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Messages of unity, protecting religious freedom at prayer breakfast

Several legislators prayed that the country would treat others with dignity and respect

WASHINGTON — At the National Prayer Breakfast, President Donald Trump recapped several actions his administration has undertaken including steps to support prayer in classrooms, aid persecuted religious minorities such as the Yazidis in Iraq and Christians elsewhere, and policies to protect unborn children.

Four members of Congress also offered prayers during the breakfast: Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-California, House minority leader, who is Baptist; Rep. David Kustoff, R-Tennessee, who is Jewish; Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-New Mexico, who is Lutheran; and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, who is Catholic. All four prayed that the country would treat others with dignity and respect and to express God’s love in daily life.

Trump specifically mentioned the introduction Feb. 5 of the international Religious Freedom Alliance. He said about 25 nations had joined the effort. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo first announced the alliance at the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom last July.

“Faith keeps us free. Prayer makes us strong. And God alone is the author of life and the giver of grace,” the president said.

In his 25-minute speech, Trump pledged to protect people of faith, ministers, rabbis and others from what he characterized as ongoing attacks on religious practice. “We won’t let that happen,” he said.

The president’s initial comments addressed the impeachment proceedings that had wrapped up the previous day.

Economist Arthur Brooks, a Catholic convert, encouraged the nation in a 10-minute presentation to overcome “the crisis of contempt and polarization tearing our society apart.”

Despite deep differences, Brooks said, this time of crisis offers “the greatest opportunity we have ever had as people of faith to lift our nation up and bring people together.” The answer, he said, is realizing Jesus’ call to love one another.

The times require that people act with “moral courage” to buck the trend of divisiveness expressed in public and through social media, the faculty member at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government said. In a democracy, different ideas on how the country can move forward should not simply be berated but welcomed, he said.

Such work is difficult, Brooks admitted, but is vitally needed to unite the country.

“The problem isn’t anger. The problem is what psychologists call contempt. … Contempt kills relationships. Contempt kills love. And contempt is ripping our country apart,” Brooks explained.

“Some people say we need more civility, we need more tolerance. I say nonsense. Why? Because civility and tolerance are a low standard … Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew didn’t say, ‘Tolerate your enemies.’ He said, ‘Love your enemies,’” he said.

Brooks closed by reminding people that their work beyond the walls of the banquet room was missionary territory, where national healing can begin.

Four international leaders were among those attending the event: Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj of Kosovo, Albanian President Ilir Meta, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, former prime minister of Kenya.

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