Thursday, May 7, 2009

Obama's Decision to Pray Privately Not Good Enough for Some

Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Peter Bronson is not that happy with President Obama in his latest blog post. Bronson's criticisms center around Obama's decision to "not take a White House role" in the National Day of Prayer. Instead, Obama decided that he would rather pray privately.

Why does this irk Bronson?:

Outside of attending the offensively radical church of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, there was little evidence of Obama's faith, except what he told us. But since being elected, he broke with tradition by skipping church after his innauguration in favor of a workout; he still has not found a church home after attending a D.C. church on Easter; and he decided not to take a White House role in the National Day of Prayer, saying that instead he would pray privately.

It looks like Obama spent more time in church campaigning than he has since he was elected.

Bronson readily admits that for many, this topic is meaningless and rightly so. After all, Obama was not elected to give us spiritual guidance, that is up to our own individual beliefs and how we wish to express them. Bronson however, disagrees that this topic lacks importance. He says that for people like him, faith is an important part of life and should be a "bedrock foundation for our leaders too".

Bronson goes on to claim that because our nation was founded by Christians, because the majority of those who are asked about religious preference prefer Christianity, and because most people choose Christianity, that we are a Christian nation. While this paragraph is apparently used to show us that he believes that Christianity is number one in his eyes, he mentions that Obama did not just insult Christians, but all people of faith.

Here are the reasons why Bronson believes that Obama made a mistake in not taking a more public role in the National Day of Prayer:

1.) He passed up an opportunity to reassure us all that he respects and shares our faith. Unfortunately, his decision will add fuel to criticism and suspicions that he's a merely political Christian, such as the comments by Rush Limbaugh to his radio audience.

By "our faith" I assume that Bronson means Christianity. If this is a day that celebrates all faiths, then why does Bronson feel that it is important for Obama to express that he shares a specific faith? It has been well-established that Obama is of the Christian faith (except to those who still think he is a closet Muslim), so why would anyone think Obama doesn't respect the religion to which he is a member? It seems as though the only people who are adding fuel to this fire are people like Bronson who continue to advance these claims.

2.) Obama missed the point. He said he would rather pray privately. Many Christians agree and do that every day. But this was not about him. It was about the office of the presidency and using that national pulpit for a few minutes to show respect for all people of faith.

Bronson admits what his real criticism is about in this very point. This isn't about Obama's own relationship with his God, this is about Bronson and others being upset that he did not use his office to advocate for the religious. Obama, like many Presidents before, issued a proclamation in support of the National Day of Prayer which Bronson does mention, but this is apparently not enough. Isn't issuing a Presidential Proclamation "using the national pulpit to show respect for all people of faith"?

3.) Obama turned a non-partisan, ecumenical event into a political jab, by once again going out of his way to show us he is not like President Bush. By now, we all get that. We also know that being the anti-Bush is not always an improvement. Bush's celebrations of the Day of Prayer were classy, considerate and inspirational -- a refreshing respite from the partisan hair-pulling of D.C.

Bronson interprets Obama's actions as a calculated political decision to do the opposite of what President Bush did. This is a baseless claim. Just because Obama's actions were not the same as President Bush's actions does not automatically mean that this was the prime motivator in this decision. Rewind time to 2002 and you can make the same ridiculous argument by replacing Obama's name with "Bush" and Bush's name with "Bush Sr." or "Reagan" since they were not in the habit of holding White House events on the National Day of Prayer.

Bronson's implication is that Obama's decisions were either "classy", "considerate", or "inspirational". It seems like the only person turning this into a "political jab" is Peter Bronson.

4.) Extremists like the Freedom From Religion Foundation want to outlaw observances -- even proclamations -- by claiming they violate separation of church and state. But Congress is opened by prayers; they are written on our courthouses, our currency and our common ideals. Efforts to eradicate religion from our public life would be shocking to the Founders. Such as:

John Adams: "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

George Washington: "Religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society."

Patrick Henry: "It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great Nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For that reason alone, people of other faiths have been afforded freedom of worship here."

Obama's faith is between him and God. But the way he treats faith as our president is a fair topic for criticism.

I don't think that "extremist" groups who advocate the separation of church and state would be quite as shocking to the founders as Bronson suggests. Here is a clip from an 1802 letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists:

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions"


"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state."

Bronson's blog entry is nothing more than the right's continued attempt to attack Obama for anything and everything. How else can you explain Bronson stating in one breath: "It looks like Obama spent more time in church campaigning than he has since he was elected." and then in the next breath state: "Obama's faith is between him and God." If Obama's faith (or lack thereof according to Bronson) is truly between him and his God, then why on Earth does it matter how many times Obama has been to church? The only reason that it matters is to further this baseless and pointless attack.

Below is the proclamation that President Obama signed for this year's National Day of Prayer. It is actions like these that have led those like Bronson to claim that Obama is not showing respect for people of all faiths. (Emphasis mine)




Throughout our Nation's history, Americans have come together in moments of great challenge and uncertainty to humble themselves in prayer. In 1775, as the Continental Congress began the task of forging a new Nation, colonists were asked to observe a day of quiet humiliation and prayer. Almost a century later, as the flames of the Civil War burned from north to south, President Lincoln and the Congress once again asked the American people to pray as the fate of their Nation hung in the balance.

It is in that spirit of unity and reflection that we once again designate the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer. Let us remember those who came before us, and let us each give thanks for the courage and compassion shown by so many in this country and around the world.

On this day of unity and prayer, let us also honor the service and sacrifice of the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. We celebrate their commitment to uphold our highest ideals, and we recognize that it is because of them that we continue to live in a Nation where people of all faiths can worship or not worship according to the dictates of their conscience.

Let us also use this day to come together in a moment of peace and goodwill. Our world grows smaller by the day, and our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife; and to lift up those who have fallen on hard times. As we observe this day of prayer, we remember the one law that binds all great religions together: the Golden Rule, and its call to love one another; to understand one another; and to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth.

The Congress, by Public Law 100-307, as amended, has called on the President to issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a "National Day of Prayer."

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 7, 2009, as a National Day of Prayer. I call upon Americans to pray in thanksgiving for our freedoms and blessings and to ask for God's continued guidance, grace, and protection for this land that we love.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this seventh day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-third.


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1 comment:

PenMan said...

First, I see what Bronson's problem is, and I think it makes sense: he doesn't like that Obama says one thing and acts one way when it comes to religion when he's campaigning and another way when he's in office. I guess it looks insincere and like a dishonest marketing scheme to get votes.

On the other hand, as a non-believer of any faith (except for materialist-based atheism, I suppose), I don't like this talk about religion being inseparable to society. I can see how morality or ethics is, but not religion. After all, I believe ethics is logically independent of any deity.

Also, I give credit to our founding fathers (though I'm sure it took a lot more people and maybe even some women (oh!) to get this country to work) for their role in founding this country, but there's only so much about them that we have to continue to glorify. Yes, they were Christian, but they weren't like all Christians in this country (after all there's different types), and it's not like they created the perfect product right a way. After all, they were also slave owners. We had to get rid of that, didn't we? They also didn't allow women and non-land owners to vote. Had to strike that down as well, didn't we?

So I don't like that he used this appeal to our founding fathers as a means to discredit Obama. After all, they wouldn't have voted/allowed Obama to be president.