Amid the raucous ructions that often divide US politics, Carrie Lloyd saw a desire for togetherness that gave her hope at the National Prayer Breakfast. And with hope and prayer, we can move mountains, she says


Source: Reuters

The US National Prayer Breakfast has occurred annually since 1953. Held in Washington DC, politicians, faith leaders and global heads of state attend a series of meetings, luncheons and dinners over a 36-hour period.

The President has attended this event every year until the current administration. This year, congress decided to host an additional, more intimate event just for congress members. It was a triumph for Biden; more congress members than ever before gathered in Capitol’s National Statuary Hall for the President’s speech, streamed live to 2,100 attendees at the Washington Hilton.

Some might assume that any faith-based gathering in America would be fuelled by evangelical republicans and Trump supporters. In an era filled with division, you might expect some tensions. But within the walls of the Hilton, there were leaders from 127 countries, rabbis and priests, democrats and republicans. And instead of battling opinions, the focus was on unity and getting back to the basics of the gospel.

Peace and reconcilliation

American think tanks have coined a phrase: “the three-legged stool” suggests that business, government and faith must work together for societal transformation. When they unite, the impossible becomes possible and mountains finally move. The results of these meetings are not to be sniffed at. From these gatherings, peace, reconciliation - even the economic structures of countries - have been affected, with remarkable results.

Reconciliation is painful, but necessary. It requires humility and confidence

“This is a calling to stand against hate”, Biden said. Pointing to the divisions in the Middle East: “The challenges of our times remind us of our responsibilities as a nation. To help each other. A just and lasting peace here and abroad. That’s why we are fighting against the rise of antisemitism and Islamophobia here in the United States.”

Perhaps the more notable speech came from Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, who used his own experience of the 1994 genocide to bring an authoritative case for solutions to avoid the futility that misinformation and built-up bitterness can create.

Back from the brink

Kagame recalled that, just as the Rwandan peace agreement was about to be implemented, extremists came with a final solution to kill all Tutsi. At the time, even most church leaders backed the movement, with only a few exceptions. Women were raped in front of their families, fathers were killed with machetes, and for those who survived, their homes were burned to the ground.

“How do you repair a country that killed one million people?” Kagame asked the silent audience. “I’ve asked myself that question for 30 years. Everyone in Rwanda has, and I still don’t have all the answers.”

“This is a calling to stand against hate”, Biden said

There are haunting parallels with current wars in Ukraine and the Middle East. “We see the same indifference from the wider world today,” he continued. “It’s as if those expensive lessons are always lost.

”Reconciliation is painful, but necessary. It requires humility and confidence….reconciliation is an act of faith, because it requires a leap of the imagination, a belief in the unseen, which all your senses tell you is impossible…This is also the reason why faith leaders were key partners in our effort to rebuild after the genocide. Reconciliation does not always mean resolution. The decision for forgiveness is ultimately a private act of each individual.”

A fresh perspective

The theme of faith conquering the impossible continued with former senator and astronaut Bill Nelson. Sharing photographs of the earth from outer space, he explained that his experiences gave him a different perspective on politics: “I looked back on earth and I did not see racial division, I did not see religious division and I did not see political division. I saw that we are all in this together.”

Later, Andrea Bocelli played ‘Hallejuah’ as his daughter harmonised. Musicians from Ukraine, Russia, Israel and Palestine formed ‘The Symphony of Hope.’ The desire to form a ‘symphony of hope’ is perhaps why the National Prayer Breakfast was birthed in the first place. When all might be lost and the mountain feels too huge to move, we remember it is not us who moves the mountain, but our prayers that move the one who can.