by Julie Pace
WASHINGTON (AP)—Blending politics and religion, President Barack Obama said his Christian faith is a driving force behind his economic policies, from Wall Street reform to his calls for the wealthy to pay higher taxes.
|SPEAKING ABOUT FAITH—President Barack Obama acknowledges applause, by first lady Michelle Obama, and others, after speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Feb. 2. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Obama’s remarks Feb. 2 at the National Prayer Breakfast were his most explicit account of how his personal religious beliefs factor into his decision-making on the nation’s pressing problems. The comments came amid election-year criticism from Catholic groups and some Republicans that the president is waging a war on religion following his decision to require church-affiliated institutions to cover free birth control for employees.
Speaking to more than 3,000 people at the annual breakfast, Obama said “faith and values” should play as much a role in tackling the nation’s challenges as sound decision-making and smart policies.
He said, for example, that his own call for fairness in the tax code—a central tenet of his State of the Union address and his 2012 campaign—is both economically sound and consistent with the teachings of Jesus.
“If I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense,” he said. “But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’ teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.’ It mirrors the Islamic belief that those who’ve been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others, or the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration for others.”
He also said the Wall Street reform he championed both “makes the economy stronger for everyone” and abides by God’s command to “love thy neighbor as thyself” because it helped people who had been hurt or treated unfairly by financial institutions.
And Obama said he believed in a “biblical call” to care for the poor and to follow “the responsibility we’re given in Proverbs to ‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.’”
The president’s remarks came one day after Mitt Romney, the front-runner for the Republican nomination, created a flap with clumsy comments about the poor.
Romney said he wasn’t concerned about the “very poor” because they have a safety net. He also said he wasn’t concerned about the very rich and intended to focus his campaign on the middle-class.
“You can focus on the very poor; that’s not my focus,” Romney said.
While the White House said the president’s remarks were not meant to be political, his comments did fit neatly into the Obama campaign’s effort to draw sharp contrasts between the president and Romney.
While Obama speaks often about his faith, he prefers to worship in private. He said that he starts each morning with a brief prayer, and then spends time reading scripture. Sometimes, he said, pastors come to the Oval Office to pray with him, for his family and for the country.
He also described his own religious transformation in deeply personal language Thursday, from growing up in a non-religious home to finding Christ later in his life. He recalled a visit a few years ago with the evangelist Rev. Billy Graham, which ended with the president feeling compelled to pray for the aging Graham.
Obama said when he found himself at that moment not knowing what to say, the Holy Spirit interceded.
“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,” he said.