At prayer breakfast, Obama talks faith and foreign policy

WASHINGTON Thu Feb 6, 2014 12:30pm EST

1 of 3. U.S. President Barack Obama applauds as he and First Lady Michelle Obama attend the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington February 6, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama pressed for greater religious freedom in China and offered prayers for U.S. prisoners in North Korea and Iran on Thursday during remarks at an annual prayer breakfast that highlighted his Christian faith.

Obama, who attended the breakfast at a Washington hotel with his wife, Michelle, used the high profile event to renew calls for the release of two men held by U.S. adversaries in Asia and the Middle East.

"We pray for Kenneth Bae, a Christian missionary who's been held in North Korea for 15 months ... His family wants him home. And the United States will continue to do everything in our power to secure his release," Obama said.

"We pray for Pastor Saeed Abedini. He's been held in Iran for more than 18 months, sentenced to eight years in prison on charges relating to his Christian beliefs."

Obama said religious freedom, protected by the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution, was under threat around the world and he singled out China and Burma, also known as Myanmar, as countries that needed to do better on the issue.

"When I meet with Chinese leaders - and we do a lot of business with the Chinese, and that relationship is extraordinarily important not just to our two countries but to the world - but I stress that realizing China's potential rests on upholding universal rights, including for Christians, and Tibetan Buddhists, and Uighur Muslims," Obama said to applause.

"GRATEFUL"

Obama, a Christian, does not talk frequently about his own faith, which was a big issue in the 2008 presidential campaign because of inflammatory remarks by his former Chicago pastor and due to false rumors he was a Muslim.

The president reflected briefly about his religious journey at the breakfast - highlighting his Christianity - and emphasized its role in his life as a community organizer in Chicago and his later career in public service.

"I'm grateful not only because I was broke and the church fed me, but because it led to everything else. It led me to embrace Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. It led me to Michelle, the love of my life, and it blessed us with two extraordinary daughters," Obama said.

"It led me to public service. And the longer I serve, especially in moments of trial or doubt, the more thankful I am of God's guiding hand."

The Obamas do not attend services regularly in Washington, though they occasionally walk across the street to a church near the White House on special occasions.

The national prayer breakfast is billed as an event where Republicans and Democrats set aside their political differences to focus on faith and religion.

(Editing by Sophie Hares)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (13)
brotherkenny4 wrote:
The most violent nation on earth is the US. The country that uses military force to kill more people than anyone else is the US. Christians are the most violent people to come out of the three violent desert religions (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity). What lesson will we teach China? How to use religion to punish and torture those we hate and to take their natural resources and destroy their self determination and how to brainwash people that they are free while all the while taking away their freedoms. Sounds like our normal plan. The man with the power to choose to kill any american without due process cannot claim to be Christian. Nor can the guy before him or before him or before him.

Feb 06, 2014 3:11pm EST  --  Report as abuse
ELinares wrote:
Though of course the Christian faith has been the desired guiding light of Western life and political beliefs, for a world-politician to base actions on faith rather than reality—as this news’ headline says—is a very bad symptom. Realpolitik-actors from China, Russia, Cuba, North Korea, Syria, Al-Qaida… are anything but ethical, Mr. Obama. Judging by your leadership since you came to a second term, you yourself are anything but realistic, sad to say. Perhaps a bit more manliness would cure the ill?

Feb 06, 2014 4:41pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Oro_Invictus wrote:
@brotherkenny4

Uh… Actually, in terms of deaths resulting from martial policy, that would actually be the Soviet Union, with the PRC coming in second. Both of these nation-states have caused more deaths due to martial action than the US in its entire history (though, this isn’t really saying much for the US). The major difference is that most of those killed by the Soviet Union and PRC were their own citizenry.

Actually, if we add in deaths from pollution resulting from government policy, the PRC is rapidly catching up with the Soviet Union. Likewise, by this metric, the PRC government overwhelmingly takes the title of biggest killer of people in the world today.

I would say this essentially proves that religion is hardly necessary to create death on such a scale, however, to paraphrase Orwell, a single-party state is essentially a theocracy without the pretext of serving a higher power than themselves.

Feb 06, 2014 5:15pm EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.