Some Thoughts on Dr. Ben Carson’s Prayer Breakfast Speech

Some Thoughts on Dr. Ben Carson’s Prayer Breakfast Speech February 13, 2013

Political conservatives are singing the praises of Dr. Ben Carson’s speech last week at the National Prayer Breakfast.  Carson, a Johns Hopkins University pediatric surgeon and an evangelical Christian, used the speech to attack political correctness and Obamacare.  Oh, and did I mention that the President of the United States was seated a few feet to his right during the entire speech?

Watch the speech here.

Over at his blog “Clear, Expert, and Entertaining Connections,” Regent College (Vancouver, BC–not Virginia Beach) theology professor John Stackhouse is not happy with Carson or his speech:

Some of our American cousins are a-twitter (so to speak) over the speech given by surgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson at the National Prayer Breakfast before the President and 3000 other dignitaries. It will get whatever critique it deserves on its political merits from others, no doubt, and that’s the point of this brief theological musing: It was a political speech, not anything remotely resembling a theologically informed talk, let alone an actual sermon.

Yes, Carson began with four Scripture verses—to which he did not then refer throughout the rest of his 27-minute address. Yes, he mentioned God or Jesus a few times—much as President George W. Bush did, namely, as the source of his public policy ideas (notably the flat tax as directly deriving from the principle of the Old Testament tithe, a hermeneutical move no one who has passed an elementary course in Biblical interpretation would ever make), the rationale for his rhetorical choice to tell what he called “parables” (most speakers don’t feel obliged to invoke divine sanction for employing illustrations), and, indeed, his “role model.” Of course, we heard about “one nation under God.” And with that we got mostly the “gospel” of self-help.

 I have to agree with Stackhouse.  We can have a meaningful debate over whether or not Carson’s policy ideas will work.  The content of his proposals having nothing to do with why I was bothered by the speech.  I was troubled by the speech for three main reasons:

1.  As Stackhouse notes, Carson used his speech at the NATIONAL PRAYER BREAKFAST to talk about health-care and other controversial topics that tend to divide rather than unite.  Such a speech was inappropriate on such an occasion. I might add that conservative columnist Cal Thomas is with us on this point.

2.  Carson disrespected the office of the President of the United States with his speech.  There is a time and a place to criticize the president’s policies and a prayer breakfast is not one of them.  Again, I agree with Thomas:  Carson owes Obama an apology.

3.  At the end of his speech Carson told a patriotic story about the War of 1812 and the bombing of Fort McHenry.  In the process he came very close to duplicating the historical error made a couple of years ago by evangelical pastor Dudley Rutherford.

Carson defends the speech here, claiming that “someone has to be courageous enough to actually stand up to, you know, the bullies.”  I don’t disagree, but not at a prayer breakfast.  He also claims that his position on health care “comes from the Bible.”  I was unaware that the Bible offered a specific health care plan.


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