By Michelle Boorstein
President Barack Obama, speaking at the 2010 National Prayer Breakfast.
Is today the day America will get a deep look at President Obama’s faith?
After more than two years of dealing with skeptics who question whether Obama is truly a Christian, and if he is, of what sort, the White House says the president this morning will give an unprecedented “deeply personal address” about his faith, with details adding up to a “window into how he approaches prayer, the study of scripture and other disciplines of his faith that impact his daily life.”
That’s how a White House official yesterday described the address Obama will give this morning (about 9 a.m. EST) when he speaks at one of the country’s most high-profile faith events: The National Prayer Breakfast, a decades-old Washington-y event made up of members of Congress who are in prayer groups, as well as faith activists and professionals across the spectrum. Presidents have been addressing the largely evangelical group each year since 1953 and this year about 4,000 people will be there.
Obama has been largely private about his beliefs and practices, coming off controversies during the campaign about his Chicago minister and then dealing with internet chatter about whether he adopted his father’s Muslim faith. He and his wife have only been to church services in Washington a handful of times in the past two years, though they also attend the private Evergreen Chapel when they are at Camp David. White House officials have issued statement after statement about the private nature of his Christian faith.
So it’s unclear what will change this morning — if anything — but whatever he says it will fuel debate about what sort of Christian he is, why and whether presidents need to talk about their faith and what Americans can learn about his policy positions from his God-talk.
The White House official, who spoke to reporters yesterday on the condition he not be named (this is typical Obama White House policy, which they say is an effort to keep the focus on the president, not his staff), said Obama will speak for the first time about how he has “leaned heavily on his faith during his presidency.”
The official said the president won’t really speak about one of the biggest, most explosive religion-related stories in the world right now – the situation in Egypt and what it means for Muslim reformers as well as for religious minorities in the Middle East. I found that striking and evidence that the White House very much wants, as 2012 approaches, to confront critics who try to paint Obama as a religious outlier.
Asked yesterday if Obama would speak about Egypt’s uncertain future and the fears of minority Christians, the official said the president “has addressed that forcefully,” an assessment which will be attacked quickly by religious freedom advocates who have been very critical of the White House for not installing a religious freedom ambassador and not pushing harder on countries like Egypt and China to protect religious freedoms.
The prayer breakfast, which draws many from the faith world to Washington for several days of shmoozing, will likely be an intense morning. Other speakers include one of the rescued Chilean miners and Capt. Mark Kelly, the husband of wounded Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Giffords’ office said the congresswoman, who is a member of a Reform synagogue in Tucson, was planning to attend the spiritual event before she was shot. Kelly, who is a Catholic, has only spoken in public one other time since the massacre, said Giffords spokesman, C.J. Karamargin.
Kelly will speak for a few minutes – Karamargin didn’t know about what – and give the closing prayer, as well as possibly an update on her condition.
The main speaker at the Prayer Breakfast is often a heavy-hitter – past speakers have been Mother Teresa, Bono and Tony Blair – and the person’s name is closely guarded until the day of.
My prediction is that the most closely-watched speaker will be the president, but if the past is any guide, he will remain circumspect when he talks about God and how Christianity specifically shapes his policies and moods and choices.
Why do u think the president is talking about his faith in more detail now?
Follow tweets from the breakfast, which starts at 8 a.m.:
National Prayer Breakfast