Obama at Prayer Breakfast: "Golden Rule binds us all together"
AS PEOPLE OF FAITH, citizens have a call and duty to make peace, rebuild what is broken and lift up the fallen, U.S. President Barack Obama said at the annual National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday (Feb. 3) in Washington, D.C. In one of Obama's frankest statements of his religious beliefs to date, the President recounted how as a young man he became a Christian through social-justice work in Chicago, an experience that shapes his vision for the role of religion in public life.
"It happened not because of indoctrination or a sudden revelation, but because I spent month after month working with church folks who simply wanted to help neighbors who were down on their luck – no matter what they looked like, or where they came from, or who they prayed to," Obama said.
The President opened up about his religious upbringing, explaining that his father was a Muslim who became an atheist and his mother and grandparents were non-practicing Methodists and Baptists.
Despite the lack of formal religious practice in his childhood, he said his mother was the most spiritual person he had ever known. And it was his mother who taught him to treat others as he would like to be treated.
Obama referred often to his belief in the unifying powers of religion.
He hearkened back to the National Prayer Breakfast's roots in Seattle during the Great Depression. People came together to pray, ignoring religious affiliations, because their concern for their neighbors' suffering trumped everything else, Obama observed.
Obama praised the "presidents and dignitaries from every corner of the globe" in attendance for showing that religion can bring the world together for peace and good will.
"There is no doubt that the very nature of faith means that some of our beliefs will never be the same. We read from different texts. We follow different edicts. We subscribe to different accounts of how we came to be here and where we’re going next – and some subscribe to no faith at all," Obama said.
"But no matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate. There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being."
Obama pointed to the Golden Rule as one commitment all religions share. Quoting Jesus' words "Love thy neighbor as thyself," he traced the idea through Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism.
Obama used the occasion to announce the launch of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, an initiative he said will apply the idealism of the Golden Rule in communities around the country.
The office will focus on local projects promoting "the greater good", such as foreclosure prevention and job training. But the initiative will also bring together leaders and scholars from around the world to foster "productive ad peaceful dialogue" among religions.
The new office will achieve its goals "without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state" and without favoring one religion over another, Obama noted. Citizens must answer this call, Obama said, if we are ever to "crowd out the destructive forces of zealotry".
"I don’t expect divisions to disappear overnight, nor do I believe that long-held views and conflicts will suddenly vanish. But I do believe that if we can talk to one another openly and honestly, then perhaps old rifts will start to mend and new partnerships will begin to emerge," said the President.
"This is my hope. This is my prayer."