Obama told to match prayers with action for the poorest

By staff writers
April 25, 2011

President Barack Obama spoke movingly of his Christian faith at a White House prayer breakfast, says the Rev Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), who was in attendance at the gathering on 19 April 2011.

The ECLA and other Christian denominations urged the US president to pursue policies that support the poorest and treat the planet with respect.

But others in attendance, from the religious right, would oppose such policies, identifying belief with individualism and anti-government ideology.

Bishop Hanson said he was grateful for how clearly the president highlighted the centrality of God's "magnificent, expansive, 'Amazing Grace'" in his life, and the gift of salvation through Christ's death and resurrection.

President Obama spoke to 150 religious leaders, including Hanson, at the Easter Prayer Breakfast. The ELCA presiding bishop was recently appointed to the President's Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

"It is very powerful to hear the president declare what unites us Christians with such clarity and passion," Hanson said. "He really did centre his comments in Holy Week and walked through the central part of our faith."

Hanson said he greeted Obama, telling him that ELCA members continue to pray for him. As Obama and others negotiate on the federal budget, he asked the president to remember people living in poverty and not let budget reductions disproportionately affect them. Hanson had raised a similar concern in a meeting with Obama in Washington last November.

Later, Hanson and the religious leaders attended a briefing by staff of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The briefing included topics such as energy and climate, immigration reform, fatherhood and healthy families, international development and human trafficking. Among other things, the religious leaders said the current immigration system is not working and spoke strongly in favor of reform legislation, Hanson added.

At the prayer breakfast, Obama's remarks highlighted the meaning of Holy Week for Christians. "I wanted to host this breakfast for a simple reason - because as busy as we are, as many tasks as pile up, during this season, we are reminded that there's something about the resurrection - something about the resurrection of our saviour, Jesus Christ, that puts everything else in perspective," Obama said.

Obama told his guests that he knows each of them has considerable responsibilities amidst busy schedules. "But then comes Holy Week," he said. "The triumph of Palm Sunday. The humility of Jesus washing the disciples' feet. His slow march up that hill, and the pain and the scorn and the shame of the cross."

"And we're reminded that in that moment, he took on the sins of the world - past, present and future - and he extended to us that unfathomable gift of grace and salvation through his death and resurrection," the president said.

Obama continued, "This magnificent grace, this expansive grace, this 'Amazing Grace' calls me to reflect. And it calls me to pray. It calls me to ask God for forgiveness for the times that I've not shown grace to others, those times that I've fallen short. It calls me to praise God for the gift of our son - his Son and our Saviour."

In addition to the president's remarks, there were gospel youth choir performances and prayers. ELCA's Bishop Hanson said many people in attendance commented afterward about how moving and spiritual the prayer breakfast was.

But there has also been criticism for the president for bathing himself in Christian rhetoric while pursuing several wars and ordering drone attacks.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with approximately 4.5 million members in more than 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region.


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