Each year, a who’s who of pastors, politicians and business leaders gather in Washington to break bread and bow their heads at the National Prayer Breakfast.
The annual event draws thousands from around the world to the nation’s capital and offers Christian fellowship and some good old-fashioned Washington elbow rubbing, too. The tradition of presidents attending was begun by Dwight D. Eisenhower. On Thursday, President Donald Trump gave the keynote address to the evangelical event, co-chaired by Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware.
“Children, born and unborn, are made in the holy image of God,” the president said as the room erupted in applause. “Every life is sacred and every soul is a precious gift from heaven, as the Lord says,” he continued, echoing comments he made in Tuesday’s State of the Union address.
“My administration is also speaking out against religious persecution around the world, including against religious minorities, Christians, and the Jewish community,” the president said, adding that he appointed a “new special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.”
At one point during his remarks, the president appeared to misspeak or misread from the Teleprompter and touted the “abolition of civil rights” as an accomplishment led by “people of faith.”
“I will never let you down,” the president said to the room.
Trump, a thrice-married, former playboy, has emerged as an unexpected champion for the evangelical community. Those in the evangelical community say they don’t mind the president’s past — or even his cursing and abrasive, sometimes-offensive online presence.
“He’s a fighter and he fights for things he believes in like the right to life – he’s not politically correct but he’s willing to take on the difficult issues,” Jack Graham, a Southern Baptist preacher and member of the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative, said. When people raise concerns about the president’s words and actions, Graham said he tells his congregation in Dallas, “Look at the actions not the reactions of the president.”
The night before the National Prayer Breakfast, the president and vice president hosted members of the event’s committee, including Pastors Paula White and Robert Jeffress and Coons and Lankford, at a White House dinner. An attendee said the president touted his ratings from the State of the Union, the latest polling on evangelicals and also asked for input from people in the room on issues like human trafficking.
Evangelical leaders say the Trump White House frequently takes their temperature on important issues — whether its abortion, immigration or even Middle East peace plans. Multiple members of the White House’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative said they are in touch with the White House almost daily. Jennifer Korn, deputy director for the Office of Public Liaison, works as the go-between the White House and evangelical leaders.
“We’ve never seen an administration more inclusive to the evangelical community,” Jentezen Franklin, an evangelical pastor, said. “It’s unlike any that many of us have been around have seen. We don’t agree with everything he says or does, but [are] thankful for his policy — for being pro-life, and for a traditional family.”