So both the secretary of state and the president attacked Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill at the National Prayer Breakfast today. I haven’t found Clinton’s remarks yet, but Obama had this to say (full text after jump):

We  may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are–whether it’s here in the United States or, as Hillary mentioned, more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda.

That’s pretty good. One might have wished for a little more, perhaps along these lines: “…but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are, and morally irresponsible not to take a stand against those who do–whether it’s here…” That would have given his hosts a bit of a smack. Even so, there’s no question that the Uganda situation and the ambiguous role of The Family in it have registered at the highest levels of the Administration, and been seen to register.

Update: Clinton’s remarks here. The Uganda graph goes as follows:

But we are also standing up for girls and women, who too often in the
name of religion, are denied their basic human rights. And we are
standing up for gays and lesbians who deserve to be treated as full
human beings. (Applause.) And we are also making it clear to countries
and leaders that these are priorities of the United States. Every time
I travel, I raise the plight of girls and women, and make it clear that
we expect to see changes. And I recently called President Museveni,
whom I have known through the prayer breakfast, and expressed the
strongest concerns about a law being considered in the parliament of
Uganda.

That’s good, particularly in the context of the sentence that follows: “We are committed, not only to reaching out and speaking up about the
perversion of religion, and in particular the use of it to promote
and justify terrorism, but also seeking to find common ground.” The clear implication is that the Uganda bill represents a “perversion of religion.” The word “perversion” hangs there, pregnantly.

Belated: Interviewed the day before the breakfast by Warren Throckmorton, Doug Coe said he opposes the provisions and spirit of the bill.


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THE WHITE HOUSE

 

Office of the Press
Secretary

______________________________________________________________________

For Immediate Release
                                February
4, 2010

 

 

REMARKS BY THE
PRESIDENT

AT THE NATIONAL
PRAYER BREAKFAST

 

Washington Hilton

Washington, D.C.

 

9:08 A.M. EST

 

     THE PRESIDENT:  Thank
you.  Thank you very much.  Please be seated.

 

Thank you so much.  Heads of
state, Cabinet members, my outstanding Vice President, members of Congress, religious
leaders, distinguished guests, Admiral Mullen — it’s good to see all of
you.  Let me begin by acknowledging the co-chairs of this breakfast,
Senators Isakson and Klobuchar, who embody the sense of fellowship at the heart
of this gathering.  They’re two of my favorite senators.  Let me also
acknowledge the director of my faith-based office, Joshua DuBois, who is
here.  Where’s Joshua?  He’s out there somewhere.  He’s doing
great work.  (Applause.) 

 

I want to commend Secretary Hillary
Clinton on her outstanding remarks, and her outstanding leadership at the State
Department.  She’s doing good every day.  (Applause.) I’m especially
pleased to see my dear friend, Prime Minister Zapatero, and I want him to relay
America’s greetings to the people of Spain.  And Johnny, you are right,
I’m deeply blessed, and I thank God every day for being married to Michelle
Obama.  (Applause.)

 

I’m privileged to join you once
again, as my predecessors have for over half a century.  Like them, I come
here to speak about the ways my faith informs who I am — as a President, and
as a person.  But I’m also here for the same reason that all of you are,
for we all 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.

 

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.

 

Last month, God’s grace, God’s
mercy, seemed far away from our neighbors in Haiti.  And yet I believe
that grace was not absent in the midst of tragedy.  It was heard in
prayers and hymns that broke the silence of an earthquake’s wake.  It was
witnessed among parishioners of churches that stood no more, a roadside congregation,
holding bibles in their laps.  It was felt in the presence of relief
workers and medics; translators; servicemen and women, bringing water and food
and aid to the injured.

 

One such translator was an American
of Haitian descent, representative of the extraordinary work that our men and
women in uniform do all around the world — Navy Corpsman Christian [sic]
Brossard.  And lying on a gurney aboard the USNS Comfort, a woman asked
Christopher:  “Where do you come from?  What country?  After
my operation,” she said, “I will pray for that country.” 
And in Creole, Corpsman Brossard responded, “Etazini.”  The
United States of America.

 

God’s grace, and the compassion and
decency of the American people is expressed through the men and women like
Corpsman Brossard.  It’s expressed through the efforts of our Armed
Forces, through the efforts of our entire government, through similar efforts
from Spain and other countries around the world.  It’s also, as Secretary
Clinton said, expressed through multiple faith-based efforts.  By
evangelicals at World Relief.  By the American Jewish World Service. 
By Hindu temples, and mainline Protestants, Catholic Relief Services, African
American churches, the United Sikhs.  By Americans of every faith, and no
faith, uniting around a common purpose, a higher purpose.

 

It’s inspiring.  This is what
we do, as Americans, in times of trouble.  We unite, recognizing that such
crises call on all of us to act, recognizing that there but for the grace of
God go I, recognizing that life’s most sacred responsibility — one affirmed,
as Hillary said, by all of the world’s great religions — is to sacrifice
something of ourselves for a person in need.

 

Sadly, though, that spirit is too
often absent when tackling the long-term, but no less profound issues facing
our country and the world.  Too often, that spirit is missing without the
spectacular tragedy, the 9/11 or the Katrina, the earthquake or the tsunami,
that can shake us out of complacency.  We become numb to the day-to-day
crises, the slow-moving tragedies of children without food and men without
shelter and families without health care.  We become absorbed with our
abstract arguments, our ideological disputes, our contests for power.  And
in this Tower of Babel, we lose the sound of God’s voice.

 

Now, for those of us here in
Washington, let’s acknowledge that democracy has always been messy.  Let’s
not be overly nostalgic.  (Laughter.)  Divisions are hardly new in
this country.  Arguments about the proper role of government, the
relationship between liberty and equality, our obligations to our fellow
citizens — these things have been with us since our founding.  And I’m
profoundly mindful that a loyal opposition, a vigorous back and forth, a
skepticism of power, all of that is what makes our democracy work. 

 

And we’ve seen actually some
improvement in some circumstances.  We haven’t seen any canings on the
floor of the Senate any time recently.  (Laughter.)  So we shouldn’t
over-romanticize the past.  But 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.  At times, 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.  It poisons the well of public opinion.  It leaves each
side little room to negotiate with the other.  It makes politics an
all-or-nothing sport, where one side is either always right or always wrong
when, in reality, neither side has a monopoly on truth.  And then we lose
sight of the children without food and the men without shelter and the families
without health care. 

 

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.

 

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.  (Laughter.)  But surely you can question my policies without
questioning my faith, or, for that matter, my citizenship.  (Laughter and
applause.)

 

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.

 

We may disagree about the best way
to reform our health care system, but surely we can agree that no one ought to
go broke when they get sick in the richest nation on Earth.  We can take
different approaches to ending inequality, but surely we can agree on the need
to lift our children out of ignorance; to lift our neighbors from
poverty.  We may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that
it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are — whether
it’s here in the United States or, as Hillary mentioned, more extremely in
odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda.

 

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 –
(laughter) — 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.

 

Through faith, but not through
faith alone, we can unite people to serve the common good.  And that’s why
my Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships has been working so hard
since I announced it here last year.  We’ve slashed red tape and built
effective partnerships on a range of uses, from promoting fatherhood here at
home to spearheading interfaith cooperation abroad.  And through that
office we’ve turned the faith-based initiative around to find common ground
among people of all beliefs, allowing them to make an impact in a way that’s
civil and respectful of difference and focused on what matters most.

 

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.”

 

In the eyes of those who denied his
humanity, he saw the face of God.

 

Remember Abraham Lincoln.  On
the eve of the Civil War, with states seceding and forces gathering, with a
nation divided half slave and half free, he rose to deliver his first Inaugural
and said, “We are not enemies, but friends… Though passion may have
strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”

 

Even in the eyes of confederate
soldiers, he saw the face of God.

 

Remember William Wilberforce, whose
Christian faith led him to seek slavery’s abolition in Britain; he was
vilified, derided, attacked; but he called for “lessening prejudices [and]
conciliating good-will, and thereby making way for the less obstructed progress
of truth.”

 

In the eyes of those who sought to
silence a nation’s conscience, he saw the face of God.

 

Yes, there are crimes of conscience
that call us to action.  Yes, there are causes that move our hearts and
offenses that stir our souls.  But progress doesn’t come when we demonize
opponents.  It’s not born in righteous spite.  Progress comes when we
open our hearts, when we extend our hands, when we recognize our common
humanity.  Progress comes when we look into the eyes of another and see
the face of God.  That we might do so — that we will do so all the time,
not just some of the time — is my fervent prayer for our nation and the world.

 

Thank you, God bless you, and God
bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

 

                               
END           9:25 A.M. EST

 

Categories: Beliefs

Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life.

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