I wasn’t going to say anything about these basically platitudinous remarks , though I concede that I probably couldn’t do all that much better if I were President of the United States and felt compelled to testify to my faith without stepping on any political landmines.

But the annoying Jacques Berlinerblau has driven me to it.  I don’t so much object to his gloss on the remarks as to his concluding paragraphs:

While the president thankfully steers clear of “Christian Nation” rhetoric, there was simply too much of Obama the Christian yesterday.

Come to think of it, the National Prayer Breakfast often has this effect on politicians. Senator Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, sprinkled so many references to the gospels at the 48 th National Prayer Breakfast in 2000 that he made George W. Bush look like a desk officer for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Obama may earnestly believe that Republican Senator Tom Coburn is his “Brother in Christ.” But such a sentiment sounds odd coming from a president who once reminded his Turkish hosts that ours is not “a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation,” but  “a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.” 

Such a nation, one would hope, would be led by a person who understands that this type of rhetoric can be deeply troubling to those who don’t believe in Christ. Just as it may offend those Christians who believe that Christ’s teachings tend to become distorted when they are mouthed by the worldly powers that be.

When a President, or anyone else, speaks at a prayer breakfast, I would expect him to speak for himself and offer some testimony of his faith.  The fact that he holds elected office does not change who he is, nor should it prevent him from saying what’s on his mind or in his heart on an occasion like this.

There may well be times when it would have been inappropriate for a public official to say what the President said yesterday.  But this certainly was an occasion that demanded that he not hide his light under a bushel.

Let me state my objection to Berlinerbau’s point another way.  He seems to think that it ought to be sufficient to assert our citizenship as an expression of our identity.  Is politics all there is?  Is nationhood all there is?  Ought I only to be an American and nothing else?  Is that not a rather totalizing—not to say totalitarian—conception of politics and nationhood?

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