The President at the National Prayer Breakfast

February 8, 2010

Contributed by Jay Haug

The National Prayer Breakfast has been a tradition in Washington D.C. for many years. Coming as it does in the beginning of the year, the event creates an opportunity for the president to step aside from the overtly political world to reflect on the role of faith, the Bible, the church/synagogue and caring for the less fortunate have played in American society. The focus, whether we were confronting communism or terrorism or even economic malaise as a nation, has always been on the greater values of the human spirit and the country as a whole.

Unfortunately, President Obama decided not to continue in this tradition, but rather to use the occasion to attack his political opponents in the name of "civility." In short, he turned the National Prayer Breakfast into a referendum on him. In a mocking tone, he called on people to stop questioning his "faith" and his "birth certificate" and to stop demonizing their political opponents, which everyone in the room took to mean him as well. For the moment, let us set aside the political mud wrestling that so preoccupies Washington. In a town designed for political wrangling we should expect nothing less. The question to drill down on is this: Why did not the president use this opportunity, in keeping with the tradition of the NPB, to rise above the political fray himself? Why did not his advisors tell him that this was a unique opportunity to be "presidential" to show grace and mercy to his political opponents and point the nation to a Higher Authority and greater principles and values? Why did he look so petty and wounded?

The truth may be hidden in the background no one in the mainstream media dared examine during the election, namely his association with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright and Trinity Church in Chicago. Through their example, the nursing and flaunting of political wounds, the mixing of spirituality and political resentment was raised to an art form. It was there our president tells us he became a Christian. It was there he drank in the first feedings of the faith that shaped his life. Unfortunately, now when he needs magnanimity, when he should be rising above the confines of power politics and demonstrating the post-partisanship he so championed during the campaign, Barack Obama seems unable to do so. He has made himself small.

Someone needs to go to our well spoken president and tell him there is a time and a place for everything. Using the National Prayer Breakfast to get back at one's political opponents is neither the time nor the place.

Thanks to Jay Haug, who is a free-lance writer living in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. A graduate of Williams College and Virginia Theological Seminary, Haug has spent his career as an Episcopal priest, financial advisor and radio talk show host.

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