Obama evokes church/state divide at National Prayer Breakfast
Religion’s role in U.S. politics was on full display on Thursday as President Barack Obama spoke and prayed at the annual National Prayer Breakfast.
Obama, an adult convert to Christianity, used the occasion to announce that he will be establishing a White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. This will replace or be an extension of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives established by former President George W. Bush, who was strongly supported by conservative Christians.
Some of Obama’s remarks about the new office are sure to raise eyebrows in those conservative Christian circles. For example:
“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.”
For many conservative U.S. Christians, it is an article of faith that the founding fathers in the late 18th century did not erect a wall to separate church and state. Many religious and secular liberals contest that view, making it one of America’s never-ending culture war battles.
Obama also let it be known that while he is a Christian he is not about to favor one religious group over another. In his prepared remarks, he said:
“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.”
Americans may debate the walls between their church and state; but there is little doubt that religion and U.S. politics are often joined at the hip.
Photo Credit: REUTERS/Larry Downing (President Obama speaks at National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., Feb 5, 2009)