As you might imagine, an event that has “religious overtones” and involves a ton of political figures, including the president and vice president, has its critics. I’ve been privy to know people involved in the development of the breakfast. It leaves me with no doubt that the highest measure of good that we can reasonably expect from such an event is generally achieved.
I say generally because the National Prayer Breakfast is not a political event. Yet there have been times when speakers have leaned into controversy. Mother Teresa did that as a keynote speaker who defended the rights of the unborn. Eric Metaxas did as well in his presentation. And there have been others.
But by and large, the event brings together a wide range of people. It is not a “Christian” event. But it does connect with Jesus. There are and have been Muslims, Buddhists, and just about every other religious group attending. They are there by invitation to see reconciliation at work. Jesus of Nazareth is the champion of reconciliation.
The event is opposed by several groups who see it a violation of the famed establishment clause against religion. The group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State sent out this statement in January of 2012. “The event has all the trappings of an official governmental worship service, with the president, members of Congress and other dignitaries gathering in a way that appears to merge religion and state. It may not technically violate the First Amendment, but it certainly tramples on the church-state separationist spirit that infuses the Constitution.” (See link below)
This group, and others, also argue against the appointment of chaplains for both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Freedom from Religion Foundation objects strongly to the financial commitment for these chaplains. They estimate Congress approves approximately $800,000 every year for these offices (chaplains and staff). And they minimize the work to simply “opening prayers.”
Informed people know better. I’ve met with the Senate Chaplain in his office and learned of the wide range of requests he receives. I’m sure the House Chaplain is equally as involved in giving counsel and encouraging spiritual health.
A friend of mine is an advocate for companies to hire workplace chaplains. Large organizations might find a full time position for such a person to be of great service and value. Part time chaplains are another option. Perhaps in the next couple of weeks we’ll consider a list of reasons to consider adding a chaplain to your team.
The wrong kind of separation—whether of church and state or in the workplace—is to ignore the reality that we are spiritual beings. Will Durant once wrote, "The hope of another life gives us courage to meet our own death, and to bear with the death of our loved ones; we are twice armed if we fight with faith." Of course, spiritual health goes well beyond that. Faith leads to hope.
So much good has resulted during the history of the National Prayer Breakfast. I trust it will again this year. Behind the scenes, more happens than simply the Thursday morning gathering.
As the Apostle Paul has taught, “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2, NLT)
Godliness and dignity. Anyone care to see more of that? Be praying.
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Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to www.1160hope.com for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.
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