WASHINGTON (RNS) — The National Prayer Breakfast is under new leadership, a decades-old event that has distanced itself from the secretive organization that created it after years of controversy and a scandal that left the annual gathering in the nation’s capital vulnerable to spying.
According to a statement sent to reporters by former Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, the breakfast at which the current US president speaks will no longer be run by a Christian group called The International Foundation. Family”. Instead, the 2023 breakfast, which will be held this year on Feb. 2, was coordinated by the newly formed National Prayer Breakfast Foundation, which emerged “after many meetings in 2022,” according to Pryor’s statement.
“Like so many things in our country, the years of COVID have given members the opportunity to hit the reset button and organize a task force to carry out this long-term vision,” the statement said.
Unlike previous versions of the breakfast, which were held in a sprawling hotel ballroom with hundreds of attendees from around the world, the new version of the gathering includes only members of Congress who are “spouses, family members or founding guests.” Pryor wrote.
In an interview with Religion News on Wednesday (Jan. 25), Pryor, board president of the National Prayer Breakfast Foundation, said the breakfast is the only event of the new organization. He expects the expected 200 to 300 attendees will bring a spouse, significant other or “their pastor or priest from home.” He said he couldn’t sit down to breakfast the way he used to. Attendees will be served daisies, coffee and tea before taking their seats in the auditorium at the Capitol Visitor Center in the US Capitol.
“Congress wants it, they want it back to its roots, and in the early days it was Congress and the president,” said Pryor, who expected President Joe Biden to attend and called the plans “a little bit of a back-to-basics movement.”
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The International Foundation plans to hold a separate assembly at the same time as the prayer breakfast, called “The Gathering”. The event is similar to older versions of prayer breakfasts, with participants watching the National Prayer Breakfast via video as part of the two-day convention, which organizers expect will have a “significant international presence.”
A. Larry Ross, a media spokesman for the International Foundation, confirmed that its event “will be interrupted to deliver the president’s message live to the ballroom in real time,” he told RNS in an email.
“The scheduled NPB meeting at the Washington Hilton currently has more than 1,400 attendees registered for the two-day event, including 2/3 domestic and 1/3 international partners from around the world.
The Young Turks were the first to reveal the changes to the story on Tuesday.
Representatives for Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, who helped coordinate previous iterations of the prayer breakfast, confirmed Tuesday that leadership has transitioned to RNS. Last year, Koons created a similar 2022 prayer breakfast, also scaled back and held at the Capitol, as a sort of “restoration” of the event.
The changes follow years of controversy over the breakfast, dating back to President Dwight Eisenhower’s administration.
The breakfast first became widely discussed in 2009 after journalist Jeff Charlet published a book, The Family, detailing his experiences with the organization that runs the event. The incident became controversial in 2018, when the Department of Justice charged Russian Maria Butina with attempting to use the national prayer breakfast as part of a “conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation.”
Many groups have since criticized the event, particularly secular organizations such as the Religious Freedom Foundation, whose leader opposes President Biden’s participation in 2021. The group organized a signature letter against Tangy Tangy this year as well. secular as well as religious organizations.
Some Democrats also expressed disbelief over the incident. Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat who previously chaired the National Prayer Breakfast, told The Young Turks in December 2021 that he had no intention of returning to the event.
FFRF President Annie Laurie Gaylor told RNS in an email that her organization welcomes the changes, but said, “It seems like a real scam to create a new organization to sponsor the prayer breakfast because the people who run the NPB Foundation are all affiliated with the Fellowship.”
Other critics are also questioning whether the newly announced changes are genuine leadership changes or “largely cosmetic”.
In a statement to RNS, Charlet noted a report showing that the new fund’s board includes many people with ties to the international fund.
“Any move to reduce the often off-the-books weekly lobbying fest is good news,” Charlett said. “On the other hand, the change appears to be mostly cosmetic.”
Pryor said his organization is “completely separate and completely separate” from his family.
He hopes skeptics will realize this when it happens.
“Let’s show it’s going to be different and give us a little more time here,” he said. “We haven’t had breakfast yet.”
This story has been updated to correct Pryor’s name.
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