Sometimes it feels as though only divine intervention can bring Republicans and Democrats together in Washington. Thursday’s National Prayer Breakfast is organized by mere human beings, but it offers America a dose of what’s far too often missing here in Congress: an opportunity to celebrate our shared humanity and seek to heal some of our country’s deep divisions.
We both participate in the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast, a Wednesday-morning senators-only gathering with the Senate Chaplain, where we pray together and share our personal stories, family concerns, and faith journeys with each other. For at least one hour a week, we leave partisan politics at the door.
Senators from a wide range of different faiths and political backgrounds join the Senate Prayer Breakfast each week. Not only does this time of reflection help us build relationships with our colleagues across the aisle by giving us an hour together each week, but it reminds each of us that the human bonds that unite us are, in fact, far stronger than our political disagreements. Dozens of our colleagues in the House of Representatives come together in a similar weekly gathering.
As we’ve often said, it’s hard to throw a rhetorical punch on the Senate floor when you’ve held hands in prayer earlier in the day. Now, as co-chairs of the 65th annual National Prayer Breakfast, which will take place on Thursday, February 2, we hope Delawareans, Arkansans, and all Americans will join us in celebrating an event that seeks to offer our nation a respite from the grind of partisan politics.
For the last 65 years, the National Prayer Breakfast has brought together religious, political, and cultural leaders in a celebration of spirituality. Since 1953, every U.S. president, from Eisenhower to Kennedy to Reagan to Obama, has attended and spoken at the breakfast. In December, we traveled to New York to extend an invitation to President Trump, and he will join us to address the 3,000 attendees from more than 130 countries who plan to attend this year.
The National Prayer Breakfast plays an important role every year, and at a time of profound and sometimes seemingly intractable political divisions, it’s worth taking a moment to highlight any issue or event that brings Republicans and Democrats together. This is especially true for members of Congress, who sometimes seem even more divided than the country we serve.
This year, following an election that often felt unprecedented in its divisiveness and acrimony, we believe Americans of all backgrounds and faiths will be well-served by an inclusive, positive, forward-looking event that seeks to bring us together. From the freedoms of religion and speech that are etched in our Constitution, to the traditions, institutions, and norms on which our democracy depends, the National Prayer Breakfast is a living example of some of our nation’s most fundamental principles.
In his brief speech addressing the first breakfast in 1953, President Eisenhower urged attendees to “remind ourselves once in a while” to hold our heads high, preserve the essentials of a free government, and pass this nation to the next generation “as sound, as strong, as good as ever.”
“That,” Eisenhower said, “is the prayer that all of us have today.”
Our nation has changed and grown since then, but Eisenhower’s fundamental message still rings true. We invite Americans of all backgrounds, political beliefs, and faiths – including those who practice no religion – to join us in celebration of the role of prayer and faith in public life.
We don’t expect this event to unite the country in seamless harmony overnight, but we believe we have an obligation to the American people to pursue each and every opportunity to elevate our discourse and move beyond political disagreements. As Romans 12:12 reminds us, “Rejoice in home, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”
Only by striving toward what truly binds humanity together will we be able to pass to the next generation a country as sound, strong, and good as it can be.
Chris Coons is a U.S. Senator from Delaware. John Boozman is a U.S. Senator from Arkansas