Prayer and Politics

February 02, 2012

This morning was the annual National Prayer Breakfast (you can watch most of it here). Dating back to 1953, it is sponsored by a secretive, controversial group known as "The Family" (see post here). The gathering, which brings together U.S. politicians, world officials, and celebrity personalities (like Heisman winner Robert Griffin III, who prayed at this year's event). The event serves as an annual reminder that both Republican and Democratic politicians use confessional politics. Among those speaking, reading scriptures, or praying this year were: Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Representative Paul Broun (R-GA), Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), Representative Mike McIntrye (D-NC), Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR), and Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL). Also speaking--as is tradition--was the president. Using confessional politics, President Barack Obama demonstrated that he is not willing to cede the topic of religion to Republicans in this election year. Obama argued:

And I begin by giving all praise and honor to God for bringing us together here today. ... I think we all understand that these values cannot truly find voice in our politics and our policies unless they find a place in our hearts. The Bible teaches us to "be doers of the word and not merely hearers." ... I have fallen on my knees with great regularity since that moment -- asking God for guidance not just in my personal life and my Christian walk, but in the life of this nation and in the values that hold us together and keep us strong. I know that He will guide us. He always has, and He always will.
In his speech, Obama also quoted scriptures to justify his positions on various public policy issues, including progressive tax rates, foreign aid, and getting the military involved in Uganda. Additionally, he mentioned his prayer times in the Oval Office with preachers like Joel Hunter and T.D. Jakes, as well as the fact that he met and prayed in the past with Billy Graham. Interestingly, the keynote speaker this year was author Eric Mextas, who was part of evangelist James Robison's meeting last year when various conservative leaders met to strategize how to defeat Obama. And yet, there he was sharing the stage with Obama. Apparently prayer--not just politics--makes strange bedfellows.