4

Obama’s National Prayer Breakfast Remarks

Obamas in Church - Sunday, January 20, 2013

Obamas in Church – Sunday, January 20, 2013

Let’s Have a Different Conversation

At the National Prayer Breakfast last week, 52 of the 2,878 words spoken by President Barack Obama set off a firestorm in the world of journalism and social media. Many conservative Christians were offended by his contention that the actions of Christians in fighting the Crusades, conducting the Inquisition, and justifying slavery and Jim Crow laws in America were morally equivalent to some of the current atrocities being committed by Muslims. Opinion pieces in leading magazines and newspapers defended or criticized the president’s argument and discussed why it provoked such great outrage.

One commentator contended that religious conservatives were also upset by Obama’s claim that doubt plays an essential role in Christian faith. The president declared that “the starting point of faith is some doubt—not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others.” To support Obama’s position, an “Atlantic Monthly” correspondent cited a similar statement by Pope Francis: “The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our own certainties; we must be humble.”

In editorials, op-eds, and comment sections and on blogs and Facebook, many Americans protested that Obama’s remarks were inappropriate given the United States’ separation of church and state and pined for presidents who would refuse to attend or at least speak at the National Prayer Breakfast (which they have consistently done since it began in 1953; in fact, the event was called the Presidential Prayer Breakfast until 1970). Presidents have clearly believed that they have the right, just as all other Americans do, to express their religious convictions at such gatherings. Moreover, in numerous speeches in varied settings, many chief executives have testified to their own faith, celebrated the nation’s religious heritage, and evoked God’s aid in times of crisis and calamity.

However, rather than joining the debate over Obama’s analysis of the role Christianity plays in promoting violence and condoning racism, the importance of doubt in Christian faith, or the right of a president to discuss his personal religious views, I want to focus on a different issue. Instead of arguing about these three issues, having a national conversation about a theme Obama spent much more time on—how to remedy the social ills that plague our world—would be much more constructive.

The president argued that faith inspires people “to feed the hungry and care for the poor, and comfort the afflicted and make peace.” He urged his listeners to be true to God, “His word, and His commandments.” He quoted the Jewish Torah, the Islamic Hadith, and the Christian Bible to emphasize that the Golden Rule is central to all three religions. Obama challenged people to love one another more fully and “to see our own reflection in each other.” As he has done in more than 80 speeches during his presidency, Obama exhorted Americans to be their “brother’s keepers and sister’s keepers.”

“As children of God,” Obama asserted, “let’s work to end [the] injustice” of poverty, hunger, and homelessness. “No one should ever suffer from such want amidst such plenty. He urged people to defend “the dignity and value of every woman, and man, and child, because we are all equal in His eyes, and work to end the scourge and the sin of modern-day slavery and human trafficking, and ‘set the oppressed free.’”

Obama quoted the admonition of Micah “to do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God” (6:8), the comforting words of Isaiah that those who hope in the Lord “will run and not be weary, and walk and not be faint (40:31), and the Apostle Paul’s counsel to “put on love” (Colossians 3:14). He concluded that on earth we will never fully fathom God’s “amazing grace” or “awesome love.”

Obama’s staunchest critics view such statements as disingenuous, as pious platitudes designed to please a religious audience and deceive the public about his true beliefs. No matter what his true intentions were, these are Obama’s remarks that we should be discussing. Today one out of five people on our planet live in extreme poverty, more than 800 million people suffer chronically from hunger, and about 160 million children under the age of five are stunted in their physical development. The world’s richest 85 individuals have about the same amount of wealth as the poorer 50 percent of the world’s people combined. An estimated 35 million individuals are victims of human trafficking. According to a recent study, in the United States, 23 percent of children live in poverty and one in 30 children were homeless at some point in 2013.

Thankfully we are making progress in reducing the scourges that afflict humanity today, but we still have a long way to go. We clearly have the resources to alleviate these social evils. What we lack is the will to do so. So let’s shift our national discussion to the more important issue of how people espousing different faiths and ideologies we can work together to remedy these ills.


Dr. Gary Scott Smith chairs the history department at Grove City College, is a fellow for faith and the presidency with The Center for Vision & Values, and is the author of Faith and the Presidency From George Washington to George W. Bush (Oxford University Press, 2009) and Heaven in the American Imagination (Oxford University Press, 2011).
Filed under: » » »
  • goral

    Man, did you get sucked in, Dr. Smith. The guys credentials for “getting on his his high horse” are-
    Suing Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of The Poor, for all their contributions to the community.
    Promoting anti-family legislation
    Supporting behavior in his own community that keeps mothers and children in poverty.
    Supporting regimes around the world that keep their people hurting.
    The guy has zero credibility as does the party that launched a war on poverty, which made them wealthy indeed.
    This “healthcare” and poverty pimp is cut from the same cloth as Jackson and Sharpton. Shameless demagogues, all of them.

    The larger disgrace is that they get a forum in any legitimate gathering.
    Talk about remedies for poverty in a different discussion than one which gives the demacrats any semblance of respectability.

  • Guy McClung

    Scourges? Based on the type of statistics you like, Dr Smith, why did you not mention abortion? About 4000 dead each day in America. About 100,000,000 girls dead worldwide due to sex selection abortion – ie dead because they were female. About 30,000,000 dead minority babies in America since Roe, almost 60% of all aboritons here although their mamas make up less than thrity percent of the population. Hunger? Poverty? Malnourished? Yes these are of concern-but dead is dead, never to be hungry, never to be poor, never to be loved on this earth or kissed; and racist eugenics is racist eugenics no matter what “quality of life” camouflage one hides behind. Scourges? What about present-day racist holocausts? What is needed is for Mother Teresa to return to the Prayer Breakfast – she had her priorities right while Loving now-Grandpa Bill and Hillary now the very-public Grandmother sat stone faced (with Al great inventor and Tipper), Mother Teresa, who had her priorities in order about hunger, poverty, disease . . . and life, spoke of the “unborn child” in Mary’s womb and of Baby John leaping with joy in
    his mother’s womb. She spoke of mother love and of a lack of love for the
    unborn based on selfishness. And then the stone faces of the death dealers
    hardened even more when she said:

    “But I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because Jesus said, ‘If you receive a little child, you receive me.’ So every abortion is the denial of receiving Jesus.”

    Except for Bill and Hill and Al and Tipper, the room erupted in a long loud standing ovation. The heads of the Democrat Party, the Party Of Death, I believe did not clap once. Guy McClung, San Antonio

    • goral

      Thank you Guy. They are the deathocrats. Death is their stock and trade. Right now the Democrat Obama is promoting abortion, birth control and other politically motivated atrocities around the world. Why? because he can. Because Boehner is tanning, because Roberts is smiling and because Ruth Bater possum is dosing. That’s the state of the union. The state of Mother Church is not much better. Look for Francis to do a hip hop video to fight poverty as did our hip hop punk president for his lawless “obamacare”. It’s sickening.

  • Florian

    Would we have listened to Hitler speaking eloquently about a world of peace and goodness, with plenty for all, with justice and mercy for all? You cannot separate the words from the person speaking them. Obama as an advocate for the mass slaughter of millions of human babies in the womb; he is the only Senator that voted against the born alive infant act – twice – which would have provided comfort and care for a baby who survived attempts to kill him – that is cold to the extreme. Words coming from the mouth of one who promotes, aids and abets evil cannot be listened to – however kind and eloquent they are, they are shrouded in evil..sheer evil and fall back into the darkness from whence they came. The devil often appears as light and goodness…beware!