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Bias, theocracy and lies: Inside the secretive organization behind the National Prayer Breakfast

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03.09.2021

For nearly 70 years, and even in this moment of surging Christian nationalism, Democrats and Republicans have set aside their differences once a year to join in an event for fellowship and reconciliation: The National Prayer Breakfast.

The breakfast and the secretive religious group behind the scenes, popularly known as The Family, have been the subject of scandal over the years. Most notably, journalist Jeff Sharlet exposed the group's theocratic, anti-labor origins, and revealed The Family's role in Ugandan capital punishment legislation for gay people. More recently, the FBI caught Russian operatives using the breakfast to pursue back-channel connections with U.S. politicians.

But despite its dealings with international powers, The Family still enjoys the invisibility to which it attributes its influence. We've never had a full accounting of who works for The Family or even just who gets to attend the National Prayer Breakfast, let alone who decides. Until now.

Earlier this year, The Young Turks obtained a list of the 4,465 people invited to the 2016 National Prayer Breakfast. The document identifies guest connections to The Family and names virtually everyone who works for The Family, as well as numerous volunteers and allies. It also identifies which Family insiders submitted each invitee's name.

Since then, TYT has been researching individuals named in that document and in others (including a list of 2018 breakfast attendees obtained last month). With assistance from organizations including the international journalism collective Bellingcat, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, TYT is assembling what amounts to an X-ray of The Family, and a map of its connections and endeavors around the world.

Although more remains to be learned, we can now draw some conclusions and begin reporting on what we are finding. (This is an ongoing project and we invite journalists and advocacy groups to contact us if they are interested in conducting research of their own.)

The prayer breakfast is, we've been told, an ecumenical, nonpartisan event for leaders of every stripe, run by prayer groups in the House and Senate. None of that is true.

The National Prayer Breakfast (NPB) is not run by Congress. The Family controls it, uses the breakfast for its own ends, and can do so thanks to the bipartisan fiction maintained by its remaining Democratic allies. (Democratic protectiveness of the breakfast may have its roots in the weekly congressional prayer meetings, which appear, like the breakfast, to offer members moments of genuine bonding and connection.)

Only a few congressional Democrats are even tangentially involved in the NPB. A handful of congressional Republicans play significant roles. But the breakfast itself is overwhelmingly a production of The Family. The event's only significant financial backer is a well-known right-wing theocrat.

The Family's congressional defenders have served up portraits of the NPB that could never be refuted because they wouldn't release the invitation list. (It has never been clear why an event ostensibly produced by Congress would be shrouded in such profound secrecy.)

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., The Family's most prominent Democrat, said earlier this year that the breakfast "has brought together religious, political and cultural leaders from all over the world." But many attendees are not leaders at all; they are fellow travelers and friends of The Family.........

© Salon


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