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February 4, 2010

Hillary Clinton, Tim Tebow, Barack Obama Headline National Prayer Breakfast

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the anti-homosexuality bill proposed in Uganda while President Obama called it "odious" at the National Prayer Breakfast this morning. Tim Tebow gave the closing prayer. I tweeted a few updates at twitter.com/ctmagazine and posted video from my phone of Obama and Tebow on YouTube.

I spoke briefly with Tebow after the breakfast who was friendly but was whisked away for a meeting. I also passed South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford in the hallway but could not interview him in time before the breakfast.

Below I've posted Obama's remarks as released by the White House.

Thank you so much. Heads of state, Cabinet members, my outstanding Vice President, members of Congress, religious leaders, distinguished guests, Admiral Mullen -- it's good to see all of you. Let me begin by acknowledging the co-chairs of this breakfast, Senators Isakson and Klobuchar, who embody the sense of fellowship at the heart of this gathering. They're two of my favorite senators. Let me also acknowledge the director of my faith-based office, Joshua DuBois, who is here. Where's Joshua? He's out there somewhere. He's doing great work. (Applause.)

I want to commend Secretary Hillary Clinton on her outstanding remarks, and her outstanding leadership at the State Department. She's doing good every day. (Applause.) I'm especially pleased to see my dear friend, Prime Minister Zapatero, and I want him to relay America's greetings to the people of Spain. And Johnny, you are right, I'm deeply blessed, and I thank God every day for being married to Michelle Obama. (Applause.)

I'm privileged to join you once again, as my predecessors have for over half a century. Like them, I come here to speak about the ways my faith informs who I am -- as a President, and as a person. But I'm also here for the same reason that all of you are, for we all share a recognition -- one as old as time -- that a willingness to believe, an openness to grace, a commitment to prayer can bring sustenance to our lives.

There is, of course, a need for prayer even in times of joy and peace and prosperity. Perhaps especially in such times prayer is needed -- to guard against pride and to guard against complacency. But rightly or wrongly, most of us are inclined to seek out the divine not in the moment when the Lord makes His face shine upon us, but in moments when God's grace can seem farthest away.

Last month, God's grace, God's mercy, seemed far away from our neighbors in Haiti. And yet I believe that grace was not absent in the midst of tragedy. It was heard in prayers and hymns that broke the silence of an earthquake's wake. It was witnessed among parishioners of churches that stood no more, a roadside congregation, holding bibles in their laps. It was felt in the presence of relief workers and medics; translators; servicemen and women, bringing water and food and aid to the injured.

One such translator was an American of Haitian descent, representative of the extraordinary work that our men and women in uniform do all around the world -- Navy Corpsman Christian [sic] Brossard. And lying on a gurney aboard the USNS Comfort, a woman asked Christopher: "Where do you come from? What country? After my operation," she said, "I will pray for that country." And in Creole, Corpsman Brossard responded, "Etazini." The United States of America.

God's grace, and the compassion and decency of the American people is expressed through the men and women like Corpsman Brossard. It's expressed through the efforts of our Armed Forces, through the efforts of our entire government, through similar efforts from Spain and other countries around the world. It's also, as Secretary Clinton said, expressed through multiple faith-based efforts. By evangelicals at World Relief. By the American Jewish World Service. By Hindu temples, and mainline Protestants, Catholic Relief Services, African American churches, the United Sikhs. By Americans of every faith, and no faith, uniting around a common purpose, a higher purpose.

It's inspiring. This is what we do, as Americans, in times of trouble. We unite, recognizing that such crises call on all of us to act, recognizing that there but for the grace of God go I, recognizing that life's most sacred responsibility -- one affirmed, as Hillary said, by all of the world's great religions -- is to sacrifice something of ourselves for a person in need.

Sadly, though, that spirit is too often absent when tackling the long-term, but no less profound issues facing our country and the world. Too often, that spirit is missing without the spectacular tragedy, the 9/11 or the Katrina, the earthquake or the tsunami, that can shake us out of complacency. We become numb to the day-to-day crises, the slow-moving tragedies of children without food and men without shelter and families without health care. We become absorbed with our abstract arguments, our ideological disputes, our contests for power. And in this Tower of Babel, we lose the sound of God's voice.

Now, for those of us here in Washington, let's acknowledge that democracy has always been messy. Let's not be overly nostalgic. (Laughter.) Divisions are hardly new in this country. Arguments about the proper role of government, the relationship between liberty and equality, our obligations to our fellow citizens -- these things have been with us since our founding. And I'm profoundly mindful that a loyal opposition, a vigorous back and forth, a skepticism of power, all of that is what makes our democracy work.

And we've seen actually some improvement in some circumstances. We haven't seen any canings on the floor of the Senate any time recently. (Laughter.) So we shouldn't over-romanticize the past. But there is a sense that something is different now; that something is broken; that those of us in Washington are not serving the people as well as we should. At times, it seems like we're unable to listen to one another; to have at once a serious and civil debate. And this erosion of civility in the public square sows division and distrust among our citizens. It poisons the well of public opinion. It leaves each side little room to negotiate with the other. It makes politics an all-or-nothing sport, where one side is either always right or always wrong when, in reality, neither side has a monopoly on truth. And then we lose sight of the children without food and the men without shelter and the families without health care.

Empowered by faith, consistently, prayerfully, we need to find our way back to civility. That begins with stepping out of our comfort zones in an effort to bridge divisions. We see that in many conservative pastors who are helping lead the way to fix our broken immigration system. It's not what would be expected from them, and yet they recognize, in those immigrant families, the face of God. We see that in the evangelical leaders who are rallying their congregations to protect our planet. We see it in the increasing recognition among progressives that government can't solve all of our problems, and that talking about values like responsible fatherhood and healthy marriage are integral to any anti-poverty agenda. Stretching out of our dogmas, our prescribed roles along the political spectrum, that can help us regain a sense of civility.

Civility also requires relearning how to disagree without being disagreeable; understanding, as President [Kennedy] said, that "civility is not a sign of weakness." Now, I am the first to confess I am not always right. Michelle will testify to that. (Laughter.) But surely you can question my policies without questioning my faith, or, for that matter, my citizenship. (Laughter and applause.)

Challenging each other's ideas can renew our democracy. But when we challenge each other's motives, it becomes harder to see what we hold in common. We forget that we share at some deep level the same dreams -- even when we don't share the same plans on how to fulfill them.

We may disagree about the best way to reform our health care system, but surely we can agree that no one ought to go broke when they get sick in the richest nation on Earth. We can take different approaches to ending inequality, but surely we can agree on the need to lift our children out of ignorance; to lift our neighbors from poverty. We may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are -- whether it's here in the United States or, as Hillary mentioned, more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda.

Surely we can agree to find common ground when possible, parting ways when necessary. But in doing so, let us be guided by our faith, and by prayer. For while prayer can buck us up when we are down, keep us calm in a storm; while prayer can stiffen our spines to surmount an obstacle -- and I assure you I'm praying a lot these days -- (laughter) -- prayer can also do something else. It can touch our hearts with humility. It can fill us with a spirit of brotherhood. It can remind us that each of us are children of a awesome and loving God.

Through faith, but not through faith alone, we can unite people to serve the common good. And that's why my Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships has been working so hard since I announced it here last year. We've slashed red tape and built effective partnerships on a range of uses, from promoting fatherhood here at home to spearheading interfaith cooperation abroad. And through that office we've turned the faith-based initiative around to find common ground among people of all beliefs, allowing them to make an impact in a way that's civil and respectful of difference and focused on what matters most.

It is this spirit of civility that we are called to take up when we leave here today. That's what I'm praying for. I know in difficult times like these -- when people are frustrated, when pundits start shouting and politicians start calling each other names -- it can seem like a return to civility is not possible, like the very idea is a relic of some bygone era. The word itself seems quaint -- civility.

But let us remember those who came before; those who believed in the brotherhood of man even when such a faith was tested. Remember Dr. Martin Luther King. Not long after an explosion ripped through his front porch, his wife and infant daughter inside, he rose to that pulpit in Montgomery and said, "Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend."

In the eyes of those who denied his humanity, he saw the face of God.

Remember Abraham Lincoln. On the eve of the Civil War, with states seceding and forces gathering, with a nation divided half slave and half free, he rose to deliver his first Inaugural and said, "We are not enemies, but friends… Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection."

Even in the eyes of confederate soldiers, he saw the face of God.

Remember William Wilberforce, whose Christian faith led him to seek slavery's abolition in Britain; he was vilified, derided, attacked; but he called for "lessening prejudices [and] conciliating good-will, and thereby making way for the less obstructed progress of truth."

In the eyes of those who sought to silence a nation's conscience, he saw the face of God.

Yes, there are crimes of conscience that call us to action. Yes, there are causes that move our hearts and offenses that stir our souls. But progress doesn't come when we demonize opponents. It's not born in righteous spite. Progress comes when we open our hearts, when we extend our hands, when we recognize our common humanity. Progress comes when we look into the eyes of another and see the face of God. That we might do so -- that we will do so all the time, not just some of the time -- is my fervent prayer for our nation and the world.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

Comments

I guess it was to be expected... that if he chastised half the Congress and half the Supreme Court, today was his opportunity to followup by chastising half his audience today too.

So much for the Spirit of Civility.

Exactly. I was there, and it is not the appropriate forum for this type of speech. In the past, presidents have used their remarks to speak about faith - this is by far the most political speech someone has given.

So you guys are saying that it is not a Christian issue that there is a law propsed to kill homosexuals. Would you prefer that all homosexuals are killed right away, or that you can witness to them before they are executed? Pitiful.

Maybe it is not communicated in the words, but requires the tone, but I don't understand what was so political about this. It sounds like someone asking to have a discussion with civility. Asking people to question their policies not their Christianity seems reasonable. Both sides need to do this better.

I understand people that think this should be more explicitly religious, but last year people were complaining because he didn't participate. This year he participated and still there are complaints.

Obama's sermon was highly political, essentially focused on the need for bipartisanship and a return to civility, and used religion as a means to that political end. Obama is asking progressives and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans to see the face of God in their opponents... so that he can pass legislation. But it's not uncommon to use the prayer breakfast to promote an agenda - compare to Bush's 2001 speech: http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0102/01/se.02.html

Obama's theology, like his politics, is focused on the common good and shared humanity. Yet serving God is more than serving the common good; being made in God's image means more than civility and shared humanity. God loves us, and Obama's speech missed that relational aspect.

We are so polarized that we hear politcial whether it is intended or not. Some cannot bring themselves to give the man credit for a gracious speech that shoots both ways. Pres. Obama was talking about civility that can break the logjam of distrust, competition and ideological posturing. God help us. Somebody has got to lay down their partisan sword and do something. If God cannot change all our hearts, slay our pride and help us forge poitical sloughshares then we are in for even tougher times than we have been through. There are problems to be solved and those who are hurting the worst wait. Come Lord Jesus, the One who will measure us not by our response to the rich & Wall Street, but by what we do for the hungry, the naked and the prisoner.

Sorry Barry. I know a Christian by their fruits, and you ain't got none that anyone wants. We appreciate you and Hilly dropping in, but we would prefer you drop out. We can pray for you, but we do not have to accept your deceptions.

Since Christians lacked the stature and ethics to condemn Uganda for its horrific attack on gays, Obama had to school you in what a moral backbone looks like. This is precisely why Christianity is dying out in the most civilized societies on earth.

Brendan,

Pres. Obama wasn't giving a "sermon." He, as President of a multicultural republic, was addressing a gathering of different faiths.

How can "focusing on bipartisanship and civility" possibly be considered "highly political"? Just because he wants to "pass legislation"? What do you expect our leaders to try to accomplish? Only in the 1984-ish world of the Party of NO is "trying to pass legislation" considered a bad thing.

Both sides agree we need some sort of health care reform, that we need to address jobs, that we need a comprehensible energy program. He wasn't saying "pass my legislation or you're going to hell" (which is the oh-so-un-Christian mantra of too many on the Christian Right). He was offering to work together to pass the best legislation that could be agreed on by people of good will for whom "obstruction" doesn't take precedence over everything.

So, he focused on "the common good and shared humanity" and that wasn't good enough? Come on, this was a multicultural, interfaith event. There is a time and a place for everything. Besides, he DID actually say "prayer can also do something else. It can touch our hearts with humility. It can fill us with a spirit of brotherhood. It can remind us that each of us are children of a awesome and loving God." Isn't that the "relational aspect" you said was missing? Did you really want him to go further to give an altar call? Would you have wanted that if he were Buddhist?

I think the things you criticize him for are precisely the things we should WANT a president to do.

What exactly is the 'fruit' that President Obama is producing that is unwelcome?

4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

This is the fruit that I have seen in the actions of President Obama. The fruit of love. And it is very welcome.

I'm disappointed that you all are missing the fact that God loves a sinner but hates the sin. Everytime I hear our President talk , he is untruthful. God 's commandment is Thou shalt not lie, along with his other commandments.

Jesus said that the people of the world were more shrewd than people of the kingdom. I don't think he meant it as a compliment. He also warned us to not be deceived, and to watch out for wolves in sheep's clothing. I believe that this man is President at the time, by God's design, to wake up his people. He has made it very clear that his people must repent and turn from their wicked ways and call on him before he will heal our land. God has always warned his people to not look to government to take care of them. Only God can bless us and keep us and give us what we need. His desire is to meet needs of people, through his people, not government. Much of the church has lost sight of that. God put government in place to punish evil deeds, and reward good deeds. He warned us that we were not to be indebted to anyone. God's people are to be the head and not the tail. He commanded us to pray for our leaders, and to obey his law. Seasons change, leaders come and go, but God and His law will not change.

The question I have to ask from the outside is "Who is Obama speaking on behalf of ? "I donr care who is in charge in the US but I have not heard an American President speak words of life ever ! The rest of the world is no different . I have never heard a world leader speak and thought to myself "I hear the Spirit of God speaking through him " NEVER and I do not think I ever will. Its like going in to a dark room to find the light - its never there . God bless America - God help America !

Thanks for sharing this story, and for your boldness! God Bless.

I believe everyone has some defining faith that informs of what or who they are, but so far I have yet to find anything that defines you in a positive light except your talent for rhetoric (at least when accompanied by a teleprompter) and your smile. Personal observation of you leaves me wondering about your love for America when a picture shows you turning your back, with your hands close to the same
"crotch salute" you exhibited at the Fort Hood ceremony instead of the traditional hand over the heart position, as those you turned your back on repeated the Pledge of Allegience which includes the
phrase "Under God, Indivisible". Further questioning
re your faith and nationality or citizenship arises
when coupled with a remark from your book "I would side with the Muslims". When I look at the background of the czars and others you surround yourself with, I have to question if the ones you would side with are radical Muslims. Your close associations with CAIR and ACORN do not speak in a positive manner for you.

Surrounding yourself with those who think it alright to harvest organs from those disabled, without permission; to put sterility drugs in the water supply; those whose reading list for 7th through the 12th grade sounds more like the pedophiles"grooming" of the innocent child than it does teaching tolerance of homosexuality (or tolerance of anything else except explicit homosexual behavior) and your refusal to remove him from the position of keeping schools safe when protests were raised raises questions about your morals. Your open praise of a deceased homosexual (for whom your appointee also expressed admiration )who expressed an opinion that man/boy love relationship did no harm to the child,
did nothing to allay my questions re your morals when
you called this man an "outstanding social leader".
No one should be ostracized for a different a sexual
orientation as long as they stick to willing adults, for a different religious belief or a lack of one. When another or your appointees resigned after many protest concerning his appointment, yet now he is back in Washington, DC I have to wonder is he still on the federal payroll and why and was he ever off the federal payroll after his resignation?

I have to agree with you that we have a communication problem because of faulty listening,
but when you and your cohorts respond to protests over the Obama Health Care Reform Bill(and others) by calling the protestors possible or probable terrorist, nazi's and worse instead of finding anything wrong with a health reform bill so outrageous that none or you are willing to have yourselves and your families covered by it, maybe it is time to look for where the listening problem is.
Any bill passed must cover the entire population, not exempt a small group of politicians who consider themselves so elite as to be above the laws they pass for others to live under.

There are many other questions I have concerning you, but space limits going into many others. I leave it to others to voice some of them, and yes, your citizenship and place of birth are included in them!

Joyce...you and your kind leave me speechless. Why not just say he eats babies as well. Stop listening to vile lies on talk radio and faux news and actually use the brain God gave you to think for yourself. You will have to answer one day for what you've accused Barack Obama, your brother in Christ,of being.

BTW he may use a teleprompter (although he didn't last week when he wiped the floor with the GOP in their televised question time) but at least he doesn't write answers on his hands like some pathetic middle schooler!

Christian Lawyer,
About Obama giving a sermon, well, when someone talks at an interfaith prayer breakfast about where I can find the face of God, that sounds a lot more like a sermon than many Sunday morning homilies I've heard.

As for Obama being bipartisan, I have no problem with that, but a prayer breakfast talk should be primarily about... prayer. And if the theology is that talk is insufficient, that's worth pointing out. I agree with Pope Benedict (in Truth and Tolerance, a great read, btw) that working people of other faiths does not mean lacking clarity in one's own. Indeed, Bush said as much in his 2001 prayer breakfast talk (also political, but less so). Obama seemed to say we all share the same religious convictions at a fundamental level, and I have to say, unfortunately, he's just mistaken.

Also, the implication in his speech that the nation is horribly divided seems to suggest that Republican victories are bad for America. Now, I know we all need a bit more unity, and liked Obama's main thrust, but not in the prayer breakfast context.

Way to go Joyce! Best comment I read. Why does the faithful (ah not!) side wish to claim they are extending civility after they lied to get in office and bought votes through ACORN and not benefited anyone but themselves and the bankers the backed him so that the bailout could save SAX and GOLD from losing billions. Yeah throw out the olive branch and claim that our values can be compromised. Wait and see.