Dwight Eisenhower was the first U.S. president to speak at a national prayer breakfast. It was in 1953. From the beginning, the idea was to include representatives of all religious faiths in America that were interested in participating.
Ministers, priests and rabbis have always been included, and even an imam recently. In Bakersfield, the committee that organizes our local event has in the past been inclusive and egalitarian. There have been Catholic, Jewish and Mormon speakers, as well as Protestants. The last few years, though, have become more exclusively fundamentalist Christian, to the exclusion of other faiths. If fundamentalists, or any other religion or sect, want to have a prayer breakfast, that is their sacred right.
However, when one sect or religious faith advertises with the city logo and links its prayer breakfast with the national model, it should not be exclusive and narrow. But that is the case with the 33rd annual Bakersfield Prayer Breakfast, which takes place Jan. 31 at the Rabobank Convention Center.
People of many faiths fight our wars, pay taxes, raise families and participate in community organizations at every level. To proclaim through religious exclusivity at a public event that those who do not adhere to a specified religion are not welcome, or that their faith is not worthy enough to be included, diminishes not only the concept of the national prayer breakfast but the dignity of every human being in our city.
If in fact there is only one God and he is the father of all, then God hears all of our prayers, doesn't he?
At a time when our country is under siege by terrorists and rogue nations arm themselves in the hope of our destruction, should we divide and weaken our communities by using religion as a weapon to crush those who are in minority faiths? Is that what our holy books teach us? Is that what our Founding Fathers had in mind for our future?
We have all been to military cemeteries where comrades in arms are buried side by side, regardless of their religious heritage. Why can't those above ground understand the brotherhood and respect for our neighbors as the Good Book implores us to do?
In fact, of all the things that make Bakersfield such a wonderful place to live, good neighbors top the list. And it is people that find within the pages of their bibles reasons to love their neighbor rather than hate him, that blesses us with such warmth and kindness.
Maybe next year, the committee for the Bakersfield Prayer Breakfast will see fit to invite a broader range of participants to hold hands in prayer for our great city. If they do, it is doubtful that their religion will suffer from a humility overdose after all.
The event planners should seriously consider asking themselves: "What would Eisenhower do?"
Mike Miller of Bakersfield is a steel fabrication estimator for a local manufacturer.