News articles on Inaugural Prayer Luncheon

Ashcroft says America is nation 'worth praying for'

by Larry Witham
The Washington Times, Page A1
January 20, 2001

Photos (A, color), A) Interdenominational: Former Sen. John Ashcroft, the nominee for attorney general, addresses a large interfaith gathering yesterday.; B) The Rev. Sun Myung Moon accepts an award during the inaugural prayer luncheon yesterday. A surprise speaker at the event - America Come Together - was John Ashcroft, nominee for attorney general., Both By J.M. Eddins Jr./The Washington Times

John Ashcroft, the president-elect's nominee for U.S. attorney general, dropped in on an overflowing interracial and interfaith inaugural prayer luncheon yesterday and brought down the house of 1,700 religious and political figures with a tale of amazing grace.

"This is a country worth praying for," Mr. Ashcroft said, and told how he was drawn the other day to the poignant wail of a street musician's trumpet playing the notes of the hymn "Amazing Grace."

"He stopped in midnote," Mr. Ashcroft said, "and put out his hand with a cry, 'Senator Ashcroft, I'm for you, man.'"

As he walked down the street on his way to his office, Mr. Ashcroft said, he heard the trumpeter's notes of another hymn, "Love Lifted Me."

"I'm sure not going to forget 'Love Lifted Me,'" said Mr. Ashcroft, who had just completed four days of contentious hearings on his nomination, in which he had been roughly questioned by Senate Democrats about his views on racism, abortion and homosexual rights.

When he stepped from the platform, in the ballroom of the Hyatt at the foot of Capitol Hill, he was embraced by a swarm of well-wishers, many of them black clergymen.

The prayer event, "America Come Together," was one of the largest and most diverse inaugural religious gatherings of clergy and lawmakers in memory.

Amidst a three-hour program of prayers by Christian preachers, a rabbi, a Muslim imam and a Franciscan layman, Rep. Danny K. Davis, an Illinois Democrat and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, read a resolution that he and Rep. Philip M. Crane of Illinois, a Republican, will introduce next week in Congress calling on the nation to "dwell in unity and one accord."

"There ought to be more that unites us . . . than drives us apart," said Mr. Davis.

The prayer luncheon was sponsored by The Washington Times Foundation, a nonprofit educational group, which is separate from the newspaper, and organized by a committee that included Doug Wead, who worked in the first Bush White House, and the Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy, pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church and a former D.C. delegate to Congress.

Martin Luther King, evangelist Billy Graham, and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon were honored by an ecumenical group of clergymen. The Rev. Moon received an award for his work in support of traditional family values.

The world's faiths arose to cultivate the human spirit, and "that is why religions tell us to fast, to serve others, to be sacrificial," said Rev. Moon, who described the family as the school of peace and God's love.

"It is possible for humankind to receive a great blessing through the rededication of marriage ceremony centered upon God's ideal of family," he said.

Mr. Fauntroy introduced several men and women who were White House liaisons to religious groups going back to the Ford administration, two U.S. senators and 12 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Rev. James Merritt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, gave the tribute to Mr. Graham who, if not for a doctor's advice to rest, would today have prayed at his 10th inaugural since 1953 with President Eisenhower. He is believed to have preached to more people than any man in history. "In the life of Billy Graham, there has not been one hint of scandal," Mr. Merritt said.

Mr. Wead, who had been religion liaison in the Bush administration from 1989 to 1993, also introduced what he called "seven of the top 10 television evangelists in America today." They included Paul Crouch, founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, and Kenneth Copeland, both of whom made brief remarks. "We are here, in a larger sense, to honor an office, an office God has used to bless our nation and virtually every nation on Earth," said Mr. Crouch, speaking of the presidency.

Rabbi David Ben-Ami, chairman of the American Forum for Jewish-Christian Cooperation, spoke of the common Jewish and Christian heritage. "The Torah is my and your holy Scriptures," he said, reading from the Old Testament on God, nations and leadership. "This noon, this is my congregation."

The Rev. Jerry Falwell, chancellor of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., brought greetings from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, with whom he spoke late Thursday about his acknowledgment of a 20-month-old daughter he had fathered with an aide in the Washington office of his Rainbow-PUSH Coalition.

"He asks your prayers," said Mr. Falwell. "He apologizes, he takes responsibility and makes no excuses, points no fingers at anyone else, and that's all a man can do. It's not a time to put our foot on the neck of anyone who is down." His remarks were greeted with scattered "amens" and emphatic assertions of "that's right."

Many of the religious figures spoke of the size and ecumenical nature of the prayer luncheon. "There's always something like this at a church," said the Rev. Robert Maddox, who worked in the Carter administration. "It's a gargantuan thing to bring off, and this is bigger than usual."

The Rev. Jack Hayford, who will give the benediction at the 54th Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service at the National Cathedral tomorrow, looked over yesterday's event and said it represented a new mood of interreligious and interracial cooperation. "This is something that's been a process in the past five years," Mr. Hayford said in an interview. He cited the Southern Baptist apology for slavery in 1995, the Promise Keepers' apologies to women for abuse by men, and the interracial reconciliation summits of Pentecostals, of which he was a leader as pastor of the Church on the Way in Van Nuys, Calif.

Hundreds of the participants also were in Washington for the American Leadership Conference (ALC), which holds inspirational and training events for clergy and state legislators. Dr. William Anderson, a Howard University graduate who brought his wife and daughter to the ALC event and inaugural, said that some of the old civil rights rhetoric must give way to constructive proposals. "I brought my daughter here to show her it's not the color of your skin, but the content of your character," said Dr. Anderson, a Baptist deacon whose wife, Janette, is Roman Catholic.

The Rev. Robert Schuller, pastor of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif., and host of the popular "Hour of Power" telecast, marveled at the "myriad" of different religious groups praying in the same room and complimented each for its own "spiritual pilgrimage."

"Many of you had reason not to accept this invitation because of, 'Who else will be there?' " Mr. Schuller said. "And yet there is an overriding unity. And the only way I can explain it in my theology is the Holy Spirit [and that] Jesus Christ has really diversified His investment portfolio."

Singer Pat Boone, a member of the evangelical denomination Churches of Christ, noted the "wonderful feeling" at the prayer event, encompassing Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus, which overflowed into adjoining smaller ballrooms. "We love you, we cherish you, we respect you," said Mr. Boone. He also sang. Other performers included singer John Michael Talbot, a Franciscan with the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, and trumpeter Phil Driscoll.

A few political matters were touched on besides the standing ovation for Mr. Ashcroft, who did not mention the confirmation hearings.

The Bush campaign's chief domestic policy adviser, Stephen Goldsmith, a Jewish leader and former mayor of Indianapolis, said the new Republican administration wants to give religious ministries more freedom to solve social problems. "All of us here want the government to no longer be hostile" to religious groups, said Mr. Goldsmith. "This is an administration that will clear out the regulation problems, clear out the legal problems."

Imam Hassan Qazwini, director of the Islamic Center of America, said that "all praise is due to Allah" and urged prayers for "children in Palestine," or the West Bank, and Iraq, against which the United States continues its economic embargo.

In introducing Rev. Moon, Wesley Pruden, editor in chief of The Washington Times, paid tribute to the Rev. and Mrs. Moon, whom he described as "old friends" and to Rev. Moon's vision of a secular newspaper in the nation's capital to cover the world, and promised that "armed with editorial independence and that vision, we will always be faithful to the values that bind God's children together."

Religious leaders pray for healing

by Adelle M. Banks Religion News Service

Chattanooga Times / Chattanooga Free Press
January 20, 2001, Saturday

WASHINGTON -- In a show of unity after the divisive presidential election, about 1,700 religious, political and community leaders gathered Friday for an Inaugural Prayer Luncheon for Unity and Renewal on the eve of President-elect George W. Bush's inauguration.

Billed as an event to bring together leaders across denominational, racial and partisan lines, it nevertheless prominently featured conservative Christian leaders -- from five past presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention to religious broadcasters Paul Crouch, Jerry Falwell and Robert Schuller.

The event's primary sponsor was The Washington Times Foundation. The new president did not attend.

I believe God Almighty will lead George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and all of their team into the nation's finest hour, said the Rev. Kenneth Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Rev. Tony Evans, senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, opened the event with a prayer noting the division over Bush's election. We come, Lord, with a lot of healing that needs to be done, he prayed.

Doug Wead, co-chairman of the event -- whose theme was America Come Together-- said its goal for unity was reflected in the attendance, which filled one hotel ballroom and overflowed into two other rooms.

Many of us in this room are soaring with hope because of the response of leaders of every religion who were contacted about this event, said Wead, who served as a special assistant to Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush.

Interspersed between prayers and praise for the Bush administration were tributes for celebrated religious leaders, include the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and evangelist Billy Graham, who was unable to attend this year's inaugural events for health reasons.

Southern Baptist Convention President James Merritt honored Graham as a man of integrity, and the Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy, a Washington pastor and former U.S. congressman, recalled King's message that either we learn to live together as brothers and sisters on this planet or we will perish together as fools.

Falwell called for prayers for another well-known religious leader, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who days before acknowledged fathering an out-of-wedlock daughter. It certainly is not the time to put our foot on the neck of anyone, Falwell said, noting he had called Jackson and prayed with him.

Over the course of the polished three-hour event, the intersection of religion and politics took center stage.

Falwell urged Bush to outlaw so-called partial-birth abortion and voiced his support for moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and combatting racial profiling. Imam Hassan Qazwini, director of the Islamic Center of America in Detroit, asked for Allah's blessings on Bush and added, Help him to bring smiles to all suffering children of the world, especially (in) Iraq and Palestine.

Stephen Goldsmith, the former Indianapolis mayor who has served as a senior Bush adviser on faith-based initiatives, said of the man who would soon be president: I think that the best thing that America has to face is a person who is about to become president who truly believes in God and believes in the power of God to make the lives of people better.

Not long after Falwell condemned some members of the U.S. Senate for religious profiling in the hearing for Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft, the former senator took to the stage himself and thanked the audience members for their kindness to me and your prayers for me.

The audience, which included ambassadors and advisers to past U.S. presidents, was treated to music that ranged from the Vienna Strings to recording artist Vicki Winans. Between prayers, they dined on salad, chicken and a white-chocolate dessert in the shape of the U.S. Capitol.

This has been organized largely by Christian people, but those of you who are not Christians ... we love you, we cherish you, we respect you, said Christian entertainer Pat Boone.

In closing remarks, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, leader of the Unification Church and the founder of The Washington Times, asked for prayers that Bush would gain the respect of all Americans and the people the world over.

Diverse faith groups at prayer lunch

United Press International
January 20, 2001, Saturday 02:21 AM Eastern Time

WASHINGTON, Jan. 20 - People representing many conservative Christian denominations but also a spectrum of religious and ethnic groups gathered for an Inaugural prayer luncheon Friday, hearing speakers ranging from Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft to the Revs. Robert Schuller, Jerry Falwell and Sun Myung Moon call for people of faith to work together.

Ashcroft, grilled by the Senate Judiciary Committee during confirmation hearings this week, told the gathering of some 1,700 people that the last few weeks there have been some things said that weren't too encouraging.

He went on to tell a story of walking in downtown Washington after getting off the Metro subway and hearing the strains of the hymn Amazing Grace. He said he saw a man sitting on a milk crate, wearing an old high school band jacket, playing the hymn on a trumpet. Ashcroft said he was walking past when the man put down the trumpet.

The fellow said, 'I just want to thank you for what you stand for and I wanted to wish you well,' Ashcroft said. He said he started to walk away and then heard the trumpet playing the hymn, Love Lifted Me.

I thought to myself, sometimes we get inspiration and values from places we least expect, he said.

The Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy, former congressman and pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church, was a master of ceremonies for the event at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Fauntroy, who worked with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and was District of Columbia coordinator for the 1963 March on Washington, quoted from King: We must all learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

Falwell told the group the new administration could go a long way to bringing God's blessings by bringing about a ban on partial birth abortions. He also called for moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and rebuked Senate Democrats for their attempt at religious profiling of Ashcroft during the confirmation hearing.

Falwell also talked about the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who acknowledged fathering a daughter outside his marriage. He said Jackson apologized for the hurt he caused his loved ones, said he was supporting the child, and asked for prayers. Falwell said it was a time for understanding.

It's not a time to put our foot on the neck of anyone, he said.

Entertainer Pat Boone, who sang In America, told the group that while the United States includes people of many faiths, faith in God has made the country strong.

We are one nation under God, he said. He also said: To those who are not Christian, whatever your faith is, we love you, we cherish you, we respect you. And he went on to add: The Constitution did not ordain freedom from religion, but open freedom of religion for all.

Schuller complimented participants on attending even though they might not agree with each other on theology.

This couldn't be a more mixed group ... and yet there is a spirit of unity, he said.

Imam Hassan Qazwini, director of the Islamic Center of America, based in Detroit, called on Allah to bring enlightenment in place of prejudices and partisanship, and prayed that Allah would bring smiles to the suffering children around the world -- especially the children of Iraq and Palestine.

Qazwini also told the group that before the luncheon, people seeing him in his Muslim clerical garb had assumed he was from Iran and wished him well during his stay in the United States. He said he responded: Actually, I'm from Michigan, where Muslims comprise 4 percent of the population.

Stephen Goldsmith, senior adviser to President-elect George W. Bush for Faith-Based Initiatives and former mayor of Indianapolis, told the group about the desire for a government that is not hostile to faith-based initiatives to improve people's lives. He said the administration would work across religious and ethnic lines ... to bring opportunities to those who prosperity has left behind.

Moon, a North Korean native who founded the Unification Church, was introduced by Washington Times Editor in Chief Wes Pruden, who praised Moon for his fight against communism despite imprisonment and persecution, and for founding the Washington Times as a secular newspaper.

I am determined that this newspaper will always be faithful to the values that bind God's children together, Pruden said. He said while the Cold War against communism had been won, we now are on a battlefield just as dear -- for families.

Moon called for prayers that our new president lives up to the challenges of this prestigious office and commands the respect of all Americans and people the world over.

In a speech of about 15 minutes, Moon also spoke of the husband and wife relationship as a cornerstone of families and God's plan for overcoming the struggle between mind and body.

He said the various faiths emerged to cultivate the human spirit, which he said is why religions tell us to fast, to serve others, to be sacrificial.

Moon was presented an award by an ecumenical group of ministers for his work on behalf of family values.

The luncheon was sponsored by the Washington Times Foundation. The Washington Times is owned by News World Communications Inc., which also owns United Press International.