President Obama opened his National Prayer Breakfast remarks by saying, “I begin by giving all praise and honor to God for bringing us here today.”
That may come as a surprise to some Americans.
That is because 40 percent of Americans don’t know what Obama’s religion is, 4 percent believe he has no religion, 18 percent believe he is a Muslim and just 38 percent say he is a Christian. This is from the most recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute.
President Obama is a Christian. The irony is that many of the same people who criticized him four years ago for belonging to Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s United Church of Christ, are likely the same ones who now say they don’t know what religion he is, or that he doesn’t have one, or that he’s a Muslim.
It’s not as if the president is reticent about his faith. At the National Prayer breakfast for the past three years he has spoken openly about it, as he has at the lighting of the National Christmas tree, The Christmas in Washington Pageant and other events.
It just seems as though some people are just not listening or don’t want to hear.
“It’s always been an opportunity that I’ve cherished,” he said of the breakfast which takes place at the Washington Hilton Hotel for over 3,000 attendees from the halls of Congress, the administration and nations around the world. “And it’s a chance to step back for a moment, for us to come together as brothers and sisters and seek God’s face together.”
Sixty seven percent of all voters feel that it is important for a president to have strong religious beliefs.
What do you do if you are the president and so many people don’t believe you when you speak about your faith or don’t know about your beliefs?
Obviously, you try to talk about it. And, at this breakfast, Obama did:
“I wake up each morning and I say a brief prayer, and I spend a little time in scripture and devotion. And from time to time, friends of mine, some of who are here today, friends like Joel Hunter or T.D. Jakes (both mega-pastors), will come by the Oval Office or they'll call on the phone or they'll send me a email, and we'll pray together, and they'll pray for me and my family, and for our country.”
So why is it that 35 percent of the general population views Obama’s religious beliefs as very different from their own and only 12 percent see his beliefs as very similar?
Obama couldn’t be more comfortable talking about his faith. He mentioned being a Christian several times at the breakfast. He told of visiting the Rev. Billy Graham (who sent a letter which was read earlier) in North Carolina. After leaving Graham, he said, “I thought about my own spiritual journey – growing up in a household that wasn’t particularly religious; going through my period of doubt and confusion; finding Christ when I wasn’t even looking for him so many years ago, possessing so many shortcomings that have been overcome by the simple grace of God.”
This is not the first time Obama has spoken this way about his faith. And yet, according to the same poll, 25 percent of Americans find his religious beliefs very unfavorable and 51 percent find them very different.
Is it possible that is because Obama refuses to pander? And he refuses, even in as Christian a setting as the prayer breakfast, to exclude other faiths even though he knows this might hurt him in the election by adding to people’s confusion over his beliefs. Listen to his words:
“We know that part of living in a pluralistic society means that our personal religious beliefs alone can’t dictate our response to every challenge we face.”
He talked about being willing to give something up, having been “extraordinarily blessed.”
“But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.’ It mirrors the Islamic belief that those who’ve been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others; or the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration of others.”
Later he would say of God’s command to love thy neighbor as thyself: “I know the version of that Golden Rule is found in every major religion and set of beliefs – from Hinduism to Islam to Judaism to the writing of Plato.”
And finally, speaking of values that “have defined my own faith journey” he would say “They can be found in many denominations and many faiths, among many believers and among many non-believers.”
Brave talk for a president who has the religion numbers he does.
It would seem he is following his own advice. “I think we all understand that these values cannot truly find voice in our politics and our policies unless they find a place in our hearts.,” he said.
The president then closed his remarks.
Since he met with Graham, he says, “I have fallen on my knees with great regularity since that moment -- asking God for guidance not just in my personal life and my Christian walk, but in the life of this nation and in the values that hold us together and keep us strong. I know that He will guide us. He always has, and He always will. And I pray his richest blessings on each of you in the days ahead.”