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February 5, 2009

Obama Lauds Faith-Based Initiatives, Gives Personal Testimony in Prayer Breakfast Address

WASHINGTON -- President Obama referenced his plan to allow federal funding to faith-based organizations at the National Prayer Breakfast this morning.

In his the first religiously-themed speech of his presidency, Obama addressed a large gathering of Republicans and Democrats and other leaders at the Washington Hilton hotel. He Obama emphasized in his speech that his plan for the faith-based initiatives will not favor any religious group over another or religious groups over secular groups.

It will simply be to work on behalf of those organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state. This work is important, because whether it's a secular group advising families facing foreclosure or faith-based groups providing job-training to those who need work, few are closer to what's happening on our streets and in our neighborhoods than these organizations. People trust them. Communities rely on them. And we will help them.

Obama also spoke about the common themes found in religions. "No matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate," Obama said. "There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know."

He also spoke about his father's conversion from atheism to Islam, his mother's resistance to organized religion, and his own path to Christianity.

I didn't become a Christian until many years later, when I moved to the South Side of Chicago after college. It happened not because of indoctrination or a sudden revelation, but because I spent month after month working with church folks who simply wanted to help neighbors who were down on their luck ? no matter what they looked like, or where they came from, or who they prayed to. It was on those streets, in those neighborhoods, that I first heard God's spirit beckon me. It was there that I felt called to a higher purpose ? His purpose.

Here's a short portion of his speech.


C-SPAN has a full video and below are his prepared remarks:

Good morning. I want to thank the Co-Chairs of this breakfast, Representatives Heath Shuler and Vernon Ehlers. I'd also like to thank Tony Blair for coming today, as well
as our Vice President, Joe Biden, members of my Cabinet, members of Congress, clergy, friends, and dignitaries from across the world.

Michelle and I are honored to join you in prayer this morning. I know this breakfast has a long history in Washington, and faith has always been a guiding force in our family's life, so we feel very much at home and look forward to keeping this tradition alive during our time here.

It's a tradition that I'm told actually began many years ago in the city of Seattle. It was the height of the Great Depression, and most people found themselves out of work.
Many fell into poverty. Some lost everything.

The leaders of the community did all that they could for those who were suffering in their midst. And then they decided to do something more: they prayed. It didn't
matter what party or religious affiliation to which they belonged. They simply gathered one morning as brothers and sisters to share a meal and talk with God.

These breakfasts soon sprouted up throughout Seattle, and quickly spread to cities and towns across America, eventually making their way to Washington. A short time
after President Eisenhower asked a group of Senators if he could join their prayer breakfast, it became a national event. And today, as I see presidents and dignitaries here from every corner of the globe, it strikes me that this is one of the rare occasions that still brings much of the world together in a moment of peace and goodwill.

I raise this history because far too often, we have seen faith wielded as a tool to divide us from one another ? as an excuse for prejudice and intolerance. Wars have been
waged. Innocents have been slaughtered. For centuries, entire religions have been persecuted, all in the name of perceived righteousness.

There is no doubt that the very nature of faith means that some of our beliefs will never be the same. We read from different texts. We follow different edicts. We subscribe to different accounts of how we came to be here and where we're going next ? and some subscribe to no faith at all.

But no matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate. There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know.

We know too that whatever our differences, there is one law that binds all great religions together. Jesus told us to "love thy neighbor as thyself." The Torah commands, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow." In Islam, there is a hadith that reads "None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." And the same is true for Buddhists and Hindus; for followers of Confucius and for humanists. It is, of course, the Golden Rule ? the call to love one another; to understand one another; to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth.

It is an ancient rule; a simple rule; but also one of the most challenging. For it asks each of us to take some measure of responsibility for the well-being of people we
may not know or worship with or agree with on every issue. Sometimes, it asks us to reconcile with bitter enemies or resolve ancient hatreds. And that requires a living,
breathing, active faith. It requires us not only to believe, but to do ? to give something of ourselves for the benefit of others and the betterment of our world.

In this way, the particular faith that motivates each of us can promote a greater good for all of us. Instead of driving us apart, our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife and rebuild what has broken; to lift up those who have fallen on hard times. This is not only our call as people of faith, but our duty as citizens of America, and it will be the purpose of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships that
I'm announcing later today.

The goal of this office will not be to favor one religious group over another ? or even religious groups over secular groups. It will simply be to work on behalf of those
organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state. This
work is important, because whether it's a secular group advising families facing foreclosure or faith-based groups providing job-training to those who need work, few are closer to what's happening on our streets and in our neighborhoods than these organizations. People trust them. Communities rely on them. And we will help them.

We will also reach out to leaders and scholars around the world to foster a more productive and peaceful dialogue on faith. I don't expect divisions to disappear overnight, nor do I believe that long-held views and conflicts will suddenly vanish. But I do believe that if we can talk to one another openly and honestly, then perhaps old rifts will start to mend and new partnerships will begin to emerge. In a world that grows smaller by the day, perhaps we can begin to crowd out the destructive forces of
zealotry and make room for the healing power of understanding.

This is my hope. This is my prayer.

I believe this good is possible because my faith teaches me that all is possible, but I also believe because of what I have seen and what I have lived.

I was not raised in a particularly religious household. I had a father who was born a Muslim but became an atheist, grandparents who were non-practicing Methodists and Baptists, and a mother who was skeptical of organized religion, even as she was the kindest, most spiritual person I've ever known. She was the one who taught me as a child to love, and to understand, and to do unto others as I would want done.

I didn't become a Christian until many years later, when I moved to the South Side of Chicago after college. It happened not because of indoctrination or a sudden revelation, but because I spent month after month working with church folks who simply wanted to help neighbors who were down on their luck ? no matter what they looked like, or where they came from, or who they prayed to. It was on those streets, in those neighborhoods, that I first heard God's spirit beckon me. It was there that I felt called to a higher purpose ? His purpose.

In different ways and different forms, it is that spirit and sense of purpose that drew friends and neighbors to that first prayer breakfast in Seattle all those years ago, during another trying time for our nation. It is what led friends and neighbors from so many faiths and nations here today. We come to break bread and give thanks and seek guidance, but also to rededicate ourselves to the mission of love and service that lies at the heart of all humanity. As St. Augustine once said, "Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you."

So let us pray together on this February morning, but let us also work together in all the days and months ahead. For it is only through common struggle and common effort, as brothers and sisters, that we fulfill our highest purpose as beloved children of God. I ask you to join me in that effort, and I also ask that you pray for me, for my family, and for the continued perfection of our union. Thank you.

Comments

It is an insult to Christians everywhere to imply that Obama is a real Christian, and not a nominal or fake Christian. He denies the fundamentals of the faith. And he supports garden-variety abortion and late-term abortion.

Finally, there is a President who speaks to what is great and laudable about America. I am proud that he is my President and I am proud once again to be an American. This is the America of my childhood. Yes, we are our brother's keeper. May God Bless him and keep him safe so that he can fulfill his promise. Thank you America for electing him!!

Dangerous ground we're on here with our new President. He may actually be well-intentioned, but if you truly listen to his words (and use discernment), you will see where there are red flags all over this "speech." Not prayer. "Speech."

"There is no religion whose central tenet is hate," he says. That sounds correct. It sounds accurate. But is it? Secularism, humanism, Buddhism, Hinduism, New Age-ism, and others do NOT exalt the name of Jesus Christ. Jesus said it very plainly "you're either for me or you're against me." You're either helping to gather, or you're actually helping to scatter. The Christian Bible also teaches that "love of the world is hatred toward God." So while all these peace and tolerance and unity speech-making SOUNDS good... has anyone stopped to consult with God as to how HE may feel about it? There are many religions that detract from, or just categorically deny Almighty God. What is that if not hatred? Hatred for God.

Secondly, Obama loves to use phrases like "old ideologies" or "antiquated" ideologies, etc. What exactly is he referring to? Is he suggesting that God's Word needs to evolve with the times? That - in the name of tolerance - God's Word needs to be LESS divisive? So when Jesus said "no man comes to the Father EXCEPT THROUGH ME." That's pretty narrow-minded. That may have to go. I find it interesting that Obama calls himself a "devout" Christian, but in the speech he gave, he rails against "zealotry." I would be interested to hear the difference.

Thirdly, "brothers and sisters"? The Christian Bible says "to those who believe ON JESUS, to them He gave the right to be called Sons and Daughters."

We are not all children of God. This is basic Christianity 101. Obama, a so-called "devout" believer - should know this.

It's time for all faith based organizations to stop accepting government largesse. With the government and other special interest groups becoming increasingly hostile to traditional Christianity, the Bible's admonition to "come out and be ... separate" makes even more sense. Failure to go so entangles the church in ungodly alliances with the very forces that are out to destroy it and suggests tacit approval of their actions. As James wrote, "Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." (4:4)

Obama's consistent use of God (capital G) while referring to numerous religions should be very disturbing to every orthodox Evangelical. It is clear that he believes that every religion worships the same god, which is unquestionable heresy is every major religion, most of all Christianity.

It reminds me of when I heard a pastor (who will remain nameless) of a famous megachurch once say after attending an inter-faith conference, "Christians, Jews, and Muslims - I chose to focus on our similarities rather than our differences, since we all worship the same God!" Interestingly, he no longer has a job. God definitely doesn't bless heresy.

And as CT noted, his faith-based initiatives do not include protection of the rights of Christian-organizations (such as charities and Christian colleges) who receive federal funding to maintain restrictions in the people they hire or allow to be members (or students). This is very troubling. Obama is maintaining the position he took in the Civil Forum at Saddleback Church in August. When Rick Warren asked Obama if he would maintain the rights of Christian organizations who took state or federal funding, Obama refused to say he would, and it looks like he's going to stick with that.

So what would it mean if the rights of Christian organizations to be selective in who they hire or allow to be members were revoked? For starters, it would mean that Christian colleges who take state or federal funding through federal grants and loan programs (which is most of them), would be forced to either allow openly gay students to attend or forfeit their funding. And if Obama gets his way, this troubling thought may soon become a reality.

Lord have mercy.

Jon and Fin, the New Testament uses the word "world" in two very different ways. An example of one is the James passage quoted by Fin. An example of the other is John 3:16. Don't be tempted by zeal for doctrinal purity to forget that the Samaritan is your neighbor.

The Bible urges us to pray for our leaders. Rather than judging Obama's motives and his relationship with Jesus Christ, we each should first check our own motives and our relationship to God. No President, whether he is born-again or only nominally a Christian, will go to the National Prayer Breakfast and impugn another religion. It's not the time or the place.

The comments here are sickening. Jon, you say we are not all children of God"? Are you serious? The Bible says that ALL were created in the image of God. Which Bible do you read? It is because of statements like yours that people are skeptical to accept the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Remember the story of the good samaritan. Who then is your neighbor? Why do you think it is your right to question the faith of another? The Bible also teaches that you should take the plank out of your eye before taking the speck out of your brother's eye.

President Obama owes you no apologies. He is right with his God. His heart is in the right place. He cares more about the downtrodden than you or George Bush ever were. Proclaiming to be a christian and actually practicing the teachings of Jesus Christ are two things. So far, I've observed President Obama doing both. You know, God takes care of His own and He will sustain the president no matter what zealots like you think.

Ron,

The Scripture is very clear that to those who accepted Christ to them gave He (God) the rights to be considered sons/daughters of God (Rom 8:14; Gal 3:26).

How do you know Obama cares more than Jon? Your statements demonstrate a preference rather than an informed point of view.

You appear to make many assertions which are really assumptions in disguise.

"Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. John 1:12

I find it simply amazing that some comments are so incredibly judgmental. I cannot fathom how ungracious some of you are. If anything, Christians should be THE most gracious people in the world. Instead, some of my brothers and sisters can't wait to pounce on comments made by others. What's up with that???
I hope that unbelievers are not reading these toxic words. Please, demonstrate graciousness here and now so that when we are faced with true difficulty, we can respond with the grace of our LORD.