Tuesday, February 14, 2012

People's Prayer Breakfast Offers Alternative to National Prayer Breakfast

(To read about President Obama's speech at the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast, click here. To read about Eric Metaxas' speech, click here.)

As discussed in a prior post, Occupy Faith D.C. hosted the People's Prayer Breakfast on February 2nd at the Church of the Pilgrims in Washington D.C. Intended as an alternative to the elite National Prayer Breakfast hosted by the Fellowship Foundation (a.k.a. the Family), the People's Prayer Breakfast was predicated on the belief that "there is enough for everyone."

At a January 30th press conference announcing the People's Prayer Breakfast, Pastor Brian Merritt of the Palisades Community Church argued that "prayer is not necessarily about access," but about connection to something greater. He issued a challenge to all people of faith to let prayer lead them toward action.
"As synagogues, mosques, temples and churches deal with the fallout of another foreclosure, another unemployed member of our community, the crushing debt laid upon the young adult feeds. We will no longer be silent, because we believe that prayer connects us to something much greater than ourselves."
A gentleman in the audience asked Mr. Merritt is atheists and agnostics were welcome, and he and other clergy responded that they were.

E. Gail Anderson, pastor of Christ Our Redeemer AME Church and president of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, elaborated on the spirit of the People's Prayer Breakfast at the 4:12 mark.
"We stand in solidarity for this prayer service. We stand because we believe that prayer changes things and obviously some things need to be changed in our society. Some things need to be changed in terms of the ninety-nine percent who are suffering and the one percent who are sitting back with their legs up looking at us suffer ... All of God's people ought to have a say-so in what happens in his country, because he gave it to us. He did not give it to one percent. He gave it to the hundred percent."
Rev. Grayland Hagler mused on the "hypocrisy of prayer" at the 8:18 mark, criticizing those who misuse prayer to shirk off their responsibilities to the community.
"You have folks that pray and then don't do anything to change any circumstances of the individual, of the community. You've got people who pray as a way of feigning that they're doing something when they know full well they're not going to do anything anyway. And then the other side of the hypocrisy of prayer are those who have deliberately stolen, those who have deliberately oppressed, those who have deliberately destroyed, but yet they're going to say a sanctimonious prayer for those whom they have oppressed, destroyed, and exploited. I've got a problem with this hypocritical way of prayer. You know, yes, we're doing an alternative event because who's going to be represented at the other events is really those purveyors and those representatives of the one percent. And then there's all the rest of us that really in our ministries, we have to deal with every day those who are broken by the one percent."
Rev. Hagler lamented that religion in America has been "hijacked" by those who want to keep people apathetic. He also expressed disgust at the intimacy between government and big business at the 9:54 mark.
"We know that democracy in this nation right now is predicated upon who's got the dollar bill. You know, every oil company can go up to Congress and have their way. Every big business can go up there and even write the legislation for themselves."
The prayer breakfast itself featured words from diverse faith leaders in the Washington D.C. area. Thanks to the work of the Occupy People, video excerpts of the event are available for viewing on YouTube. Andrea Palma, a Vajrayana Buddhist nun of Kunzang Palyul Choling shared a Buddhist aspirational prayer and lead three minutes of silence (see here). Ysaye Maria Barnwell, a member of music group Sweet Honey in the Rock, lead spirited singing (see here). Attendees engaged in group discussions on justice, revealing the breakfast's participatory nature.

At the 3:50 mark of this video, Rev. Tara James Lee of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church of D.C. framed the People's Prayer Breakfast as an opportunity for unity, acknowledging the "powerful witness" going on at the National Prayer Breakfast.
"One of the gifts of spiritual formation, or as you want to offer prayer, is that it's truly an opportunity to unite and to bridge. And so we do not want to not acknowledge a powerful witness of prayer action is also going up just up the hill at the Hilton Hotel. And we believe that all of our prayers together are going towards the concerns of all of us in this country."
Progressive commentators took notice of the People's Prayer Breakfast, praising it as an egalitarian contrast to the National Prayer Breakfast and a place of hope.

- In a commentary at the Huffington Post, Christian social activist Jeremy John contrasted the spirit of the National Prayer Breakfast with that of the People's Prayer Breakfast. He asked if Jesus cavorted with the powerful or cultivated relationships with the tyrants of his time, such as Herod and Pilate. He grieved that political leaders do not hear the prayers of the poor, but rather the calls of corporate interests, Doug Coe, and the Family "because they offer connections, votes and money.".

- Writing for Sojourners, Jack Palmer celebrated the People's Prayer Breakfast as a place to hear "words of hope, energy, and defiance." He was pleased that the event did not descend into hostility toward the National Prayer Breakfast.

- Pro-LGBT Christian group More Light Presbyterians contrasted the People's Prayer Breakfast's focus on economic inequality with the National Prayer Breakfast's "invitation-only, $650-a-plate" affluence. The post noted that gay and lesbian families face a disproportionate burden when it comes to economic inequality, accusing the Family of opposing LGBT equality at home and abroad.

- In a February 2nd post at the Wild Hunt, Jason Pitzl-Waters describes the National and People's Prayer Breakfasts not only as two contrasting events, but as "two competing views of our nation."

"One favors gathering power and establishing Christianity as the focal point of national unity, while the other opens its doors to all faiths, and concerns itself with those who aren’t being served or supported by our current system. One is about back room deals, while the other is about “breakout sessions.” ... Eventually, with enough work, perhaps we can build a large enough interfaith coalition to challenge The Family’s Prayer Breakfast, to provide a robust counter-narrative that is truly in the grand spirit of our secular nation."

To read more about the 2012 People's Prayer Breakfast, visit the following links.

Huffington Post: National Prayer Breakfast Gets A Rival: The People's Prayer Breakfast

WAMU 88.5: People's Prayer Breakfast Speaks To Social Justice


  1. What a stark and humanitarian contrast to the National Prayer Breakfast. These people actually live the Golden Rule while the privileged and powerful only give lip service to it, yet implicitly reject it.

    Nice reporting, Ahab.

  2. Cognitive Dissenter -- Thanks! I'm proud that Occupy Faith D.C. put on the event, and I hope the word is getting out.

  3. This is faith at it's best, and it gets precious little coverage. This kind of loving response to the problems of the world is happening all over the country. There are people out there making a difference and calling us to our highest selves. Thanks Ahab for writing about it

  4. Sherry -- It's comforting to know that the Religious Right doesn't have the last say on faith. I'm glad progressive people of faith are making their voices heard.

  5. Those were some great observations from Rev. Hagler and others. I agree, great reporting!

  6. Donna -- I wholeheartedly agree. Thanks!

  7. Michelle -- I'm glad to hear it.


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