By Fidel "Butch" Montoya
For days before the National Prayer Breakfast, many critics of this national prayer event, warned the President to stay away from this annual prayer event. Their false accusations that the leaders of the prayer breakfast, called The Fellowship were allegedly tied to legislation that calls for the imprisonment and execution of homosexuals in Uganda. Following the example of other Presidents of over a half century, President Obama chose to ignore the liberal critics and attend the National Prayer Breakfast.
President Obama has not been recognized as a religious president and often criticized for his speeches where he has down played the significance that God, or the Holy Bible have played in the founding of our nation.
During the campaign summer of 2006, candidate Obama made the following statement during a speech at a “Call to Renewal” conference held by Sojourners. “Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation – at least, not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.”
The statement, “At least, not just” a Christian nation, caused uproar particularly among Evangelicals who believe our nation was founded on the Judeo-Christian moral values. Many faith leaders felt the President showed little respect for the historic moral values, including the Ten Commandments, which were observed by our forefathers who did believe in God.
As the President gathered at the National Prayer Breakfast, he tried hard to portray a President who respected the need for prayer. “I’m also here for the same reason that all of you are, for we share a recognition – one as old as time – that a willingness to believe, an openness to grace, a commitment to prayer can bring sustenance to our lives.”
As some may remember, candidate Obama threw his pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright under the church bus when Pastor Wright came under heavy criticism for preaching sermons claiming America was a racist nation. In one of his sermons on racism, Wright had called out “God d*** America! The only problem, the sermons were sometimes as old as six or seven years old.
Reporters took Wright’s sermons out of context and in order to distance himself from the controversy, candidate Obama disassociated himself from his pastor and spiritual advisor of over twenty years. Obviously, the fact candidate Obama disassociated himself so easily from his longtime spiritual advisor, gave Evangelicals little respect for a man who demonstrated how little spiritual back bone he may have processed.
Even today, many Evangelicals doubt and continue to mistrust President Obama as to whether or not he is really a man of prayer and if he possesses any strong spiritual values linked to his character.
At the prayer breakfast, Obama admitted the value and his need for prayer. “There is, of course, a need for prayer even in times of joy and peace and prosperity. Perhaps especially in such times prayer is needed -- to guard against pride and to guard against complacency. But rightly or wrongly, most of us are inclined to seek out the divine not in the moment when the Lord makes His face shine upon us, but in moments when God's grace can seem farthest away.”
It seemed like a stark admission coming from someone who had so quickly turned his back on the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. For the record, I don’t believe it was fair for the news media to take the sermons out of context and then act as if Wright was a preacher bent on destroying our nation.
It seems highly reasonable to me that it was the sin of racism in this land that not only frustrated and hardened those activists and clergy members who led the Civil Rights Movement along with Dr. Martin Luther King, and who fought for freedom from racism and bigotry. Imagine if they had refrained from condemning racism and racists in our country.
But at the prayer breakfast, beyond trying to repair his poor record of church attendance as President, he also chose to convince the nation that he was truly a President who relied on prayer and a belief in the supernatural to sustain his faith.
There was no doubt President Obama who has felt the pressure from his critics that he has not always hit the right tones on faith, and spirituality, was at the National Prayer Breakfast to make a bigger point on condemning the lack of civility not only in the Halls of Congress, but on Main Street USA.
“Empowered by faith, consistently, prayerfully, we need to find our way back to civility. That begins with stepping out of our comfort zones in an effort to bridge divisions. We see that in many conservative pastors who are helping lead the way to fix our broken immigration system. It's not what would be expected from them, and yet they recognize, in those immigrant families, the face of God.
We see that in the evangelical leaders who are rallying their congregations to protect our planet. We see it in the increasing recognition among progressives that government can't solve all of our problems, and that talking about values like responsible fatherhood and healthy marriage are integral to any anti-poverty agenda. Stretching out of our dogmas, our prescribed roles along the political spectrum that can help us regain a sense of civility.”
President Obama went on to say, “Civility also requires relearning how to disagree without being disagreeable; understanding, as President [Kennedy] said, that "civility is not a sign of weakness." Now, I am the first to confess I am not always right. Michelle will testify to that. But surely you can question my policies without questioning my faith, or, for that matter, my citizenship.”
“Challenging each other's ideas can renew our democracy. But when we challenge each other's motives, it becomes harder to see what we hold in common. We forget that we share at some deep level the same dreams -- even when we don't share the same plans on how to fulfill them.”
It was clear the President was not about to lose this opportunity, in spite of his liberal devotees demanding that he not show up at the National Prayer Breakfast, to make his case for civility and for making the point that he recognized the need for all of us to work together for the common good.
He made his case for civility and desire to work together with the “party of no,” and others who have not only criticized the President’s agenda, but who have often taken to challenge the President to the point of calling into question his citizenship and desire to be a good President.
It was clear that Obama sensed this was the time to call upon all Americans to stop consorting with one another to destroy the very nature of our county and public narrative needed to restore our country to its destiny.
“It is this spirit of civility that we are called to take up when we leave here today. That's what I'm praying for. I know in difficult times like these -- when people are frustrated, when pundits start shouting and politicians start calling each other names -- it can seem like a return to civility is not possible, like the very idea is a relic of some bygone era. The word itself seems quaint -- civility.
But let us remember those who came before; those who believed in the brotherhood of man even when such a faith was tested. Remember Dr. Martin Luther King. Not long after an explosion ripped through his front porch, his wife and infant daughter inside, he rose to that pulpit in Montgomery and said, "Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend."
To the critics of the President attending this year’s National Prayer Breakfast, they obviously were very wrong to discourage the President from making an appearance and making a bold speech on the need for this country to come together to tackle the very issues that have caused division, hate, discord, and lack of ability to work out our differences.
“Surely we can agree to find common ground when possible, parting ways when necessary. But in doing so, let us be guided by our faith, and by prayer. For while prayer can buck us up when we are down, keep us calm in a storm; while prayer can stiffen our spines to surmount an obstacle -- and I assure you I'm praying a lot these days -- prayer can also do something else. It can touch our hearts with humility. It can fill us with a spirit of brotherhood. It can remind us that each of us are children of a awesome and loving God.”
Mr. President, I will extend my hand to yours and to others who together sense the urgent need to open our hearts and recognize for our country to retain its role as a spiritual leader in the world, our faith and purpose depends not only upon our common humanity, but on our need to be guided by our personal faith and our prayers.
Fidel "Butch" Montoya is Director of H.S. Power and Light Ministries. He was the Vice President/News Director of KUSA Channel 9 News from 1985-1990, and worked at the news station for 24 years. Montoya also served as Deputy Mayor of City and County of Denver from 1995-1999; as the Manager of Public Safety for the City and County of Denver from 1994-2000. Montoya was Licensed to preach in 1972.