More than 100 people from diverse faith traditions attended the second annual Religious Freedom Prayer Breakfast hosted by the North American Division (NAD) of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
The event, held on January 16, 2020, recognized Religious Freedom Day in the United States and included prayer for elected officials, the community, and the nation; for peace and places of worship; and for unity of spirit. Adventist, Jewish, Muslim, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and non-denominational Christian representatives offered the various petitions. Several NAD leaders participated through prayer and music.
Special greetings from the governor’s office were shared by Boyd Rutherford, lieutenant governor of Maryland. Jonathan L. Weaver, senior pastor of the Greater Mt. Nebo African Methodist Episcopal Church and social justice advocate, delivered remarks during the prayer breakfast.
This commemorative day dates back to 1786, but, said Orlan Johnson, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the NAD, “religious freedom faces ongoing challenges in current public policy debates.”
During the welcome, Johnson invited those gathered to take the time to contemplate the religious freedom we enjoy while recognizing that “preserving or obtaining this freedom for future generations should be a concern of all citizens and all government at all levels.”
Rutherford, during his remarks, talked about recent assaults on places of worship across the country. “It’s disheartening and concerning to hear of attacks targeting people because of their religion, no matter if it’s a church in South Carolina or a synagogue in Pennsylvania or a mosque in California,” he said. “We should all be willing to stand up for those who are subject to attacks, even if their views on religion are a little different from yours or mine. An attack on someone’s religious beliefs is an attack on all of us.”
The lieutenant governor ended by saying that the faith community is essential. “There are a lot of challenges that we face every day in our state, and many of them, I feel personally, are being respectively addressed with the help of the faith community.”
Weaver encouraged attendees to address the issues of racism and religious intolerance. “We exercise within our places of worship spiritual freedom, but how much time do we spend with the people of a different worship experience?” he asked.
“How wonderful, how beautiful when brothers and sisters get along! There’s so much more that should unite us within the human family than that which divides us,” Weaver said. “We have a desire to have a better life for our children. We look for peace to abound, where the dignity of people is respected and valued, and where the lives of other people are made better. We are all creatures of the Creator, and we’re called to love all of humanity. For peace’s sake.”
Seven special prayers were offered during the event. The prayer for elected officials was given by Adrienne Townsend-Benton, an Adventist chaplain and lieutenant commander in the Chaplain Corps, United States Navy.
A prayer for peace and places of worship followed. “Grant wisdom and common sense to those individuals who mistakenly nourish hatred in their hearts for places of worship other than their own,” Imam Mubashire Ahmad prayed. “Oh, loving God, take the misplaced hatred out of their hearts and grant them love and good judgment to live in peace and harmony, to have love for all and hatred for none as members of one human family.”
“We express gratitude and thanks for the many churches in our community and for the men and women who lead them, and we ask You to bless them that their efforts might be sanctified and magnified by that Holy Spirit,” Eric Baxter, president of the Silver Spring Stake, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in prayer for the community.
He added, “We pray that they might be effective in turning the hearts of men and women in our community to Thee [sic] and looking to Thee for guidance in all the challenges and opportunities that are before us.”
NAD vice presidents Bonita J. Shields and Tony Anobile each offered prayer. Shields prayed for religious freedom, while Anobile closed the event with prayer for unity of spirit.
“I pray that we will not think in terms of liberal or conservative, left wing or right wing, but that as one body we will focus on what is central and not what is peripheral. Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:3 that ‘we should endeavor to keep the unity of spirit and the body of peace.’ We ask for that unity today,” Anobile implored.
“We pray for our country and our leaders. We pray for our churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, cathedrals, and all places of worship. May we be so united that we hear and recognize His voice, and as we leave this place today, may we have the Pentecost experience.”