2016-06-30
WASHINGTON, Jan. 19 (RNS) -- 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 and who is Jewish, 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."

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