WASHINGTON (BP)–Washington politicians should prayerfully restore civility to governing, President Obama said Feb. 4 at the National Prayer Breakfast.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the keynote speaker. Tim Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner and outspoken Christian who recently completed his playing career as quarterback at the University of Florida, offered the closing prayer. Also praying at the breakfast was Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Obama, speaking at the annual event for the second time since entering the White House, called for a spirit of sacrificial service in U.S. politics that matches that shown by Americans who have acted compassionately to help Haitians following the earthquake that struck the poverty-stricken Caribbean country.
While “democracy has always been messy,” the president said, ” … there is a sense that something is different now, that something is broken, that those of us in Washington are not serving the people as well as we should.”
He said there are times when it “seems like we’re unable to listen to one another, to have at once a serious and civil debate. And this erosion of civility in the public square sows division and distrust among our citizens.”
“Empowered by faith, consistently, prayerfully, we need to find our way back to civility,” Obama told the audience of legislators, administration officials, foreign diplomats, religious leaders and others gathered in a Washington hotel ballroom.
The president urged people to leave their comfort zones to overcome the divide. Among those who have done so, he said, are conservative pastors seeking to reform immigration, evangelical leaders urging care for the environment and progressives who increasingly recognize “government can’t solve all of our problems.”
Obama acknowledged he is “not always right…. But surely you can question my policies without questioning my faith or, for that matter, my citizenship.
“It is this spirit of civility that we are called to take up when we leave here today,” the president said near the end of his 17-minute speech. “That’s what I’m praying for.”
Hillary Clinton, in the keynote address, urged people of various faiths to do good.
Clinton, who was reared as a Methodist, said she carries with her in her travels the following quote from John Wesley: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
She called it “a good rule to live by, with the appropriate dose of humility.”
Also speaking was Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D.-Minn., and Johnny Isakson, R.-Ga., co-chaired this year’s breakfast. Members of Congress read Scripture, prayed and shared about their weekly prayer meetings during the event.
The National Prayer Breakfast, which is sponsored by an evangelical Christian organization, began in 1953 during President Eisenhower’s first administration.
Obama’s comments may be accessed online at www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-national-prayer-breakfast.
Clinton’s remarks are available on the Internet at www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2010/02/136501.htm.
Tebow’s closing prayer can be heard at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qr0xe8aOh0E.
Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.