Every year since Eisenhower, the President gives a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, held on the first Thursday in February. This year’s speech has gotten a lot of press on account of one sentence, in which President Obama mentioned the Crusades in connection with a discussion of religiously motivated violence throughout the world’s history.
I won’t be commenting on that sentence. There is already enough commentary on the comparisons between Islamic extremists and Christian extremists. Your opinion on that subject is probably already made up, and I would just be wasting your time by writing more about it.
So I’ll write about something else: what President Obama actually said. His 20-minute speech was about much more than the Crusades. (In fact, he only mentioned them once, and here I’ve mentioned them twice already!) You can read the transcript of his speech online. Just go to this site: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/02/05/remarks-president-national-prayer-breakfast
(As you read, remember that every U.S. President presides over a nation made up of many different religions.)
President Obama highlights three principles “that can guide us, particularly those of us who profess to believe”:
- Humility. I believe the President is right on the mark when he says that “the starting point of faith is some doubt.” Faith is not something that can be proven beyond the shadow of a doubt. Instead, faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV). We are not the owners of truth; we are not the determiners of truth. As the President says, “our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth – our job is to be true to him, his word, and his commandments.”
- The distinction between faith and government. Our nation does not sponsor a religion; we are not forced to be of one faith or another. A very real strength of this approach is that those who believe can express their beliefs “from the heart.” President Obama doesn’t use the language of the “experience of salvation” (a Wesleyan phrase), but he could. The separation of church and state gives us room to experience the grace of God freely in our lives, which leads, I believe, to more authentic practices of faith. (Yes, I do realize that Wesley was British and did not have separation of church and state. But that didn’t stop him from experiencing his faith!)
- The Golden Rule. Nearly all religions contain a command that we should treat other people the way we want to be treated. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” And President Obama hits the nail on the head when he says that this love must be expressed in “not just words, but deeds.” This also is a Wesleyan concept: that true faith and belief must be expressed, tangibly, experientially, sacrificially, in service toward those in need. People of faith should indeed be involved in efforts to end injustice, poverty, hunger, homelessness, and “the sin of modern-day slavery and human trafficking.”
You know, this really is a pretty good three-point sermon by the President. These are strong thoughts, worthy of reflection and meditation – and action. I believe he does well to put humility at the top of the list. We all need so much more of that attitude. And he does very well to give such practical applications as a response: if, indeed, #JesusIsTheSubject, then perhaps the #CHOGTraffickLight initiative is an appropriate step of faith. (See www.chogtrafficklight.org for more information.)
All politics aside, I am very impressed by this speech at the National Prayer Breakfast.
Now, what was that about the Crusades?