Obama reflects on beliefs at prayer breakfast

April 19, 2011

In a pre-Easter prayer breakfast at the White House, President Obama
said Jesus' death and resurrection "puts everything else in
perspective." Using the kind of personal religious language he once
shied away from in public, Obama spoke of "the pain and the scorn and
the shame of the cross" at the April 19 gathering for about 150 guests
and staff.

"And we're reminded that in that moment, [Jesus] 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," Obama said.

The Easter event displayed the
president's willingness to engage religion on his own terms, even though
he has decided not to be a regular churchgoer or fully embrace public
events like the annual National Day of Prayer.

The Easter
breakfast was Obama's second, and following a Passover seder at the
White House on April 18, it also reflects an ongoing effort to combat
lingering doubts about the president's faith.

Last year's
breakfast came in the wake of polls that revealed as many as one in five
Americans believe he is a Muslim. Since then, Obama has talked more
openly about his personal faith, particularly around holidays like
Easter and Christmas.

"He's had this problem with how to practice
his faith; every president's had this problem," said Wesley
Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary of the Reformed Church in
America, who attended the April 19 breakfast. "And I was thinking this
morning that this sort of event is at least one way that he's found,
very authentically, to have his faith nurtured," he said.

Presbyterian
Church (U.S.A.) Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons, another guest, called it a
"meaningful" gathering. Par­sons said it was helpful "to be reminded by
a person of great power about the passion and sacrifice of Jesus
Christ." Geoffrey A. Black, president of the United Church of Christ,
termed it "inspiring and uplifting."

White House officials said
they held the event before Easter so the breakfast wouldn't conflict
with participants' own worship services.

Attendees included
several members of the White House faith-based advisory panel, among
them Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson of the Evangelical Luth­eran Church in
America, Orlando mega­church pastor Joel Hunter and African Methodist
Episcopal Bishop Vashti Mc­Kenzie.

On April 24, Obama, the First
Lady and their two daughters attended Easter morning services at Shiloh
Baptist Church in Washington, which was founded in 1863 by freed slaves
originally from Fred­ericksburg, Virginia. Senior pastor Wallace Charles
Smith welcomed the Obama family, who sat in the second row.  —RNS