Former Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) is no longer running the new National Prayer Breakfast (NPB), TYT has learned.

Pryor’s unexpected departure as president of the board that runs the new event is raising concerns among secular, religious, and LGBTQ+ leaders. The new NPB spun off this year after years of scandal around right-wing aspects of the 70-year-old event and its organizers.

The original NPB was created and run by the controversial Fellowship Foundation, popularly known as The Family. In the wake of revelations about right-wing funding and anti-LGBTQ+ activism at the original breakfast, Democratic leaders began dropping it, threatening its cultivated image of nonpartisanship.

Pryor’s commitments of openness and transparency around the new event are now in doubt. Critics of the breakfast had met with Pryor in February and say he seemed “very receptive.” But internally, Pryor was pressured from the right not to engage with the media. His pledges of openness and transparency are now in limbo.

The breakfast split in two as of Feb. 2 this year, with Pres. Joe Biden no longer going to the original event, as presidents did for decades, but to the new, smaller NPB now being held simultaneously at the visitors center on Capitol Hill.

Pryor had promoted the new NPB as “different” from the original. Anti-LGBTQ+ leader Franklin Graham, for instance, a secret backer of past NPBs, was “not in the mix” anymore, Pryor told TYT in January. “For right now, we're keeping it very, sort of, down the middle.”

But an internal email obtained by TYT revealed one longtime breakfast leader, former Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN), pressuring Pryor to prevent “division” between the two events. Wamp sits on the new board and continued to be involved with the original breakfast.

Nor was Wamp the only Family insider on the ostensibly new board. Even before the new NPB launched, TYT revealed that all the board members of the new NPB Foundation had ties to The Family and the old breakfast. A source close to The Family told TYT that the board members “probably don’t have issues” with how the NPB used to run.

Right-wing breakfast organizers have used the event to bolster global political networks opposed to LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights. Concerns that the smaller event on Capitol Hill would still be politicized were quickly vindicated.

As TYT reported, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) broke the new NPB’s rules by bringing a non-constituent, former gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake. Gosar’s office justified the violation on religious grounds, telling TYT, “At no time did Jesus ask where Kari Lake lived before accepting worship.”

Before the new NPB launched, Pryor told TYT that the constituent guest rule was instituted to make the event resemble weekly House and Senate prayer breakfasts. He said, “[E]verybody sort of checks the politics and the partisanship and all that stuff at the door.”

Lake did not. In a Steve Bannon interview later that day, Lake used the event to hint at divine retribution for the “crimes” of President Biden, just hours after his address. And while there were no consequences for breaking the rule, there was a political dividend. Grid Politics identified Lake’s NPB attendance as helping her to “stay buzzworthy as a potential 2024 candidate.”

It’s not clear whether Pryor quit or was pushed out of his role as president of the new NPB. Pryor had engaged with a coalition of secular, religious, and LGBTQ+ organizations to address concerns about the new event – and in a Feb. 24 meeting had indicated he’d still be on the board come September.

But when one coalition member, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), circled back with Pryor last month, he responded that he was out. In a Sept. 26 email shared with TYT, Pryor informed the FFRF that he “rotated off the board 2-3 months ago.”

In a brief email to TYT on Monday, Pryor confirmed that “I rotated off the National Prayer Breakfast Foundation Board about 4 months ago,” and said, “I am out of that loop.”

Pryor didn’t explain why he left, nor did he address TYT’s questions about events leading up to his departure.

(In Wamp’s Jan. 31 email to Pryor, Wamp wrote, “I made it very clear you would be wise to not speak to this group [TYT]. You have zero obligation to get in the weeds with these snakes. They aren’t honorable so it’s very unfair to you and us.”)

FFRF Action Fund President Annie Laurie Gaylor told TYT, “We commend Senator Pryor for having the integrity to sever his connection with this dubious enterprise."

Bishop Joseph Tolton of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, faith coordinator for the Council on Global Equality, was also a member of the coalition. “When we heard news of the [breakfast] split, we believed that … the far more conservative members were no longer going to be in charge of the prayer breakfast that would be attended by congressional players,” Tolton told TYT. “Apparently that wasn’t the case and they just moved some pieces on the chess board to be able to give an appearance that was not a reflection of reality.”

Pryor’s departure, Tolton said, “suggests to me that that was a bit of a ruse and that they did it on many levels to throw us off of a trail.”

Tolton said that, “We as a coalition need to have some more conversation about revisiting this because the problem clearly has not been solved.” The coalition consists of 30 organizations, with secular ones such as American Atheists, the American Humanist Association, and the Secular Coalition for America alongside the Auburn Theological Seminary and other religious organizations, as well as LGBTQ+ advocacy groups including Lambda Legal, Campus Pride, and the Bayard Rustin Liberation Initiative.

Referring to the original event, Gaylor said, “The primary purpose of the National Prayer Breakfast was to grant fundamentalist Christians, such as Franklin Graham, access to power. Attempting to separate the President and Members of Congress from the influence-peddling bazaar at the Hilton breakfast while upholding a commitment to transparency was never a viable solution.”

The fate of Pryor’s commitment to transparency is unclear. Gaylor told TYT that Pryor “said he would work with the National Prayer Breakfast Foundation to be as transparent as possible.” According to Gaylor, “He would disclose the donors… He understood that in years past there was a strong evangelical bent to the breakfast and he wanted to change that.”

But Gaylor said that Pryor was the only member of the NPB Foundation board that was in touch with the coalition. They’ve heard nothing from the board since their Feb. 24 meeting with Pryor.

Asked about donor disclosure by TYT in January, Pryor said that he would “go back to the board and see what everybody’s ready to disclose right now.”

He said that, after the Feb. 2 breakfast, “I think we’ll have some type of disclosure…I don’t know if we’re gonna really name specific people or more do it by [donor] type.”

Whether Pryor never asked, or he did but the board rebuffed him, remains unclear. But eight months later, the public still has no information from the NPB Foundation about the backers or even the cost of an event attended by the president and promoted as a semi-official congressional event. A request for comment submitted through the foundation website got no response.

Last year, TYT revealed that the NPB’s sole backer – aside from ticket purchasers – was Graham, a global crusader against LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights. As TYT and others have reported, Family insiders have covertly used the original NPB and its spinoffs in other countries to bolster that crusade.

“The duplicitous nature of how they’re operating is now very clear.” Tolton said. “This mode of operation is completely in keeping with what the Dominionist machine on the right has decided is going to be the way in which they're going to operate,” he added.

“They have no intention of abiding by those [new NPB] rules because [doing so] means that the prayer breakfast does not become an arena for being able to introduce folks with a very particularly conservative agenda … to members of Congress, and creating this context and an environment where all sorts of unfortunate deals can be made,” Tolton claimed. “They obviously have every intention of continuing to operate as they have.”

Most notably, author Jeff Sharliet revealed how The Family stood up an evangelical network in Uganda that then pushed an anti-LGBTQ+ death penalty there. Sharlet’s work formed the basis of two critical books and a Netflix documentary series called “The Family.”

More recently, TYT revealed how NPB leaders were still active in Uganda and boosting right-wing networks in Ukraine and other countries. TYT also reported that anti-LGBTQ+ leaders from other countries were among the guests at The Family’s original event, now known as the NPB Gathering, which Biden greeted remotely from the simultaneous Capitol Hill NPB.

MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell was radicalized both politically and religiously by Family insiders and associates over a couple years time. The breakfast played a significant role in that process, as TYT reported.

And Graham wasn’t the breakfast’s only right-wing backer. Poultry magnate Ronnie Cameron, a GOP megadonor, has given The Family millions of dollars and even served on its board. Pryor said the new NPB wouldn’t take money from either man, or from anyone on extreme ends of the political spectrum.

But Wamp opposed disclosing details. “More stories and more slander will only lead to more division,” Wamp wrote in his Jan. 31 email to Pryor. “There is no ‘deadline,’” he claimed, referring to the deadline cited in TYT’s request for comment. “Don’t be bullied by the far right or the far left please.”

Wamp also pushed to preserve unity with the original breakfast, in contrast to the public spin on the new NPB as autonomous. (The original breakfast was marketed falsely for decades as a creation of Congress and the White House, supercharging its effectiveness for The Family’s networking efforts.)

After multiple revelations by TYT about The Family’s secret activities, Democrats had begun dropping the original event. Recent no-shows included then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and a growing number of House members, after progressive Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Ted Lieu (D-CA) publicly distanced themselves.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) has remained The Family’s most important Democratic ally, and has repeatedly declined to respond to TYT. But after TYT revealed the breakfast split, Coons explained to the Associated Press, “Some questions had been raised about our ability as members of Congress to say that we knew exactly how [the breakfast] was being organized, who was being invited, how it was being funded. Many of us who’d been in leadership roles really couldn’t answer those questions.”

Wamp and other Family insiders took umbrage at even Coons’ mild acknowledgment of Democratic concerns. In his email to Pryor he suggested that criticism constituted an attack on The Family’s last undisputed leader, Doug Coe, who died in 2017.

“The “Fellowship” members are already upset about Sen Coons comments and what they see as defaming of the Coe legacy,” Wamp warned Pryor. “Heard today ‘the new group is just throwing us under the bus’.”

If Wamp succeeded in shifting Pryor’s approach, it wasn’t evident at a meeting almost a month later. On Feb. 24, according to Gaylor, “members of the Coalition, including FFRF, sat down with Senator Pryor via Zoom for well over an hour. We laid out our concerns about the breakfast and he seemed very receptive. He made a commitment to openness and transparency.”

In a statement, FFRF Director of Governmental Affairs Mark Dann told TYT, “I’ll miss [Pryor]. He is a very honorable man. We may have disagreed on the Breakfast itself but he’s someone we could do business with and work with. He showed me and my fellow coalition members nothing but respect, goodwill, and kindness.”

Jonathan Larsen is TYT’s managing editor. You can find him on Twitter @JTLarsen.