WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris heard from leaders from a wide array of religious traditions Thursday in the National Prayer Service, a day after they were sworn into office to lead a sharply polarized country.
An inaugural tradition that went online this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the service involved faith leaders from backgrounds ranging from Episcopal to Catholic to Jewish to the Navajo Nation.
The Rev. William Barber II, a civil rights activist, delivered a homily that invoked the Bible's book of Isaiah in urging Biden and Harris to act as “repairers of the breach” and heal a divided nation.
“Whether we like it or not, we are in this mess together,” Barber said. Before the breach can be repaired, he said, the nation must “repent of the policy sin” that has led to systemic inequality.
Barber also spoke to each about their personal backgrounds: In the president's case, living through childhood economic hardship and later the “broken heart” of losing family members; and for Harris, the first Black woman to occupy the vice presidency, experiencing the sting of racism.
Some of the leaders who spoke had campaigned on their behalf, including Sikh activist Valarie Kaur and Rabbi Sharon Brous of Los Angeles' IKAR congregation.
Several addressed the spiritual fallout from the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection by supporters of President Donald Trump supporters. Brous called for “a new America that finally abolishes the heresy of white supremacy and enlists all of us in dismantling racism and lifting up a theology of radical equality.”
The lineup did not include any ordained representative of white evangelicals, who overwhelmingly backed Trump in the election, though Jen Hatmaker, a prominent evangelical author, took part.