Two groups are scheduled to protest the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. on Thursday morning. GetEQUAL, a homosexual activist group and Occupy DC will organize outside of the Washington Hilton Hotel to stand against The Fellowship Foundation, also known as "The Family" and "the rich and famous."
Started in the 1953 and held on the first Thursday in February, the National Prayer Breakfast attracts the district's most powerful residents including the president, members of Congress, lobbyists and top business leaders. Every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has participated in the annual event.
Notable dignitaries who have keynoted the event in past years include Mother Teresa, Bono and Tony Blair.
GetEQUAL describes itself as a direct-action lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization whose mission is to hold accountable those who stand in the way of equal "rights" for their members. However, the real intent of their protest is to draw attention to The Fellowship Foundation, also referred to as "The Family."
The protests are designed to send the message that attendance at the breakfast event equates to support of persecution of LGBT people worldwide.
"Demonstrators from GetEQUAL will remind 'The Family' and all those attending the National Prayer Breakfast that Jesus taught love for everyone, and anyone who hates and persecutes others in his name is grossly misguided," said Michael Dixon, a lead organizer for the DC chapter of GetEQUAL.
"People die and families are destroyed when 'The Family' is allowed to advance its agenda of anti-LGBT hatred and discrimination. We're going to remind our elected representatives and others that the whole world is watching."
The controversy surrounding the protest goes much deeper than the event itself and the two groups organizing the protest have different agendas.
Occupy DC protesters will be on hand to object to the event's "exclusivity" and for catering to the "one percent" while the 99 percent of U.S. citizens are experiencing economic hardship.
Founded in 1935 by a former Methodist circuit rider named Abraham Vereide, what is now known as The Fellowship Foundation started holding breakfast meetings to bring political leaders of different backgrounds and faiths together. In the early fifties the group merged with other prayer groups and named their annual event the National Prayer Breakfast.
But the group has come under intense scrutiny over the three-story mansion the group runs on C Street, near the Capitol and most of the congressional office buildings, for subsidizing rent and living expenses for many members of Congress.
Critics describe the group as "secretive" and "exclusive," by saying they are too partisan and attempt to unduly influence domestic and foreign policy by holding secret meetings. But the group has attracted Democrats and Republicans, some of whom include former President Ronald Reagan, both Bushes, former Sen. and now Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R), former Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.), Rep. Health Shuler (D-N.C.) and former Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio).
"If people in this country knew how many Democrats and Republicans pray together and actually like each other behind closed doors, they would be amazed," Hall said in a 2009 interview with Newsweek. "The Fellowship is simply, 'men and women who are trying to get right with God. Trying to follow God, learn how to love him, and learn how to love each other.'"
Mark Tooley, who heads up the Institute on Religion and Democracy, defended the foundation in an article in Wednesday's The American Spectator.
"Of course, the National Prayer Breakfast is primarily about schmoozing, not 'butt kicking,'" explained Tooley. "Exposés like Jeff Sharlet's 2008 book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, have imagined The Fellowship as a high-octane push for Christian theocracy. Whatever the fanciful theories about its organizer, the National Prayer Breakfast is a mostly admirable tradition that provokes politicians into at least momentarily expressing high minded religious principles."
When asked what he wanted to see come from the National Prayer Breakfast, Tooley told The Christian Post, "I want to see Christ exalted in some way. But even for the non-Christians who attend, it is a good event for people to come together and discuss a number of important issues impacting society."
President Barack Obama is scheduled to attend this year's event, along with many members of Congress. Eric Metaxas, author of the New York Times bestseller, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and a former Veggie Tales writer, will be the keynote speaker for the breakfast.