February 6, 2019 | By Diane Winston
You can pray for the National Prayer Breakfast event right where you are. Thank the Lord for the continued importance that our national leaders put upon this very special event each year. This article explains the fascinating history of the event and will inform your prayers today.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor 10:31)
[Today, February 7, 2019], more than 3,500 political leaders, military chiefs and corporate moguls meet for eggs, sausage, muffins – and prayer. The Washington, D.C. gathering, the 66th National Prayer Breakfast, is an opportunity for new friends and old associates, from 50 states and 140 countries, to break bread and forge fellowship in Jesus’ name.
Convened on the first Thursday in February, the gathering, known as the Presidential Prayer Breakfast until 1970, has always included the American head of state. . . .
As a scholar of American religious history, I am intrigued by how presidents negotiate the intricacies of church/state relationships versus religion/politics entanglements. Most avoid the former while trying to benefit from the latter. That’s why the prayer breakfast is noteworthy – it is an opportunity for leaders to appear as Christ’s servants rather than formidable heads of state.
President Dwight Eisenhower began the tradition with the first breakfast in 1953. While Eisenhower was initially wary of attending a prayer breakfast, evangelist Billy Graham convinced him it was the right move.
Speaking to an audience that included Graham, hotel magnate Conrad Hilton and 400 political, religious and business leaders, Eisenhower proclaimed that “all free government is firmly founded in a deeply felt religious faith.”
Today, “Ike” – the 34th president’s nickname – is not remembered as being deeply religious.
However, he was raised in a pious household of River Brethren, a Mennonite offshoot. His parents named him after Dwight Moody, the famous 19th-century evangelist who likened the state of the world to a sinking ship and stated,
“God has given me a lifeboat and said… ‘Moody save all you can.”…
Soon after his election in 1952, Eisenhower told Graham that the country needed a spiritual renewal. For Eisenhower, faith, patriotism and free enterprise were the fundamentals of a strong nation. But of the three, faith came first….
A strategic move
It is possible that Graham may have used the breakfast’s theme, “Government under God,” to convince the president to attend. Throughout his tenure, Eisenhower promoted God and religion….
A political meeting?
The National Prayer Breakfast has grown steadily over the years – from 400 attendees to close to 4,000. The presence of the U.S. president has made the event a draw for leaders worldwide and networking before and after the breakfast.
In a 2006 journal article, sociologist D. Michael Lindsay described the breakfast as a “veritable ‘Who’s who’ of the political and evangelical worlds.” Invitations cast it as an opportunity to “seek the Lord’s guidance and strength … and to renew the dedication of our Nation and ourselves to God’s purpose.”…
A guide for the powerful
The prayer breakfast’s success would have pleased Abraham Vereide, the Methodist minister behind the meetings. Vereide immigrated from Norway in 1905 when he was 19. For many years, he ministered to the down and out – society’s cast-offs….
Using the breakfast moment
In the years since, presidents have used the prayer breakfast to burnish their image and promote their agendas. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson spoke about the harrowing days following John F. Kennedy’s assassination and his desire to build a memorial for God in the nation’s capital.
Richard Nixon, speaking after his election in 1969, said that prayer and faith would help America’s fight for global peace and freedom. In 1998, Bill Clinton, faced with allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a White House intern, asked for prayers to “take our country to a higher ground.”…
More changes with time
There is a wide diversity among breakfast attendees.
Just as speakers have become more diverse, so have attendees. There are Muslims and Jews as well as Christians of all stripes. The Fellowship Foundation, an organization started by Vereide that sponsors the breakfast, considers the National Prayer Breakfast as an inclusive event….
But while the breakfast is an open tent, the small seminars and discussions that fill the days before and after are exclusive. These meetings, also organized by the Fellowship Foundation, convene clergy, politicians, military leaders and businessmen for high-level discussions on the global intersections of faith, power and money. The president does not attend these meetings, but his confidantes do. . . .
(Excerpts from Diane Winston article in The Conversation)