The Capitol's Room Without Politics
When Rep. Randy Forbes of Virginia picked a room in the U.S. Capitol Building to put prayer before politics, the Congressional Prayer Caucus was born.
"When I first started praying in Room 219 each week, it was often just me -- but I knew the power of the prayer personally from my own life, and felt the deep need for our country's leaders to unite in prayer for the future of our nation," Forbes, chairman of the Prayer Caucus, wrote to RealClearReligion.
Party and denominational affiliations are no match for the Prayer Caucus. Democrats, Republicans, Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, Mormons -- the list goes on -- are Caucus members.
"Today, it is typically standing room only as members from both sides of the aisle join together to pray before the first votes of the week," Forbes wrote.
Forbes co-chairs the Caucus with Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma whose election to the Senate in 2014 made the Prayer Caucus bicameral.
"There are people I will vote against probably 95 percent of the time, and we'll interpret some passages that we both read very differently, but I also understand that doesn't bother me in my faith," the junior senator from Oklahoma told RealClearReligion from his Washington, D.C., office. "That doesn't shake me in who I am, nor does it deter me from trying to cooperate with people."
For Lankford, faith is not an accessory. It is an identity.
"I don't think [faith and politics are] together or separate. My faith is who I am," he said. In June, Lankford was presented with the 2015 Distinguished Christian Statesmanship Award by the Center for Christian Statesmanship. (Forbes received the award in 2009).
The Center's mission is three-fold: to share the gospel with individuals on Capitol Hill, to help Christ-followers on the Hill mature in their faith, and to restore a vision of Christian statesmanship among politicians. George Roller, executive director of the nonpartisan Center, said that Lankford exemplifies all the above.
"There are many fine Christians in the House and the Senate, but James Lankford has just risen above them," Roller told RealClearReligion. "[Faith is] very much a part of who he is. That's one of the reasons we gave him the award. He's so sincere in his faith, and his faith is his life."
Roller said he met Lankford at a prayer breakfast on Capitol Hill for Oklahoma representatives shortly after Lankford was sworn in as a Representative. Since their first meeting, the two have gotten to know each other well, their relationship built upon a common faith.
"The times I've run into James...always the content of our conversation is about spiritual things," Roller said. "I don't know that we've ever discussed a bill that's being considered or whatever, because we just have so much fun talking about faith and what God is doing in our lives."
Article VI of the U.S. Constitution bars a religious litmus test for elected office, and Lankford says that's a good thing.
"The founders wanted to make sure that no one serving had to either have a faith or to set their faith aside," Lankford said.
For many, what the Caucus prays about hits home.
"We spend more time praying for needs of our families, needs back in our state, our staff, more than we do political or policy issues," Lankford said.
As for Lankford, he said his prayers are like those of the typical American. He prays for members of government -- specifically the president and Supreme Court justices -- the nation's safety and for upcoming legislation.
"They're real difficulties, and there's time when there are bills that are difficult here and become divisive," Lankford said. "I don't want us to, as a Congress, ignore hard things. I do believe God can bring resolution on things that are difficult. I'm going to pray them through."
And like Lankford, before the cameras roll, the votes are cast, and the bills are pitched, members of Congress pause for prayer in Room 219 -- a safe haven devoid of politics and partisanship.
"Room 219, though, will always be special to me because it's not about politics," Forbes wrote. "It's not about policies. It's simply about uniting in prayer for our nation."