The Common Good

The Most Controversial Prayer at the National Prayer Breakfast? A Prayer for Peace

The National Prayer Breakfast is based on broad inclusivity, inviting "individuals of various nationalities, religions and political orientation in the power of prayer." So at this year's breakfast on Feb. 3, why was an interfaith prayer for world peace so controversial?

The prayer breakfast, which is now a two-day event, began in 1953, and has included every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower. My great-aunt and uncle, Alice and Norm Rittenhouse, began attending in the 1960s after they met Doug Coe, leader of the Fellowship, or the Family, a group that helps organize the prayer breakfast and ones like it for politicians around the country. The Rittenhouses connected me with Coe, who invited me to the breakfast.

On the phone, Coe told me the 3,000-member prayer breakfast -- hosted primarily by and for members of Congress --focuses on the "person of Jesus," the same language used throughout the event. In the name of diversity, it's not billed as Christian or even focusing on God. It's all about Jesus, a person everyone acknowledges.

At lunch, we read a prayer for world peace -- crafted by an interfaith group -- which proclaimed "the spirit of Jesus of Nazareth and all teachers of peace who inspire the many faith traditions."

Not everyone liked it. Some said it bordered on "hijacking" the event. Post-breakfast conversation among our nine-person Mid-Atlantic group proved our unity in Jesus but also differing interpretations of theology, the intersection of God and government, and ultimately the role of the prayer breakfast.

For me, the prayer humbly professed our role as people of faith -- to "learn how to replace hate, war, oppression and division with love, forgiveness, freedom and reconciliation" through relationships, even with enemies. The prayer acknowledges the personal yet public role of faith combined with the transforming power of love. It describes much of what that "person of Jesus" was all about.

Similarly, speakers shared their views on Jesus and prayer.

Former U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, co-chair of the National Prayer Breakfast, reminded us that "blessed are the peacemakers" and added that "prayer is the best place to start" peacemaking.

Jose Henriquez, one of the Chilean miners rescued after 69 days underground last year, described how the group prayed together. As they prayed, he said, differences began to be reconciled among them.

Filmmaker Randall Wallace addressed why we pray -- "not because God needs to hear our prayers, but because we do

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