In 1953, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, or so the story goes, he attended a prayer meeting with Methodist minister Abraham Vereide, the Rev. Billy Graham, and members of Congress. From these humble, modest beginnings the Presidential Prayer Breakfast was born. Later, Vereide’s successor, Douglas Coe, and long-serving chaplain of the US Senate, Richard C. Halverson, came on the scene. By 1970, the Presidential Prayer Breakfast became the National Prayer Breakfast. Since that time, every US president has attended the event.
The National Prayer Breakfast being held today bears little resemblance to that simpler time. In recent decades it has consisted of a series of dinners and events over several days. While members of the US Congress have always hosted the breakfast, a Christian organization known as The Fellowship Foundation has been at the apex of planning and organizing the festivities.
All that changed during COVID, and, for various reasons, it was decided that Congress would run the show under the umbrella of a new entity: the National Prayer Breakfast Foundation. This is the year they debut their all-new prayer breakfast, leading many to wonder if Christ will remain the center of the event.
Liberty Nation caught up with a long-serving member of the Fellowship and organizer of the National Prayer Breakfast Media Dinner, Cal Thomas, to get his take on the changing face of this historic event. What follows is a revealing and fascinating transcript of our discussion.
Leesa K. Donner – Is it fair to say that the National Prayer Breakfast was born out of a Christian movement, and it’s moving away from that? Or is that unfair?
Cal Thomas – Well, it was born out of two things: a desire to pray for national leaders, which we are told to do in Scripture, and honor Christ. On many occasions, those two things have been done. There have been some dynamic speakers. I think of the chaplain of the Senate, Chaplain Black, who several years ago gave a rip-roaring talk that honored Christ and was extremely well received.
The reason this has been split up now and has been going in a different direction is because of the concern of some senators that too many people were coming for the wrong motives; that is, they were lobbying senators. And then we had this female Russian agent who came and then went back to Russia, claiming that she was helping with US-Russia relationships and giving Russia a better image in America by her access to all of these powerful people, and that turned off a lot of members of Congress. With COVID, it was used as an opportunity to rethink the whole process, and that’s what they’ve done.
LKD – As we’ve discussed, teaching about Jesus and preaching Jesus are two different things. With the changing face of the breakfast, which do you believe will prevail?
CT – There’s a shift in ordinance. There are new people leading it; some of them have been around a while, but they’re now the decision-makers. They want younger people. They want more diversity and all this other stuff. But I think they’re focusing on the wrong things. I think the only power to change a life is Jesus Christ. It’s not political power, which we’ve seen in Washington. They can’t change anything; they make things worse.
I just think Jesus is not appealing to them. He wasn’t appealing when He was here on Earth. He preached a message of sin and salvation, and you don’t hear that very much anymore. In many churches, they don’t want to talk about those things. They want prosperity gospel, they want healings, they want all kinds of other things because revealing people’s sin makes them uncomfortable.
Well, I always say, if that makes them uncomfortable, wait until they get to hell, they’re really going to be uncomfortable.
LKD – That’s definitely not a message you hear much these days.
CT –– Well, the cross is an offense, and it has always been an offense. Dick Halverson [former chaplain of the US Senate] used to say, “The gospel is foolish to those who are perishing.” So, if you think it’s foolishness, it’s evidence you are perishing. I mean, this whole idea of the teachings of Jesus, his biggest teaching of all was, “I’m the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father, but by Me.”
But you don’t hear that very much anymore because everybody wants to get along and be friendly and, “Oh yeah, we love the teachings of Jesus.” Well, you got teachings of Mohammed, you got teachings of Buddha, you got teachings of Confucius, you got teachings of all kinds of people, you got teachings of pagans. It’s not about the teachings, it’s about the substance. And I fear that’s what is being lost.
LKD – Thank you, Cal.
Thomas punctuated this interview by saying that “all movements have a sell-by date” and that “God always raises up new leadership.” Today’s National Prayer Breakfast may have new leaders, but its centuries-old message will hopefully rise above the din of politics and religion and not leave behind the things that matter most.
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