(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump told attendees at the annual National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday that he stands behind them, even as speakers bemoaned the level of division in the country and what one described as a “fracturing of the American family.”
“I will never let you down,” Trump told an audience that included members of his Cabinet and Congress, including Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — whom he did not acknowledge.
The pledge came two days after Trump offered a fierce denunciation of late-term abortion in his annual State of the Union address as he moved to re-energize evangelical voters, who have been among his most loyal supporters and who will be vital to his 2020 re-election bid.
“We must build a culture that cherishes the dignity and sanctity of innocent human life,” Trump said, adding that: “All children, born and unborn, are made in the holy image of God.”
Trump also praised Karen Pence, the wife of Vice President Mike Pence, as an “incredible second lady” and noted that she recently began teaching art classes at a Christian school, applauding the move.
The Immanuel Christian School in Northern Virginia has been criticized for its policy barring gay students, parents and employees. A document posted on its website says the school can refuse admission or discontinue the enrollment of any student “if the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home, the activities of a parent or guardian, or the activities of the student are counter to, or are in opposition to, the biblical lifestyle the school teaches,” including “participating in, supporting, or condoning sexual immorality, homosexual activity or bi-sexual activity.”
Trump also thanked faith leaders for their efforts helping to pass criminal justice reform legislation, which he signed last year.
“As president I will always cherish, honor and protect the believers who uplift our communities and sustain our nation,” he said.
The president was among several speakers at the event, which included a reading by the Most Rev. Michael Curry, who made headlines around the world last year with his stirring sermon about the power of love at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Gary Haugen, of the International Justice Mission, spoke before Trump and talked at length about what he described as a “fracturing of the American family.”
“I do sense that we are in a national moment of perilously mounting discouragement,” he said. “Our tribal divisions, our institutional dysfunctions, our desperate winner-take-all contests of cultural resistance or survival, they seem to be pressing in our chests with a swelling anxiety of national disintegration.”
Still, he pointed to issues including criminal justice reform and combatting the opioid epidemic as areas where the country could come together.
“Even in this divided era, there is good that we all agree should be done,” he said.
Guatemala’s ambassador to the U.S., Manuel Espina, offered prayers for Trump, saying: “We pray that you’ll give him the wisdom and the knowledge to lead this country under your principles and guidance.”
And Dr. Lance Plyler, of the Samaritan’s Purse evangelical Christian organization, argued that, regardless of skin color, language, religion or country of residence, “We are all equal in the eyes of God” and “all neighbors.”
Trump is the 12th president to speak at the annual breakfast, which has been attended by every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower.