April 19, 2011
President Obama spoke of the “grace” demonstrated by the resurrection at the Easter prayer breakfast Tuesday morning in the East Room of the White House.
Pastor Tim Keller of New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church and Bishop T. D. Jakes of The Potter’s House in Texas also spoke at the event. The breakfast is a “good excuse to bring together people who have been such extraordinary influences in my life and such great friends,” the president said in his opening remarks. Keller’s attendance was his first visit to the White House.
Other guests also included Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter, Suzan Johnson Cook, the president’s recently confirmed ambassador of international religious freedom, and faith leaders from Protestant, Catholic, and other religious groups. North Point Community Church pastor Andy Stanley and National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson were among participants in a list provided by the White House.
The president noted recent storms that have swept North Carolina, specifically pointing out Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) and his wife, Dee, who “will be helping those communities rebuild after the devastation.” He also singled out USAID Administrator Dr. Raj Shah for his work with faith leaders.
Obama acknowledged the “hustle and bustle” as the “inbox keeps accumulating,” to a chuckling audience. Easter puts everything into perspective, the president said. “Everybody in this room has weighty responsibilities, from leading churches and denominations, to helping to administer important government programs, to shaping our culture in various ways,” he said. “And I admit that my plate has been full as well.”
But Holy Week is a reminder of God’s grace, Obama said after reading Isaiah 53:5. “This ‘Amazing Grace’ calls me to pray,” he said. “It calls me to ask God for forgiveness for the times that I’ve not shown grace to others, those times that I’ve fallen short. It calls me to praise God for the gift of … his Son and our Savior.”
Over a breakfast of mini foods—including mini yogurt parfaits, muffins and bagels—attendees also heard prayer from Episcopal Bishop Vashti McKenzie and the Rev. Sharon Watkins and performances by the Washington Performing Arts Society Children of Gospel Choir and gospel singer Wintley Phipps.
“You notice that these days prayers are on an iPad,” the president said, pointing out the Apple device when he introduced Bishop McKenzie for the opening prayer. McKenzie thanked God for Easter as the “reversal of Good Friday” in her prayer.
The breakfast was hosted on the Tuesday before Easter in order to avoid conflict with Holy Week services, a White House official said. Joshua DuBois, the head of White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, opened the event with a short guest list and limited press coverage.
The president said that he plans to make the event, now in its second year, “annual” from now on. “The Easter Egg Roll, that’s well established,” he said, drawing laughter from the crowd. Last year, Willow Creek pastor Bill Hybels and Lakewood Church pastor Joel Osteen attended the breakfast.