By Maria Saporta
At the Rotary Club of Atlanta’s annual Interfaith Business Prayer breakfast, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) described another side of Washington, D.C. not readily apparent from today’s news reports.
Just 24 hours earlier, Isakson said he and fellow senators of both parties had been holding hands during a morning prayer. It is a weekly ritual that occurs every Wednesday morning — the Senate prayer breakfast — when a group of senators — sometimes it’s 15 and other times it’s 35 of them — get together to sing hymns and pray.
“You would never know that from watching C-SPAN,” Isakson said, alluding to the partisanship plaguing Washington, D.C. in recent years.
Recognizing that he was representing a group of politicians with an 11 percent popularity rating — a rating that “we have pretty much earned” — Isakson said reassured those at the breakfast that “there are good people doing good things in Washington, D.C.”
Most of Isakson’s message to Rotarians, however, revolved around his own faith and view of religion.
When he was growing up, a Muslim foreign student shared his room, so Isakson remembered having a prayer rug by his bed. Also, sometimes the Swedish-American was thought to be of Jewish heritage.
“I have a Jewish-sounding last name,” said Isakson, who remembered being in a car with people about to make an anti-Semitic comment and stopping themselves because they thought Isakson might be Jewish.
“I’ve always been sensitive to religion and faith,” said Isakson, who expressed respect for all religions. “Prayer is the common denominator.”
Isakson then shared his “six silent secrets” in life: knowledge, respect, ethics, love, dreaming and faith.
And he shared his favorite verse from the Bible — one that is only five words so it’s easy to remember: “Rejoice evermore. Pray without season.”
Every morning when he gets up, Isakson said he’s always thankful — first for just being alive — and then for being born in Atlanta, representing Georgia and serving the United States — “the best country on Earth. We all have so much to be thankful for.”
Isakson was introduced by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who spoke glowingly about Isakson’s leadership style. The Democratic mayor then said he should probably hold back so that Isakson won’t get in too much trouble with the Republican party by getting such praise from a Democrat.
But Isakson didn’t seem to mind. When he stood up to speak, Isakson said that Atlanta has had many great mayors, but “we’ve had none better than Kasim Reed.”
He then said that the U.S. House last week passed a bill that would free up money to deepen the Port of Savannah. The U.S. Senate already had passed a similar bill.
“A lot of people deserve credit for that, but none more than Kasim Reed,” Isakson said, adding that the mayor had been working as hard as any one in Georgia to get federal funding for the Savannah port.
The Rotary prayer breakfast was begun 15 years ago by retired BellSouth executive Frank Skinner, who believed the Atlanta business and civic community needed a morning when people of all faiths could come together to contemplate life beyond the mundane day-to-day challenges that they face week-in and week-out.
After the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, the Atlanta Interfaith Business Prayer breakfast began including Muslim prayers from the Koran as its way of showing respect for all the world’s religions and seeking to alleviate the prejudice that was intensifying at the time.