President Barack Obama attended and made remarks at the annual National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday (Feb. 2) at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C. During his speech, he made explicit connections between his personal faith and several of his economic policies, mentioning several tenets of policies he has supported over his term and articulating exactly how these polices are both sound economic policy and extensions of his values. He also made more illuminating statements about his personal religious beliefs than he has made throughout most of his presidency.
In his remarks, the president explained several of his positions as extensions of his faith and beliefs. He said that forcing banking institutions onto a level playing field, preventing insurance companies from discriminating against certain groups, and regulating lenders were motivated by his desire to aid the economy as well as by values gained through his religious beliefs. He endorsed aid for the poor, saying that help for those suffering in poverty “may reflect the Jewish belief that the highest form of charity is to do our part to help others stand on their own.” Obama attributed his contention that responsibility in the repressed economy should be shared to his Christian values, with the better off being asked to bare more of the burden. These values, he claimed mirrored “the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration for others.” Foreign aid was also connected to biblical values; Obama linked the policies to both promotion of democratic values and to caring for the poor as required by the bible.
Obama has taken fire from religious groups who charge that his administration has waged a war against religion. Obama took great pains during the speech to emphasize his personal religious beliefs in a way rarely seen over the course of his campaign and presidency. He thanked a few religious charities for their work including specifically naming the American Jewish World Service. He also emphasized that there were different ways of viewing Christian values, policy-wise, quoting C.S. Lewis, who said “Christianity has not, and does not profess to have a detailed political program” and told a story about a visit to preacher Billy Graham.
The National Prayer Breakfast is a yearly event held on the first Thursday in the month of February. Every president has attended since Dwight D. Eisenhower and President Obama has attended each year of his presidency. It is hosted by House and Senate prayer groups and has been held since the 1980s at Washington Hilton. Last week’s breakfast marks the event’s 60th year.