WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump delivered a God-and-country-infused speech Thursday at the National Prayer Breakfast, appealing to Americans who believe in Christian nationalism – the belief that God has a uniquely Christian purpose for the United States.
“We can all be heroes to everybody and they can be heroes to us,” Trump said, “as long as we open our hearts to God's grace, America will be free, the land of the free, the home of the brave and the light to all nations.”
The National Prayer Breakfast is a massive ecumenical gathering put on annually by a group of Christians who want to focus on a shared admiration of Jesus. Every president since Dwight Eisenhower has attended the event, which draws several thousand people from around the world, especially evangelicals, who have proved strong supporters of the Trump administration.
Trump's speech was also much more scripted than last year's, in which he joked about how the ratings of Trump's former reality TV show, “The Apprentice,” had fallen with former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Trump critic, as host.
This speech followed the line of previous presidents who highlight faith as a part of America's history and tradition, but Trump spent the bulk of his speech telling stories of Americans who sacrificed for others.
“America is a nation of believers, and together we are strengthened by the power of prayer,” Trump said.
The words “praise be to God” are etched on top of the Washington Monument, Trump noted, “and those same words are etched in the hearts of people.”
Trump's message focused on the inspiring stories of people who have gone through struggle but held onto hope and faith. Trump highlighted the Islamic State's torture of Christians, Jews, religious minorities and “countless Muslims.” Similarly, Trump spoke several times of the need to protect religious liberty, an issue that resonates with many evangelicals in his base.
“America will flourish, as long as our liberty, and in particular our religious liberty, is allowed to flourish,” he said.
The keynote speaker Thursday was Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the House majority whip who was shot in the hip last year in Alexandria, Virginia, during a practice for Congress' annual charity game. Scalise, who went through several surgeries and returned to Congress 15 weeks later, has said that the shooting gave him a “renewed faith.”
“It's only strengthened my faith in God, and it's really crystallized what shows up as the goodness in people,” he said in his first address to Congress after he returned in September. Scalise, who is Catholic, said that when he was lying on the field, the first thing he did was pray.