Late last month, the New York Times ran a very interesting—if unsurprising—report on the National Prayer Breakfast:
With a lineup of prayer meetings, humanitarian forums and religious panels, the National Prayer Breakfast has long brought together people from all over the world for an agenda built around the teachings of Jesus.
But there on the guest list in recent years was Maria Butina, looking to meet high-level American officials and advance the interests of the Russian state, and Yulia Tymoshenko, a Ukranian opposition leader, seeking a few minutes with President Trump to burnish her credentials as a presidential prospect back home.
Their presence at the breakfast illuminates the way the annual event has become an international influence-peddling bazaar, where foreign dignitaries, religious leaders, diplomats and lobbyists jockey for access to the highest reaches of American power.
Lobbyists, it seems, are engaged in selling tickets.
One lobbyist, Herman J. Cohen, offered what he billed as an exclusive invitation to last year’s breakfast, and three days of meetings around it, to an African leader for $220,000.
“Several contacts will be made with American authorities for official meetings with you as President of Chad and President in office of the African Union,” Mr. Cohen promised in a proposal, calling the breakfast “a special occasion to get to know and converse directly with the President of the U.S.” The letter, written in French, was sent to President Idriss Déby of Chad in December of 2016, and later obtained by The New York Times.
Mr. Cohen, a former assistant secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush, said that Mr. Déby did not take up the offer. But he said that lobbyists have long brokered access to the breakfast, and opportunities surrounding it, for their foreign clients, often as part of a larger package of services.
The Times details additional instances of selling tickets to the breakfast, as well as the role the breakfast plays in giving foreign politicians unscheduled access to American politicians, thus bypassing standard procedure—and the ways these foreign politicians have used this access for purposes of their own.
In some cases, foreign politicians have used the breakfast score photos with American dignitaries—including President Trump—and then used these photos in their election campaigns back home.
Oh, but the Fellowship—the group that runs the operation—has its explanations.
“We are not naïve that people use the prayer breakfast for their own purpose,” said Tony P. Hall, a former Democratic congressman from Ohio, who has been close to the Fellowship for more than 20 years. “We have our own purposes, too.”
“You can’t just invite wonderful, exciting, great people,” said Mr. Hall. “Jesus, when he went to dinner, he went to dinner with everybody.”
Sure, when Jesus went to dinner, he went to dinner with everybody. To the best of my knowledge, he also didn’t charge people to go to dinner with him—and, while we’re at it, I seem to remember Jesus getting angry when people used money to curry religious influence, or when they used religion as a cover for making money.
I also seem to remember a story where Jesus—correct me if I’m wrong here—flipped tables or something? Would Jesus go to the National Prayer Breakfast? He might—and he might well flip some tables while there.
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