WASHINGTON – In this deeply partisan political climate, it may come as a surprise to many that a group of Senate Democrats and Republicans come together each week to pray.
"It is literally the most liberal Democrats and the most conservative Republicans," Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) tells CBN News. "It's not just the centrist group."
Best Hour of the Week
Coons, who co-chairs the group with Republican Sen. James Lankford, describes it as the best hour of his week.
"We do two things we don't otherwise do, we listen to each other and we trust each other," continued Coons.
The only non-senator present is Senate Chaplain Barry Black. Each week, a different senator is picked to share a message with the group.
Sharing and Building Community
"What you're sharing is exactly what an opposition research guy would want to know in your next campaign – your weakness," explains Coons. "How have you fallen short? What's been difficult about your childhood, your marriage, or your public service? These aren't just sort of easy two dimensional – these are folks really sharing of themselves to each other and that's what makes it special, that's what really builds community is risking together – and it's a wonderful experience."
Lasting Friendships Made Through Prayer
They close each meeting holding hands in prayer. Coons says friendships made in the prayer group have helped improve his working relationships with members.
"Look, it's really tough to throw a punch, at least verbally, on the floor of the Senate or in an interview when that morning you were holding hands in prayer and that's powerful, that's important," says Coons. "It gives you a real insight into someone's walk with the Lord to hear them pray on a weekly basis. It just lays a basis for a very different sort of relationship."
Yes, Washington is as Divided as You Think
We asked Sen. Coons if, from his perspective, Washington is as divided as it feels on the news.
"Yes," he replied. "I'll tell you the thing that's easy to miss is that we've got some incredibly smart and capable senators who all came here intending to make the country better, yet we find it awfully hard to compromise."
One of the trends hurting relationships on the Hill is a lack of social interaction because lawmakers don't live here anymore.
"A generation or two ago, all senators moved their families here. And so they knew each other as parents on the edge of a soccer or baseball field as much as they knew each other as combatants on the Senate floor," said Coons.
Making Genuine Friends Across Party Lines
"Joe Biden, who preceded me talked a lot at home about his strong relationships – when I was younger and in politics he'd talk about 'my friend Orrin Hatch,' or 'my friend John McCain' and I thought, oh come on, you guys – you don't share any core political views and I got here and I got the experience and I'd have to say the blessing of serving with, legislating with, traveling with Sen. McCain, Senator Hatch and a dozen other colleagues I came to realize it really is possible to be genuine friends," continued Coons.
Coons says one of his best friends and mentors here is someone with whom he shares no political views, Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia.
"If you're willing to do the work, if you're willing to travel together, meet each other's families, you can build amazing relationships here," says Coons.
He admits though, some take a long time to heal – such as the recent Supreme Court confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
"There was a particularly heated exchange with Senator Graham who I've traveled with, I've legislated with – I'm fairly close to Senator Graham. And that was a particularly hard moment for me," recalled Coons.
A week later, Graham reached out to Coons with an invitation to meet with Jared Kushner and hear the administration's plan for peace in the Middle East. He admitted it took a few days of consideration before finally accepting.
"I came home, and my wife said 'what are you doing meeting with Lindsey Graham?' and I said, honey, I'm still mad about the Kavanaugh hearings don't get me wrong – I'm still upset about that. But it was a meeting about peace and my job is to figure out a way to keep working with Senator Graham on the things we care about and are important to our country
Coons hopes in time they can they can overcome the past and reconcile.
"It's hard. It's not easy to get over some of the fights we have here but that's what I think the people of Delaware hired me to do – is to stick to principle on issues of core principle, but work across the aisle and find ways to work together and respect each other," explained Coons.
The World is Watching
A strong motivation for Coons to work to restore relationships is his awareness that the world is watching.
"In dozens of countries around the world they look at the Senate, they look at the Congress, they look at the United States and they say democracy doesn't work – that's bad," says Coons. "So I remind my colleagues, look, folks, it's not just our kids who are watching. It's our kids, it's the rest of the world, and it's history and we have to show that this is the best way to resolve conflict peaceably and that we can really solve those problems that the average American wants us to tackle."
Coons says he's hopeful that the upcoming divided Congress can force both parties to compromise on major issues that Americans are ready to see resolved.