Personally – I'm thrilled that President Obama hosted an Easter Prayer Breakfast on Tuesday morning, April 6.
Personally, I'm thrilled, because two amazing women from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) represented our denomination at this prayer breakfast and are helping to "solve" the "issue" of everyone always asking me – "Disciples of Christ… is that non-denominational? Is that a cult?" (OK, so maybe they don't ALWAYS ask me if it's a cult – but it happened once.) Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins and Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale both represented our denomination among several other religious leaders that spoke at the prayer breakfast on Tuesday morning.
Personally, I'm thrilled to see the President standing in Christian solidarity and honoring the sacrifice that Christ made for all of God's children, that we will not perish but have eternal life. As a Christian minister, I'm thrilled.
But publicly I struggle.
I don't think ANY president should be overtly religious. I want them to be religious – I want them to have a faith life. I hope they are guided by a higher power that directs them in the ways of justice, mercy, compassion and love; the values I find God calling each and every one of God's followers to live out.
But I also value the separation of church and state. I value my freedom to assemble on Sunday morning, my right to worship God in the ways I find significant. I would hate to see a country where I am denied that right, denied the possibility of reading the version of the Bible I find most accurate, or of anyone being denied the right to read the holy book that they choose to follow.
If I wanted to live in an overtly religious country – I could. There are several out there.
But to my knowledge, the first amendment to the constitution, in the bill of rights, states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html
In my opinion this means that the government cannot claim that one religion is superior to another, nor can it ascertain that religion in general is preferable over non-religion. So how does a president host so many different religious events at the white house – at the building many associate with the power that the United States represents?
President Obama hosted an iftar, a dinner during the holy month of Ramadan for Muslims. President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton did the same thing.
President Obama also hosted a Seder meal at the White House.
Personally, as someone interested in the intersection of these three faiths – all of which have their roots in Abraham – all of which celebrate, honor and worship the SAME God – I find these things that the President and the White House are doing very respectable and it gives me great hope.
However, I also recognize that there are Hindus, Buddhists and Taoists, those of the First Nations, pagans, agnostics and atheists that live in this country. I recognize that they deserve the same freedom I do. While I understand that the President holding a dinner at the White House does not directly impinge on their freedom to worship, or not to worship for that matter – I do think that a picture of the most powerful person in the United States, a picture of the power of the United States worshiping might present a problem.
Granted – I'm not asking President Obama and future presidents to leave religion and faith completely out of their lives. In fact I find that almost impossible for a person of faith. If we are people of faith, it is not we who tell others about faith with our mouths, but rather our faith and our relationship with the Divine that informs our decisions and our lives so that we can live out our faith, living our love for God rather than simply talking about it.
But as a citizen of a free nation, which does not require our citizens to believe anything – what is the role of the personal faith of our leaders? How does their faith inform, but not dictate their public actions as serving in a public office? How can we citizens who enjoy this freedom granted by the first amendment rejoice when the President expresses overtly his faith, or when he supports faith, but simply does not offer a banquet for another? If I want to live by and enjoy this freedom – aren't I called to let others live in this freedom too?
Personally, I'm thrilled… Publicly, I'll demonstrate that excitement – but I'll also share my personal wrestling with faith and its role in politics.