Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The president and the prayer breakfast

Guest blog with Phil James

Speaking last Thursday to 3,000 people at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, President Obama explained how his Christian beliefs influence and help guide his political and personal life. Drawing heavily on the Bible, he addressed and prayed with political, business and social leaders from across the world.
In my predictions for 2012, I said that we should expect the best and worst of Christianity to be showcased through US politics, and though often the bad is more visible and perhaps more entertaining to critique than the good, that doesn’t mean the good isn’t there.
Republican senator Jeff Sessions introduced the president by thanking him “for all the ways you strive for all Americans; you give your life to that”. This would draw awkward silence on the floor of the Senate, but underlines the prayer breakfast’s position as one of the last genuinely bipartisan arenas for American politics.
From his efforts to raise taxes for the wealthiest Americans to sending troops to prevent human rights abuses in Uganda, Obama argued that his political behaviour and actions are founded in his faith:
“The Bible teaches us to ‘be doers of the word and not merely hearers’. We’re required to have a living, breathing, active faith in our own lives. And each of us is called on to give something of ourselves for the betterment of others.”
In a demonstration of his personal belief, Obama described how he prays each morning and seeks advice at times of stress. He also outlined how he’s found politics and religion to be complementary elements in his own decision making:
“I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense. But for me, as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’ teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required’.”
He added, however, that his decisions are not ordained from on high:
“Our goals should not be to declare our policies as biblical. It is God who is infallible, not us. Michelle reminds me of this often.”
The National Prayer Breakfast, attended by every president since Eisenhower, is an opportunity for people of different faiths and denominations to come together and pray. It can be used as a pulpit or a platform to remind the powerful of their duty and, as demonstrated on February 2, it can help to define the role of religion in politics. It can raise the level of political debate, rather than diminishing it, and it can change the tone of political interaction.
Phil James writes for Godculture, an online magazine that showcases Christianity in modern culture. For more articles on faith, creativity, technology, justice, music and more, head to www.godculture.co.uk.

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