The Religious Far Right’s Prayer Breakfasts

The National Prayer Breakfast is an annual meeting of religious leaders and politicians that has been held in Washington, D.C. for the past 70 years. President Dwight Eisenhower attended the first presidential prayer breakfast in 1953. Every sitting U.S. president has attended the event at least once during his term.

It is a private and elitist event, sponsored by a right-leaning religious organization known as The Family, with a bipartisan committee acting as honorary host. Officially, “the purpose of the National Prayer Breakfast is to gather people from all over the world to pray for our leaders and to walk with them on the path that Jesus sets forth for all of us.”

In Mexico, thanks to Claudia Iriarte, there have been three national prayer breakfasts. Iriarte is responsible for the Mexican breakfast. Entrepreneurs, artists, public servants, legislators and members of the clergy have attended. The majority of the attendees have been conservative, including the far-right Mexican actor, singer, and producer Eduardo Verástegui.

Those in attendance have also included members of Opus Dei and the Legionaries of Christ, members of the alleged conservative Mexican secret society Yunque (The Anvil) and celebrities like Margarita Zavala y Liébano Sáenz (both of whom are lawyers and politicians).

Earlier this year, opposition candidate Xóchitl Gálvez appeared at the prayer breakfast. It is very unusual for a presidential candidate to attend a conservative gathering like this, because it is flying the flag, on an international scale, of an anticommunist struggle, against gay culture, and promoting anti-abortion initiatives. Above all, it tries to impose a model of the patriarchal family. It is paradoxical that a candidate who is striving for a more inclusive Mexico in public is associated privately with the radicalism of the religious far right. There are videos. The PRIAN* candidate is seen praying fervently for an absolutist God and for a theocratic social culture.

The main purpose of Kingdom Life in México, their website says, is to reestablish God’s original plan. Their mission is to be an apostolic and prophetic platform to prepare the next generation to assume leadership in the highest levels of influence, and thus extend the kingdom of God.

Over the seven past decades, the National Prayer Breakfast in the U.S. has been organized by The Fellowship (The Fellowship Foundation), an organization that is opaque, evasive and disputed.

This foundation, which is commonly known as The Family, is tied to the religious far right. It has been the subject of academic and journalistic investigations, as well as a five-episode Netflix series based on the investigations. In substance, the contention is that The Family has used its powerful connections and millions of dollars in secret donations to spread its ultraconservative Christian nationalism at home and abroad. The documentaries conclude that The Family is not just a semi-secret organization of powerful Christians; it is the most influential religious group operating in U.S. politics.

There are exclusive events limited to 300 members from Congress. And there are events with more than 3,500 people, most of them lobbyists looking for contacts with high-level politicians. Diplomatic entities in Washington are generally invited to participate in the National Prayer Breakfast, along with members of the European Parliament, United Nations representatives, religious leaders, missionaries working in a variety of countries and U.S. and foreign business leaders. World leaders, such as the Dalai Lama in 2015, have been invited.

Although those attending the breakfasts include participants of varying political and religious ideology, the organizers use the event to influence the conservative Christian beliefs of the people who attend. In short, in the face of increasing politicization of religion in U.S. elections, this event is a spearhead for the supremacist conservatism of the religious right, which is focused on distorting the significance of religious freedom. Since its inception, the National Prayer Breakfast has been a platform for the religious right to present a Christian conservative agenda. Every year, the participation of elected officials, including the president, reinforces this movement and gives legitimacy to the idea that our government should be guided by a radical Christian point of view.

In Mexico, the National Prayer Breakfast, which recently began taking place, elicits the principle of the secular state, which establishes a clear distinction between the state, church and religious beliefs. Its ideologues manipulate and rely on Article 24 of the Mexican Constitution, providing for the freedom to profess any belief. This is what Soraya Pérez Munguía, a member of the legislature for Tabasco, contends. This program, she said, does not violate the principle of secularity in our constitution. However, she maintained that “we are gathered together here to recognize the importance for God to be part of the major decisions in Mexico.” For her part, Iriarte pointed out that the Bible says, “God sets up the authorities, but it also says He takes them away.” In the face of this, we saw the presidential candidate’s tolerance.

The National Prayer Breakfast’s conception of God is absolutist and regressive. Those who govern must submit themselves to the will of God. So, we ask ourselves: Why do we have elections? It might be better just to pray.

*Translator’s Note: PRIAN is a new acronym formed by combining the acronyms of the two main right-leaning opposition parties in Mexico: the PRI and the PAN.

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