I did not attend the National Prayer Breakfast this morning, though I have done so in the past. The longtime Washington tradition brings together members of Congress from both political parties along with thousands of faith leaders, and every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has attended. But this is not a time in our nation for habitual or vague prayers for an audience, given the moral and political crisis we now find ourselves in — or one that starts with the president of the United States holding up a newspaper headline saying “Acquitted,” and quickly invoking an impeachment process corrupted by partisan politics.
While I agree that different political philosophies and opinions and honest partisan differences can be overcome by prayer and fellowship between believers, there is much more involved here. Donald Trump began a National Prayer Breakfast by celebrating his personal political success in a shamefully partisan process, underscoring that the moral health of our public life, the very soul of our democracy, and the integrity of faith are at stake.
Fortunately, keynote speaker Arthur Brooks spoke about Jesus’ command to love our enemies and attacked the “contempt” for each other that now defines our culture and politics. But the president’s speech that followed kicked off with him saying, “I don’t know if I agree with Arthur,” revealing his contempt for those who disagree with him and again demonstrating the arrogance, lies, corruption, and contempt that has taken over our public life. At the National Prayer Breakfast, Donald Trump extolled his own self-defined accomplishments — then he asked attendees to vote for him. Prayer, confession, love for our neighbors and enemies, and humility before God were entirely absent. Toward the end of his speech, Trump, off script, briefly admitted he still has a lot to learn. Thank God.
In one of the bright moments of the morning, Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) gave the closing benediction (by video since his cancer prevented his presence). He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said, “I have decided to stick with love, for hate is too heavy a burden to bear.” This icon of the civil rights movement spoke of how he was beaten almost to death on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on Bloody Sunday, and then said, “But I never hated the people who beat me because I chose the way of peace, the way of love, and the way of nonviolence. For the God Almighty helped me.”
Lewis ended with an admonition to all the attendees — and to the nation — to “go in peace, go in love, and we commit to treating each other as we would treat ourselves. Amen.”
So, I was glad that I stayed home from the prayer breakfast — to pray on my own. Here is my prayer.
First, I ask you, Lord, for the courage that comes from faith — courage to stand up to the intensity of constant political corruption, the growing divisiveness in our culture, the spreading of fear, the downward spiral of hatred, and the ugly spirit of anger and even violence that is now shaping our politics.
I ask you, Lord, to defend the truth over the perpetual lies in Washington, D.C. And I pray that you heal the politics of grievance and blame and racial hostility that make people want to believe the lies. May we come to know what Jesus taught us: “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” And may we come to understand that losing the truth will mean losing our freedom, that the opposite of the truth that sets us free are the lies that lead us to bondage — from presidential lies to political party lies to social media lies.
I ask you, Lord, to remind all of us who say we are your followers of your two great commandments:
To love God with our whole hearts, minds, and souls, with our whole selves — which must set us free from our nationalist idolatry of putting America first, and of white supremacy, militarism, and materialism, the three giant triplets of evil that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King prophetically called out.
To love our neighbor as ourselves, to treat others as we want to be treated, to love those who are different from us, as Jesus instructed us to do when asked, “Who is my neighbor?” This must set us free from ignoring or even targeting our neighbors who are not like us. And, yes, to extend that neighbor love even to our enemies.
May we reread and obey Jesus’ clear teachings that the “least of these” are the most important — the opposite of what we see in Washington, D.C. May we each ask you, Lord, what we must all do now if what Matthew’s Gospel says is true — that how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger (the immigrant and refugee), the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself.
Teach us to say to all our fellow citizens increasingly ruled by fear what Jesus says to us, “Be not afraid.” Free us Lord from what Timothy’s epistle calls the “spirit of fear,” which is now a campaign strategy in American politics.
Remind us, Oh Lord, of what you taught us about leadership — defined by service, not by dominance. Teach us what is means for us to be servant leaders and to look for that in our elected leaders.
In a culture increasingly ruled by conflict and polarization, teach us what it would mean and cost for us to follow Jesus who says, “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” Lord, help us to find the strength to be those children of God who show love and not contempt for our enemies and seek to resolve our deepening conflicts.
In particular, on this day, in this week of political tumult, I give thanks for the human examples of courage based on faith.
I give thanks for Sen. Mitt Romney who became the first senator ever to vote to impeach a president from his own party saying, “I take an oath before God as enormously consequential.” And I am grateful for the long poignant pause, taken in the Senate chamber, when this senator emotionally talked about his faith.
I also give thanks for Alabama Sen. Doug Jones for risking his political career, which we seldom see in either political party, by voting for what he believed was “right over wrong.”
I pray for those presidential candidates of the opposition Democratic Party to live by their own faith and values and to not mimic the spirit and tactics of the president they oppose.
And, as we are biblically instructed, I pray for all our leaders, including our President Donald Trump, that he might learn the ways of Jesus, experience the continual conversion to Christ that changes all of us, and find the forgiveness and humility that we all need in the presence of God.
I pray for both parties to not be selective over who is entitled to life and dignity. Our theology of who bears the image of God must be consistent.
I pray for Christian believers to not put their political divisions first, but enter into a new conversation about Jesus — what he said, what he meant, and what that means now in our public life. Let us enter into those honest and vital conversations about who Jesus is and who he wants us to be, especially between our black, brown, and white churches.
I pray that citizens of different political persuasions refrain from attacking each other’s character, but rather try to understand each other’s deep concerns and hopes for their futures. In particular, help us to talk together about our hopes and fears for our children’s lives and learn that we want the same things for our kids' futures.
I pray that religious believers in the United States put their faith over their politics, that citizens put their country over their political party, and that nobody in our country be exempt from the rule of law and the principles of our constitutional democracy.
In the midst of what is now a political, constitutional, moral, and spiritual crisis, with no certainty of how it will be resolved, we all pray, “Lord have mercy.”
Oh Lord, replace our feelings of helplessness and hopelessness with a commitment to courageous action and the hope that we believe can only come from you.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1