WASHINGTON (RNS)--About 3,800 elected officials and religious leaders from around the globe gathered Thursday for the 48th annual National Prayer Breakfast, listening to political and religious speakers--including President Clinton and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn.--call for spiritual tolerance and unity.

In a departure from previous years' events that have featured Christian keynoters, Lieberman--an Orthodox Jew-- delivered the keynote address at the annual meeting of politicians, clergy and lay people to discuss issues of faith and spirituality.

He told the crowd that "what unites us is much greater than what divides us," noting that as a Jew he had been apprehensive about attending Senate prayer breakfasts when first invited years ago.

"Today, I can tell you that the weekly prayer breakfasts have become the time in my hectic life in the Senate when I feel most at home, most tied to a community," he told breakfast attendees in the Washington Hilton ballroom. "We are at those breakfasts not as senators, not as Republicans or Democrats, or liberals or conservatives, not even particularly as Christians or Jews. We are there as men and women of faith linked by a bond that transcends all the other descriptors and dividers--our shared love of God."

Lieberman suggested that individuals could strengthen their communities "by talking in the spirit of this prayer breakfast--open, generous and mutually respectful," and encouraged his listeners to translate faith into action.

"We know in the end we will be judged by our behavior," he said. "Turning faith into action is particularly appropriate in this millennial year, whose significance will be determined not by turning a page on our calendars at home or work, but by turning a page on the calendar of our hearts and deeds."

President Clinton--accompanied by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton--continued the theme of tolerance and unity, citing the Koran, the Torah and the Bible as he urged the crowd to consider what it means to love one's neighbor in an increasingly global society. He bemoaned the world's "inability to love our closest neighbors as ourselves if they look or worship differently from the rest of us."

"The world is growing smaller and more interdependent," he said. "The point I would like to make to you today is, as time and space contract, the wisdom of the human heart must expand. We must be able to love our neighbors and accept our essential oneness."

Donald McLaughlin, regional director of advancement for Prison Fellowship Ministries in Granger, Ind., praised the speakers' call for an inclusive society.

"We do live in a global society, and the differences between us don't amount to a hill of beans," he said. "God doesn't see differences--and it's great to see leaders taking a moment to realize that."

Also during the event, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the papal ambassador to the United States, read a statement from Pope John Paul II calling for the United States to commit itself to the anti-abortion cause.

"This is the great civil rights issue of our time, and the world looks to the United States for leadership in cherishing every human life and in providing legal protection for all members of the human community, but especially those who are weakest and most vulnerable," the pontiff said.

Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, delivered the event's closing prayer on behalf of his father, who was recuperating from elective surgery he had on Jan. 27 to remove a benign sinus polyp. Also, the elder Graham's wife, Ruth, is recuperating from hip replacement surgery.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad