Eugene Cho

president obama: national prayer breakfast

Hi everyone. I’m currently in Washington DC. Long story short, I have a meeting with a group of other folks at the White House today and I’m looking forward to learning, listening, and collaborating. I’m honored to be a participant in these discussions with folks I already respect and admire and hope to get to write more about this meeting.

But this morning, I had the privilege of attending the National Prayer Breakfast – with about 3500 other people in this intimate time of prayer.😉

When I received this invitation, it was a no-brainer. Lately, I’ve been really burdened to pray – to pray for my city, this country, our leadership, and the affairs of the larger world. A few months ago, I shared with you this deep spiritual sense of wanting and really, needing, to pray for President Obama.

As I attend this prayer breakfast, I wanted to make sure that my motivation wasn’t to simply be a part of a formality demonstration of prayer. I have no political agenda and even despite getting pushback and some criticism from folks that I lean towards one party or affiliation, I am indeed politically independent.

I care about politics not because I obsess over politics.
Rather, politics is important to me because it involves policies and policies, ultimately, impact people. We have no choice: we must be engaged in our civic responsibilities and affairs.

While I can pray anytime and anywhere (and isn’t this amazing?), I saw it as an opportunity – as I shared with my church this past Sunday – to represent my church, my family, and others that connect with me – to genuinely lift up prayers for the leadership of this nation and the challenges for our country and the world.

So, I ask you these questions and I would really love to hear from you:

  • How are you praying for this country?

  • What should we be praying for?

There’s much to pray for, no? The situation in Egypt; The financial burden of debt and the economy; Foreign relations; The growing homeless community in our very neighborhoods and country; Immigration and Health Care Reform; The increasing lack of civility. And the list goes on.

But one prayer that I will be especially lift up is

how we care, advocate, and empower the marginalized and forgotten in our midst.

And lastly, as I listened to President Obama’s speech this morning, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that while we can certainly make a compelling case that we are the best country in the world, we are nevertheless, the Roman empire from the lens of Scripture.

“Much has been given and much is to be expected.”

And so, my prominent prayer for our country is:

May we be peacemakers.

Here’s Obama’s full talk at this year’s National Prayer Breakfast:

Also, if you’re interested, here’s the full manuscript of President Obama’s speech and quasi-sermon from last year’s National Prayer Breakfast:

President Obama’s Prayer Speech

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.

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.

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.

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.  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. 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.  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.

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  — 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.

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16 Responses

  1. Erick says:

    I have often felt overwhelmed at the amount of things there are to pray for and it has exhausted me before I can even begin – you could even call it a ‘prayer funk’. But lately and especially after a weekend with my brothers and sisters in Youth Min throughout the Covenant I have been craving prayer.

    Craving prayer, intimacy with God really, has made prayer less overwhelming as a ‘task’ and I have been more overwhelmed with the Father’s love. I know I didn’t get to this place on my own -God is just so generous- and I think I re-realized the gift that it is.

    If you would have posted this 2 months ago I probably would not have read it. Glad you had this opportunity and thankful for the reminder to bring all things to God, even when they seem ‘untouchable’.

  2. noel says:

    thank you for the reminder to be praying for our president. i echo the above comment in that at times there are just too many things on the plate of prayer and the prayers lifted on behalf of our leaders in this country often go overlooked for me.

  3. ben adam says:

    I am amazingly disturbed by how incredibly, blatantly idolatrous a state-sanctioned prayer meeting is. I am disappointed that you attended such a collusion between the state religion and the religion of the people. I’ll be praying that these events end.

  4. P.p. says:

    why is that obama declares himself a christian, yet he never mentions Jesus? read (listen) to all his “christian” speeches. he never mentions his faith in jesus. sure, he speaks “christianese” with words like “God’s grace” or “mercy” and “prayer”, but he conveniently (or purposely) leaves out Jesus’ name. and we all know that’s not christian.

  5. debi says:

    Beautiful…so love your heart. Thank you for being a voice of reason, joining you in praying for our president. Praying for you as well. “to act justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly”
    Blessed are the peacemakers.

  6. […] what he had to say.  Others  of course were delighted by his speech.  I particularly enjoyed these comments by Eugene Cho who had the privilege of attending the […]

  7. RP says:

    Paul, I think that is appropriate, he’s doing what he’s expected to do. He’s the President of a country with no official religion, his faith is his own. He’s not a pastor or a pope. He’s not someone who is supposed to be looked to for spiritual guidance, and he’s walking a fine line.

    I for one have no problem with the way he handles that, and I don’t doubt he’s a Christian. I hasten to add that I am one too, even though I have a different understanding of this (an understanding that I think is consistent with both scripture and the law of the land)

    • P.p. says:

      ryan, i politely disagree with you on your statement, “He’s not a pastor or a pope.” scripture clearly teaches us (Hebrews) that all christians are priests. after constantine the emperor (325ish AD) became a christian, he changed christianity and the priest hood became a privilege. but that’s not how jesus intended it. if one is a christian, he or she has the authority of a priest, including obama.

      and as a christian, he is one who’s looked to for spiritual guidance, all christians are. jesus paints that picture clearly “be a light in the darkness” and other metaphors. he is not a president who happens to be a christian, he’s a christian who happens to be a president.

      i just read another account of obama speech on relevant and it doesn’t match this one here. the one on relevant seems more authentic, so i’m wondering, if both are accounts of his word for word speech, shouldn’t they be exact? i don’t understand why there’s a discrepancy.

      • RP says:

        Your point about the priesthood of believers is well taken!

        I think something should be added to it for consideration, however: Revelation and the account of how Solomon became king, as well as the history of the church itself, warn us about mixing Heavenly and earthly power and authority; I think Christians are supposed to be good citizens, but I think we also have to be very careful about how our faith and earthly government interface. I really think that so much of what Constantine did hurt the faith, and Israel’s history as well as all of human history is the story of how we keep making the same mistake of idolatry with earthly power again and again. I don’t think it’s possible for any nation to be a Christian nation because it requires us to work against the nature of God to achieve this. The things of this earth will pass away (including the United States), but I do think a nation can be a better nation because it has people in it who choose because of the grace of God upon their hearts to walk in faith. Our faith and our walk are implicit, they guide us from the inside out and not the outside in. They come from God, not the culture, or the majority or the state, the law is written on our hearts.

        Because of these principles, whether or not he chooses to express his faith publicly while in office, Obama’s confession of faith may make him an imperfect Christian, but I’m not sure it necessitates me casting doubts on the authenticity of his faith, or that for the purposes of earthly government, that his expression of faith should shade my opinion of his presidency.

        I think you have a good implicit point, that we should be wary of being mislead by President Obama’s confession of faith, but that has long been a litmus test in the United States, and it shouldn’t be. A president should be evaluated for being a president, and this recognition should also cause us to be wary of confessions of faith by all past and future presidents. As a Christian, I am encouraged by how President Obama seems to conceptualize and articulate his faith; I think the way he apprehends the faith is a great asset for a leader to have privately, “go[ing] into [his] room and closing the door to pray” (Mat. 6:6). I am heartened by his sense of God-motivated justice and compassion in the tradition of Dr. King; I can detect no falseness or deception there when I test the spirits. I am very glad that this informs his presidency, it need not even be so overt but I think we as a nation have wrongfully demanded this. As for his presidency, I can only require him to do what earthly power requires of an earthly leader. I pray he will continue to do a good job of this.

  8. Lon says:

    wow what a cool opportunity you have. Though all of us can pray from wherever we are, there is something to be said about proximity and the human connections made in person

  9. Cliff says:

    Every American imho should go to Washington DC at least once. I wasn’t able to see anything but what was the basic areas for tourist but I thought DC was very nice.

    Obama quotes the Bible occasionally, I remember when he quoted the book of Matthew.

  10. […] of it; surprising since most are U.S.-based.  The one who did comment, was actually there, but Eugene Cho commented only briefly, and the provided the text of last year’s speech by the […]

  11. […] I had the opportunity to travel to Washington DC for two purposes. I attended the National Prayer Breakfast and was honored to hear President Barack Obama share about his faith in Christ. When he came out […]

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Father - daughters bonding (and freezing) time at the Seahawks game. Grateful to the Panthers organization for the tickets. Now, go Hawks. Pound the Panthers. The family that karaokes together stays together. #ChoFamilyKPopFamily Family time in one of my favorite cities in the world - especially when the exchange rate is so favorable. Thank you, Vancouver, for being such a great refuge for our souls for the past 20 years. #QuestVancouver It's the day after...that day.
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