Obama, Wallace, Giffords's Husband, Chilean Miner Lead Prayer Breakfast
WASHINGTON – President Obama used his address at today's National Prayer Breakfast to reiterate his Christian faith, re-telling the story of his nonreligious upbringing and conversion to Christianity.
"My Christian faith then has been a sustaining force for me over these last few years, all the more so when Michelle and I hear our faith questioned from time to time," Obama said. "We are reminded that ultimately what matters is not what other people say about us, but whether we're being true to our conscience and true to our God."
Previous polls have suggested that about 18 percent of Americans believe Obama is a Muslim.
Last year, Obama's speech emphasized civility, finding common ground guided by faith. "Empowered by faith, consistently, prayerfully, we need to find our way back to civility," he said in 2010. Obama introduced the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at his first prayer breakfast in 2009. Michael Scherer of Time magazine notes that in 2009, Obama used "I" 15 times, in 2010, he used "I" 10 times, and this year, he said "I" 44 times.
Obama said earlier that he has chosen not to join a church, though a White House spokesman Kevin Lewis recently told The Washington Post, "We will be sure to confirm when they have made a decision on a church home," Lewis said after the Obamas visited Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in January.
The White House has instead focused on the relationships Obama has with several pastors and a daily devotional he receives on his Blackberry. In his speech today, Obama said that Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter and Texas megachurch pastor T. D. Jakes pray with him in the Oval Office, and that he receives "respite and fellowship" in the chapel at Camp David. White House staffer Joshua DuBois also sends Obama a meditation each morning.
"When I wake in the morning, I wait on the Lord, I ask him to give me the strength to do right by our country and our people," Obama said. "And when I go to bed at night, I wait on the Lord and I ask him to forgive me my sins and to look after my family and to make me an instrument of the Lord."
He also threw in a few jokes for the audience. "Lord, give me patience as I watch Malia go to her first dance where there will be boys," he said to laughter. "Lord, let that skirt become longer as she travels to that dance."
He joked about telling Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla., who is a Southern Baptist deacon) that God would lead him to vote Obama's way. "It is comforting to know people are praying for you who don't always agree with you," he said. "Tom, It's gonna happen. A ray of light is going to beam down."
At the beginning of his speech, Obama briefly addressed the protests in Egypt, saying, "We pray that the violence in Egypt will end, and that the rights and aspirations of the Egyptian people will be realized, and that a better day will dawn over Egypt and throughout the world."
Braveheart writer and director of Secretariat Randall Wallace was the breakfast's keynote speaker, telling the audience when he was out of work during the Writers Guild strike. "I prayed that if I go down in this fight that I not do it on my knees to someone else, but standing up with my flag flying," Wallace said, which inspired a Braveheart scene.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton headlined last year's speech, while former British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke in 2009.
One of the rescued Chilean miners, Jose Henriquez, spoke of the spiritual climate while they were trapped underground for 52 days in 2010. "We decided unless we prayed and God did a miracle there would be no way out," he said. "And that became our daily hope and confidence." He said each miner received a small Bible with his name on it while they were underground. He gathered the miners to pray just before they were rescued. "Some wanted to dive in and get in the capsule but I said, 'Hold it. Were going to pray first.' "
Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords's husband, Mark Kelly, offered some closing words. While his wife was in the hospital in Tucson, Kelly said he visited a makeshift memorial with religious symbols, saying that "it was like stepping into a church, a place with heaven itself as its ceiling."
Kelly closed the breakfast with a prayer a rabbi had given over Giffords's hospital bed just after the shooting asking that angels would surround her. Giffords was among 19 people shot on January 8.
The text of the speech will be posted below when it becomes available from the White House.