Thousands of attendees listen as President Trump addresses the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 8, 2018, in Washington. RNS photo by Jerome Socolovsky

Trump at prayer breakfast says US 'strengthened by the power of prayer'

WASHINGTON (RNS) — In his second appearance at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, President Trump steered clear of partisan politics and focused on his belief in the country's dependence on God.

"America's a nation of believers and together we are strengthened by the power of prayer," the president said in his 14-minute speech that emphasized connections between religion and government.

The 66th annual event, which drew more than 3,600 people to the Washington Hilton on Thursday (Feb. 8), was a time for prayer, speeches and networking between religious and political leaders from scores of countries. Guests at the breakfast of quiche, bagels and fruit salad included the presidents of Guatemala, Kosovo and Latvia.

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Trump cited mentions of God in the Declaration of Independence, the words "In God We Trust" on U.S. currency and the etching of "Praise Be to God" atop the Washington Monument.

"Each year this event reminds us that faith is central to American life and to liberty," he said. "Our rights are not given to us by man. Our rights come from our creator. No matter what, no earthly force can take those rights away."


READ: Trump vows to let churches engage in politics


Trump's speech, which also honored first responders, tireless teachers and hard-working parents, was a shift from his first speech to the annual event last year, in which he promised to "totally destroy the Johnson Amendment," a 1954 legislative measure that prohibits tax-exempt houses of worship from involvement in partisan politics.

He also garnered headlines last year for using the prayer breakfast to bash Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took over as host after Trump left the reality show "The Apprentice."

President Trump speaks during the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 8, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)


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Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., who spoke after Trump and described the "miracles" of his and others' surviving a June shooting at a congressional baseball practice, expressed his appreciation for Trump's challenge last year. He noted the House passed a measure to repeal the Johnson Amendment. But the Senate later removed it from the final tax bill.

Both Scalise, who declared "You can't separate church from state," and the president emphasized the importance of Americans' right to express religious views.

"We see the power of God's love at work in our souls and the power of God's will to answer all of our prayers," Trump said. "When Americans are able to live by their convictions, to speak openly of their faith and to teach their children what is right, our families thrive, our communities flourish and our nation can achieve anything at all."

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At times, the prayer breakfast almost resembled a celebration of faith healing, with an appearance by a military veteran who bounced back from serious injury in a car bomb attack in Iraq, and the president giving a shoutout to a 9-year-old girl who has a disabling illness but whose doctor said she was able to walk again because "this little girl has God on her side."

Held in early February each year, the breakfast is sponsored by the Fellowship Foundation, a secretive Christian organization also known as the International Foundation. It is co-hosted by Democratic and Republican members of House and Senate weekly prayer groups. The breakfast is a predominantly evangelical Christian event, but Orthodox, Catholic and other Christians also take part, as do some non-Christians.

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The breakfast also paid tribute to one of its longtime organizers, Doug Coe, who died last year in late February.

President Trump described Coe as someone “who everybody loved” and added: “For 60 years Doug devoted his time and passion to this prayer breakfast and to many other wonderful causes.”

Coe had emphasized the foundation’s focus on people-to-people relationships. The breakfast is known not just for its big-ticket main event but the ancillary gatherings that give leaders a chance to meet and talk.

Konstantin Bendas of the Pentecostal Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington on Feb. 8, 2018. RNS photo by Jerome Socolovsky


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

This year, there were a significant number of Russian attendees at a time when congressional leaders have been investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign.

Speaking in the corridor afterward, Konstantin Bendas of the Pentecostal Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith said that a delegation of about 55 Russians attended the breakfast.

"When politicians cannot agree with each other, that's the time when mere humans, mere people, should step in and start negotiating," he said, speaking through an interpreter. "And believing people will kneel in prayer. And I think partially we have managed to do that today."

Other attendees said they appreciated the multiday opportunity to connect with other people of faith.

"A lot of people focus on just the breakfast," said Donna Rice Hughes, president and CEO of Enough Is Enough: Making the Internet Safer for Children and Families. "But it really is about three days of events and people coming together from all over the world and coming together in the spirit of Jesus."

Comments

  1. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
    Matthew 7:21

  2. For someone who vowed to uphold the Constitution, Trump does not seem to understand what it says about derivation of rights and liberties.

    “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

  3. yeah that’s not in the constitution sooooo

  4. This is a dumb quiz.

    TRUE OR FALSE: “You can’t separate church from state”.

    FALSE. Sure you can. Because, see, just like Trump said, “Our nation can achieve anything at all” – including “separat[ing] church from state”. You just don’t want to, that’s all. Now finish eating your “prayer breakfast”.

  5. to ourselves and our Posterity
    People forgot ‘who’ that might be.

  6. Our posterity meaning, future generations.

    What did you think it meant?

  7. Remember Richard Nixon’s secret tape in chit chat with Billy Graham, wherein loose antisemitic talks were recorded? OMG remember Your people – one day me & my fellow born-again Christian brothers & sisters shall hear recordings of Trump badmouthing us like there’s no tomorrow! It must be eating him up by now, all this “can you say ‘pandering’?” Imagine an Evangelical in his Apprentice reality TV episode; Trump would just be picking on him like there’s no tomorrow.

  8. Church or religion should be separated! Jesus and the first-century Christians did not get involved in politics, nor run for office, nor get involved in wordly conflicts, but remained neutral concerning both of them.

    Their main focus was on God’s kingdom, or heavenly government (Matthew 4:17), which will soon put an end to and replace all human governments (Daniel 2:44). It will then start its millennial rule over all mankind (Isaiah 11:1-5) by Christ Jesus (Isaiah 9:6, 7), its King.

    No doubt all human rulers won’t want that to happen, but they are all the ones on earth who will battle against Almighty God Jehovah, or Armageddon (Revelation 16:14, 16). They will definitely lose the battle!!

  9. JWs’ political neutrality is a myth, and you know it. Here are some proofs for you, and I’d be worried sick if I were you:

    (1) “The Jehovah’s Witnesses did not oppose the Nazi system on ideological or political grounds but to preserve their own religious practices.”

    (2) “There is a paradox in the place of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in modern American history: though operating beyond the pale of understood norms of citizenship, they have been fundamental to shaping the First Amendment freedoms enjoyed by all citizens.”

    (3) “Confidential documents from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Britain … are explicit about the best way to deal with [child abuse and sex scandal] matters being within the congregation. Nowhere in the hundreds of pages … are elders told that they must go to the police, even if the perpetrator confesses, unless state or national law makes it mandatory to report such allegations.”

    (4) “In 2004, elders were informed that there was inappropriate kissing and touching between [Terry] Seipp and [Stephanie] Fessler, yet they failed to report this under the Pennsylvania mandatory reporting laws which apply to all clergy, or elders who learn of suspected abuse. … Watchtower claims to inform congregation elders of individual state child abuse reporting laws, but seldom if ever do elders contact the police and file a report. To say that elders rarely reports such matters is a significant understatement.”

    Source: (1) Frank McDonough, The Gestapo: The Myth and Reality of Hitler’s Secret Police, Skyhorse, 2017. (2) Zoe Knox, “Jehovah’s Witnesses as Un-Americans? Scriptural Injunctions, Civil Liberties and Patriotism”, Journal of American Studies, August 1, 2013. (3) Caroline Wyatt, “Is religion doing enough to root out abuse?”, BBC News, July 23, 2015. (4) JWsurvey, February 19, 2017, “Watchtower’s Defense Collapses, Jehovah’s Witnesses Reproved For Failure to Report Child Abuse – Settlement with Fessler Reached”.

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