This year’s National Prayer Breakfast was notably different from others before, and not simply because of its smaller size. Rather, leaders from around the U.S. spoke about pursuing love and justice in unity, working together for the good of America.
President Joe Biden used his speech to call for unity and reminded leaders of their duty to serve one another. “In a moment of a great division, our democracy is at grave risk,” Biden said. “I pray that we follow what Jesus taught us: to serve rather than be served.”
“Rather than drive us apart, faith can move us together,” he continued. “Because all the great confessional faiths share the same fundamental basic beliefs: not just faith in a higher power, but faith to see each other as we should. Not as enemies but as neighbors. Not as adversaries but as fellow Americans, as leaders of this nation who work and pray together.”
The National Prayer Breakfast was established 70 years ago by President Dwight Eisenhower as a way to live out “one nation under God.” In recent decades, however, it has turned more into a “who’s who” of the political and evangelical world. Today’s meeting showed an intimate gathering of a wide variety of leaders who spoke on moving forward in a more united front.
This year’s keynote speaker was Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer and advocate for criminal justice reform and racial equality. Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative (which was the focus of his book and movie Just Mercy) and helped establish the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, an Alabama memorial that honors the 4,400 victims of lynching in the U.S. Stevenson used his time to speak from the book of Micah.
“Whether it’s gun violence or gang violence or domestic violence or sexual violence or police violence or aggression of any form, we have to understand that these things separate us from doing justice, from loving mercy,” Stevenson said.
The prayer breakfast was co-chaired by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, and Sen. Mike Rounds, a South Dakota Republican, who also spoke in addition with other leaders from both parties. Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Georgia Democrat, opened the event with a prayer that reminded everyone, “justice is what love looks like in public.” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Washington state Republican, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell all read passages of Scriptures.
Vice President Kamala Harris also spoke and prayed about unity in her speech.
“God, grant us faith, not only in you, but in one another,” Harris prayed. “Let us be kind, let us be generous, let us be full of grace. Let us see the light in all your people, and be guided by that light for all our days.”
While it may be surprising to see members of such opposite parties together in one room, it is a reminder that unity is not only important, it’s also achievable. Biden, quoting St. Augustine, noted in his speech that “a people was a multitude defined by a common object of their love.”
“I believe the common objects of our love that define us as Americans are opportunity, liberty, dignity, respect, honor, service, truth — things everybody recognizes both here and around the world,” Biden said. “As I stand in this citadel of democracy that was attacked one year ago, the issue for us is unity. How do we unite us again?”