On Monday, April 14, President Obama received religious leaders in the East Room of the White House for the annual White House Easter Prayer Breakfast.
You can read the entire speech at the government’s website. And you should, because there’s much to take away.
If I may, I’d like to grab just a few of his most poignant quotes.
A bit of self-effacing humor:
And I will once again resist the temptation to preach to preachers. (Laughter.) It never works out well. I am reminded of the admonition from the Book of Romans — “Do not claim to be wiser than you are.”
An acknowledgment of the recent killings at Jewish centers. Although the President intended to speak of a single incident spurred by hatred here in the United States, I couldn’t help but think of the crisis in Muslim countries around the world, where Christian churches are bombed and believers imprisoned, tortured and killed.
Nobody should have to worry about their security when gathering with their fellow believers. No one should ever have to fear for their safety when they go to pray.
A call to mind of Christ’s Death and Resurrection:
And in these Holy Days, we recall all that Jesus endured for us — the scorn of the crowds and the pain of the crucifixion, in our Christian religious tradition we celebrate the glory of the Resurrection — all so that we might be forgiven of our sins and granted everlasting life.
And more than 2,000 years later, it inspires us still. We are drawn to His timeless teachings, challenged to be worthy of His sacrifice, to emulate as best we can His eternal example to love one another just as He loves us. And of course, we’re always reminded each and every day that we fall short of that example. And none of us are free from sin, but we look to His life and strive, knowing that “if we love one another, God lives in us, and His love is perfected in us.”
An acknowledgment of his recent meeting with Pope Francis:
I’ll tell you, I felt this spirit when I had the great honor of meeting His Holiness, Pope Francis, recently. I think it’s fair to say that those of us of the Christian faith, regardless of our denomination, have been touched and moved by Pope Francis. Now, some of it is his words — his message of justice and inclusion, especially for the poor and the outcast. He implores us to see the inherent dignity in each human being. But it’s also his deeds, simple yet profound — hugging the homeless man, and washing the feet of somebody who normally ordinary folks would just pass by on the street. He reminds us that all of us, no matter what our station, have an obligation to live righteously, and that we all have an obligation to live humbly. Because that’s, in fact, the example that we profess to follow.
So I had a wonderful conversation with Pope Francis, mostly about the imperatives of addressing poverty and inequality. And I invited him to come to the United States, and I sincerely hope he will. When we exchanged gifts he gave me a copy of his inspiring writings, “The Joy of the Gospel.” And there is a passage that speaks to us today: “Christ’s resurrection,” he writes, “is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world.” And he adds, “Jesus did not rise in vain. May we never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope!”
In closing, I’ll just recall that old prayer that I think more than one preacher has invoked at the pulpit: “Lord, fill my mouth with worthwhile stuff, and nudge me when I’ve said enough.” (Laughter.) The Almighty is nudging me.
And lastly, my own concern:
I was troubled that the President spoke about one charitable organization, My Brother’s Keeper, to the exclusion of any other. He devoted four paragraphs to talking about this organization which he personally supports; and while I concur that its mission of helping young disadvantaged black men is important, I wanted to remind him that he is President of the entire United States–of middle aged white women and factory workers and business executives and Hungarian immigrants and Italian athletes–and not just of young African-American men.
Obama is America’s first black president; but if there is to be any nobility in that legacy, he must always look beyond race, to be color-blind, to see people as individuals. If he continues to emphasize black endeavors and overlook others, his legacy will be as America’s most racist president.
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UPDATE – I didn’t know this at the time of my article, but seated beside President Obama at the Easter Prayer Breakfast was Unitarian Universalist minister Debra Haffner. “Who is that?” you ask….
Haffner has quite a pedigree among abortion advocates. According to lifenews.com, she is the co-founder and President of the Religious Institute. Founded in 2001, the Religious Institute is a national leadership organization “working at the intersection of sexuality and religion.” It provides clergy, congregations, and denominational bodies with technical assistance on addressing sexuality and reproductive health, and assists sexual and reproductive health organizations to address religious issues and develop outreach to faith communities.
Prior to founding the Religious Institute, Haffner was the chief executive officer of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) from 1988 to 2000. During her tenure at SIECUS, she created the Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing; the National Coalition to Support Sexuality Education; the Commission on Adolescent Sexual Health; and the Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education.
Prior to joining SIECUS, she served as the director of education for Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington; and special assistant in the U.S. Public Health Service.