In a town where just about everything is scripted, the sight of the president, vice-president and members of Congress singing “Amazing Grace,” during the 60th Annual National Prayer breakfast was one of several off-script moments that were most refreshing today.
“The Bible teaches us to be doers of the Word and not merely hearers,’ President Obama said during a speech where he went from talking about the prayer partners in his life to spending time at the North Carolina home of the Rev. Billy Graham.
“Before I left, Reverend Graham started praying for me, as he had prayed for so many presidents before me. And when he finished praying, I felt the urge to pray for him. I didn’t really know what to say. What do you pray for when it comes to the man who has prayed for so many? But like that verse in Romans, the Holy Spirit interceded when I didn’t know quite what to say.”
Obama’s frank comments came during an event that seemed different from previous years. Normally the event is a series of well crafted prayers shared by Democrats and Republicans as pastors and the religious elite listen.
But this year marked a change
Best selling author Eric Metaxes blasted the religious status quo by saying that “Jesus is the enemy of a dead religion.” Metaxes went between humor and blistering critiques as he talked about his books on William Wilberforce and Derrick Bonhoeffer.
While Robert Griffin III, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner, was just sscheduled to offer the closing prayer, he added a little humor of his own to the event, issuing a challenge to Obama for a basketball game and complaining the event went so long he need to go to the restroom.
But following the event, the Baylor University star was on his best behavior:
“I was just honored to be that close to the president,” Griffin, a running back who will skip his senior year at Baylor to enter the NFL draft, said after the program. “Not every day do you get to offer a challenge of a game of basketball to the president. Its overwhelming, but you try to live in the moment and that is what I am trying to do.”
“It is always good to have people come together and pray, and share their faith, especially when you have the president and several others,” Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) told me after the event. “The whole idea is to break down some walls, agree what you can agree on and find that common ground to lift everybody up. That is what it is all about.”
Senate Chaplain Barry Black said following the event: “The coming together that these prayer breakfasts bring, enable us to be united, and hopefully we can carry some of this unity away from this breakfast into the polarization that we so often see in our society.”
The Rev. Gary Crum, pastor of the Ellwood Community Church in Selma, Ala., said seeing the president at the Hilton reminded him of how far African Americans have come as a people. “To see the biblical faith that he has and his agenda for the nation correlates with what happened in Selma, Alabama, more than 40 years ago.”
The Rev. Leonard N. Smith, pastor of the Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Arlington, said it was refreshing to see the bipartisan spirit of Capitol Hill lawmakers for a moment.
“We have more in common than we have different,” Smith said. “This gives us an opportunity to pull down all of our barriers to understand that we have to come together from all nations, from religions to pray for our country.
Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla..) said she always comes to the event because, “I am a work in progress and I need to hear the word. It is good to see my colleagues in a different light. I know that God works through us.”