From the National Prayer Breakfast, ‘Faith Can Move Us Together’
February 4, 2022
The National Prayer Breakfast has been an annual tradition since 1953, when evangelist Billy Graham persuaded President Dwight Eisenhower to join 400 business and religious leaders at a Washington, D.C., hotel. “In the years since,” historian Diane Winston writes, “presidents have used the prayer breakfast to burnish their image and promote their agendas.”
At the 69th National Prayer Breakfast this week, President Joe Biden brought a message of unity to a polarized nation: “Rather than driving us apart, faith can move us together,” Biden said. “Because all the great confessional faiths have 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.”
Vice President Kamala Harris, Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington also offered prayers. Read extended excerpts of their remarks below.
Watch the full prayer breakfast on C-SPAN.
At a moment of great division of our democracy is at great — grave risk. I pray that we follow what Jesus taught us: to serve rather than be served. I don’t always do it. I hope try. I don’t always do it. I pray to keep the faith. That very promise of America, believing that there’s nothing we can’t do, where every person is created equal in the image of God — no matter who or where we come from, who we are, or 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.
Faith in the very idea of America that can be defined, in my view, by a single word. I’ve been saying this for over 30 years. When I get asked to define America, one word: “Possibilities.” “Possibilities.”
One of the reasons why other countries sometimes think we’re arrogant is we believe anything is possible. Anything is possible. And faith in the American people will prove each and every day we’re a great nation because we’re, at our heart, a good people. We do bad things when we get frightened.
Saint Augustine wrote 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.
As I stand in this citadel of democracy that was attacked one year ago, the issue is — for us is unity. How do we unite us again? Unity is elusive, but it’s really actually necessary. Unity doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. But unity is where enough of us — enough of us believe in a core of basic things: the common good, the general welfare, a faith in the United States of America — the United States of America.
Nearly three weeks ago, we were reminded of that truth. A gunman entered a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. He took four worshippers hostage, including a rabbi, for 11 hours.
But violence and vengeance didn’t pierce the goodness and grace of that scene. Heroic law enforcement officers were joined by local faith leaders, including an imam, a Baptist minister who offered their help. 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, the hostages were — escaped safely, and the families were reunit- — reunited.
When asked later if he would change anything, the rabbi said, quote, “We will do what we always do, which is the best we can.” “Which is the best we can.” I had a long conversation with the rabbi. It was interesting to hear him describe the scene and how faith mattered: Whether you’re in a synagogue or a church or a mosque or a temple, whether you’re religious or not, we’re all imperfect human beings, trying our best — the best we can, because we can’t know the future. We can’t know what’s coming. But we also can’t live in fear every step of the way.
That’s America. From darkness, we found joy, hope, and light.
Rather than driving us apart, faith can move us together. Because all the great confessional faiths have 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.
And as leaders of this nation who work and pray together, there is an oath to God and country to uphold and a charge to keep: to stand in the breach and to protect our democracy, to work together to right wrongs. That’s why we all came here, to make the most of our time on Earth.
For if a house divided cannot stand, surely a house united can do anything. And if we do that, I think we’ll have done our duty.
With history and God watching, we will have to prove that there is nothing beyond the capacity of the United States when we’re united — the United States.
You know, some of the senior senators who are here used to kid me because I was quoting Irish poets on the floor of the United States Senate. And there’s a poem, “The Cure at Troy,” written by an Irish poet who I got to know.
It says: History teaches us not to hope “on this side of the grave. But then, once in a lifetime, [that]…tidal wave of justice [rises] up, and hope and history rhyme.”
I honestly believe we’re at one of those moments. There’s so much at stake. The division has become so palpable, not just here, but around the world.
We have a chance. We have a chance — a chance to make hope and history rhyme, because the rest of the world is looking to us.
Every time I’d walk out of my Grandpa Finnegan’s house up in Scranton — some of you heard me say this before — he’d yell, “Joey, keep the faith.” My grandmother would yell, “No, Joey, spread it.” Let’s go spread the faith.
Vice President Harris:
It is said a candle shines brightness and most brightly in the darkness. I believe the same is true of faith. And it is that faith that fuels me to say now and often as I do — so many times — that let us see, always guided by our faith — let us be able to see what can be, unburdened by what has been.
And those words have deep spiritual roots for me. I grew up attending 23rd Avenue Church of God in Oakland, California. And one of the important places there is where 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.
I am blessed to have worshipped over the years with many pastors, one of whom recently reminded me of the story of Nehemiah.
Nehemiah, as we all know, was neither a priest nor a prophet; he was a city official. After Jerusalem was burned and broken, 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.
So, I will end with 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.
May we bow our heads to our hearts.
And I saw a great multitude of men and women, boys and girls, diverse in their humanity, hailing from the four corners of the Earth. They looked into each others’ eyes and they were not afraid. And I said to the one standing there, “Sir, what is this?” And the answer came, “This is the Kingdom of God imbued with love and justice.”
So I asked, “Where is this?” And the answer came, “It exists already in the hearts of those who have the courage to believe and fight.” And so I asked, “When is this?” And the angel said, “When we learn the simple art of loving each other as sisters and brothers.”
Oh, Gracious God, we are grateful for the covenant we have with you and with one another. The covenant inscribed in Scripture, “Of one blood God has made all nations to dwell upon the face of the Earth, that we might seek after God and yet God is not far from any one of us.” The covenant codified in our charter documents, captured in the phrase E Pluribus Unum: out of many one.
Secured in the struggle and the blood of those who had the courage to confront tyranny from without and injustice from within. Teach us, oh gracious God, how to love one another, reminding us that justice is what love looks like in public. Bless now our President and our Vice President. Give them your peace that surpasses human understanding. Bless their families and through them and us, may all the families of the Earth be blessed.
We ask this in the name of the God who loves us into freedom and frees us into loving. Amen.
A reading from the Old Testament, Proverbs 3.
“Let love and faithfulness never leave you. Bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and good name in the sight of God and man.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, submit to Him and He will make your path straight.
Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies.
Nothing you desire can compare with her. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her. Those who hold her fast will be blessed.”
The word of the Lord.
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