- The Washington Times - Friday, February 5, 2010

The nation got a rare glimpse into President Obama’s private faith Thursday, when he told lawmakers gathered at the National Prayer Breakfast that religion can help them overcome differences and tackle political problems the same way Americans come together in the wake of disasters.

“Through faith, but not through faith alone, we can unite people to serve the common good,” Mr. Obama said. “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.”

Mr. Obama appeared at the breakfast, a Washington institution for a half-century, alongside Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and a bipartisan group of public officials.

He shared the stage with star college quarterback Tim Tebow, who is known for his evangelical beliefs as well as his success with the University of Florida Gators. Mr. Tebow appears in a pro-life commercial set to air during the Super Bowl this weekend. The National Organization for Women lobbied CBS unsuccessfully to pull the ad, while Planned Parenthood responded with its own pro-choice video featuring former NFL star Sean James.

Calling for a “serious and civil debate,” Mr. Obama bemoaned the state of relations between Republicans and Democrats, arguing that it harms Americans’ trust in their political system.

“This erosion of civility in the public square sows division and distrust among our citizens. It poisons the well of public opinion,” he said. “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.”

Mr. Obama and his family have attended church services in Washington a handful of times in the past year, but the White House has said they maintain their faith privately and continue to look for a regular church in the area. In an interview with ABC News this month, Mr. Obama has said he starts his morning by reading devotional passages sent by an aide on his BlackBerry.

His appearance at the breakfast Thursday drew fire because of the event’s organizer, the Fellowship Foundation, which critics have called secretive. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, earlier this week called on public officials to stay home and for C-SPAN not to broadcast the event.

“The National Prayer Breakfast uses the suggested imprimatur of the elected leaders who attend to give the fellowship greater credibility and facilitate its networking and fundraising,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group. “The president and members of Congress should not legitimatize this cultlike group - the head of which has praised the organizing abilities of Hitler and bin Laden - by attending the breakfast.”

The watchdog group has accused the fellowship of supporting a proposed law in Uganda that includes a death penalty for those who engage in frequent gay sex.

Mr. Obama did not refer directly to the sponsorship controversy but directly attacked the proposed Ugandan law.

The sparring parties in Washington “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, … more extremely, in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda.”

Mr. Obama and other speakers mentioned the devastating earthquake in Haiti last month, saying people must keep faith even “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,” Mr. Obama said. “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 food and water and aid to the injured.”

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