In a column for the Washington Post, long-time political observer E.J. Dionne was harshly critical of the organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast for standing by and doing nothing as Donald Trump launched a vicious attack against his critics at what has ostensibly been a deeply Christian event.
Dionne got right to the point, writing, “If you wonder why young people are leaving organized religion in droves, look no further than last week’s National Prayer Breakfast. Many who care about religion and its fate have condemned President Trump’s vindictive, self-involved, God-as-an-afterthought speech at the annual gathering. By contrast, his backers were happy to say ‘Amen’ as they prepared to exploit religion in one more election.”
According to Dionne, the annual event has always been problematic, but even more so this year.
‘I confess that there has always been something troubling about the prayer breakfast. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the faith of many of its organizers. There have been moments when politicians, including presidents, have used the occasion to promote humility in the face of God’s judgment and call each other to fellowship across their political differences,” he wrote. “Nonetheless, the whole exercise seems idolatrous. The gatherings encourage the suspicion that many politicians are there not because of God but because of their own political imperatives. They want to tell the world how religious they are and check the faith box on the advice of their political advisers. You worry that this is as much about preening as praying.”
In particular, he cited Trump’s speech where he ranted about his impeachment and used the opportunity to attack his critics by name.
“In his always crude but always revealing way, Trump has exposed the underside of long-standing political habits and practices. He is not the first politician to exploit religion. He just does it in a way so at odds with the core tenets of the Christian faith he claims to uphold that he pushes the hypocritical aspects of public religion to a breaking point,” he explained.
Dionne went on to praise Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) for using his religion in a proper way, not to attack his enemies but to explain the religious underpinnings of his political decisions.
“This is why Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney’s reasoning for voting to convict Trump was so blessedly subversive. He invoked God not to sacralize a regime but to challenge his conscience. Thus did he offer an indirect but unmistakable rebuke to Christians who say Trump deserves their fealty because he is protecting their interests and defending their culture,” he wrote.
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