President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke to a group of limited participants at the 70th National Prayer Breakfast. The event, typically held in International Ballroom of the Hilton Hotel, was hosted in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center Auditorium due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Biden said being in the smaller, more intimate environment of the Capitol reminded him of the many political leaders he considered friends, such as Bob Dole, Harry Reid, Johnny Isakson and others, who have died in recent years.
The president said he often prays for people to take time to get know one another. “It’s hard to really dislike someone when you know they’re going through the same thing you’ve gone through,” Biden said.
He said Americans are a living in a moment of hope, pain and risk.
‘Serve rather than be served’
“I pray that we follow what Jesus taught us to serve rather than be served,” Biden said. “I don’t always do it. I hope to try. I don’t always do it. I pray to keep the faith that the very promise of America is believing that there’s nothing we can’t do where every person’s created equal the image of God, no matter who, where we come from, who we are, what our color, or how we choose to pray or whether or not we choose to pray. They deserve to be treated equally throughout their lives.”
The president pointed to the recent hostage situation at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, as a time when people of different faiths came together to care for one another.
“Heroic law enforcement officers were joined by local faith leaders, including an imam, a Baptist minister who offered their help,” he said. “A nearby Catholic church opened its doors for the hostages’ families. At sunset, a group of Muslim women, friends of the rabbi’s wife walked in with one of the rabbi’s favorite foods. They hugged and they wept because of the bravery of the hostages and the law enforcement officers.”
He drew from the words of Augustine saying, “St. Augustine wrote that a people was a multitude defined by a common object of their love.” Biden said the common objects loved by Americans are “opportunity, liberty, dignity, respect, honor, service (and) truth.”
Shift in focus
Organizers suggested this year was meant to shift the focus of the National Prayer Breakfast: Its keynote speaker was Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer and longtime advocate for criminal justice reform and racial equality. Founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of the bestselling book “Just Mercy,” Stevenson was instrumental in creating the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the Montgomery memorial to the 4,400 victims of lynchings in the U.S.
Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat and Presbyterian who spoke at the prayer breakfast and was one of its chief organizers for several years, told Religion News Service this week the gathering’s small size was partly due to an effort to “reset” the event by framing it as a “narrower engagement between Congress, the president and some inspirational singers and speakers.”
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, along with other leaders from both parties.
Move forward by faith
Vice President Kamala Harris encouraged Americans to move forward by faith as they overcome a “loss of a sense of normalcy” and the great “spiritual weight” that has been experienced because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said she often draws from her years growing up attending the 23rd Avenue Church of God in Oakland, California.
It was in the church, she said, “… I learned to believe in what is possible and that we each have the ability to achieve what is possible. After all, as I know, we have all learned and been taught, faith is not passive; faith motivates action. It lifts us up, and it gives us purpose.”
Harris pointed to the Old Testament leader Nehemiah as someone who led people to rebuild by faith. “Nehemiah told the people let us rise up and build, and they did. Their faith allowed them to see what was possible and to see how to make it so. That, I believe, is the faith that we as a nation must, and do, summon today.”
The vice president ended her remarks with what she called a “simple prayer:” “God grant us faith, not only in you, but in one another. 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. God, may you bless us all and may you bless the United States of America.”
The annual event, attended by every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower, is sponsored by the Fellowship Foundation.
Reprinted from Baptist Press (www.baptistpress.com), news service of the Southern Baptist Convention, with additional reporting by Religion News Service