enacted in 1954, states that tax-exempt entities, such as churches and charitable organizations, are unable to directly or indirectly participate in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate if they wish to maintain their tax exemption.
The Christian Right has been trying to get that changed in the name of religious freedom, and it looks as if DJT is willing to seek that—perhaps partially in payment for the support he received from evangelicals in the past election.
This is a disturbing proposal that some quickly opposed. For example, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, an organization of traditional Baptists, who have always been outspoken proponents of the separation of church and state, issued an opposing statement on the same day.
“To change the law would hinder the church’s prophetic witness, threatening to turn pulpit prophets into political puppets,” they said.
The whole idea of having a National Prayer Breakfast, which was started, and continues to be supported, largely by conservative Christians, is highly questionable.
(Although it was written in February of last year, I encourage you to read this article by Thinking Friend and eminent Kansas City blogger Bill Tammeus.)
The National Prayer Breakfast, which has been held every year since 1953, was created by The Fellowship, also known as The Family, a religious and political organization founded in 1935 by Abraham Vereide.
The Fellowship/Family is a very questionable organization as Jeff Sharlet’s book The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (2008) points out well. Sharlet’s work is perhaps a bit exaggerated, but he raises many questions that ought to be taken seriously.
So as a long-time advocate of the separation of church and state, as almost all baptists (small “b” intentional) in this country have been since the time of Roger Williams in the 1630s, I think that not only were the remarks of DJT on Thursday highly questionable but also that the annual observance of a National Prayer Breakfast itself is questionable.
I am not against praying and certainly not against breakfasts, but perhaps it is not a good idea to have a “national” prayer breakfast, especially when it focusses on prayers to God primarily as understood and worshipped by conservative evangelical Christians.