UCC general minister and president attends Obama's Easter prayer breakfast
Written by Kevin Eckstrom (RNS) and Staff Reports
April 20, 2011

President Obama, center, prays at an Easter prayer breakfast at the White House as AME Bishop Vashti McKenzie, left, offers an opening prayer. (Photo Kevin Eckstrom / RNS)

The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, UCC general minister and president, attended president Obama's annual Easter prayer breakfast at the White House on Tuesday (April 19.) This is the second year of the prayer breakfast and Black has attended both years.

Obama said Jesus' death and resurrection on Easter "puts everything else in perspective," at the event that showcased his increasing comfort with discussing his faith.

Using the kind of personal religious language that he had once shied away from in public, Obama spoke of "the pain and the scorn and the shame of the cross" in an Easter prayer breakfast for about 150 guests and staff.

"And we're reminded that in that moment, (Jesus) took on the sins of the world - past, present and future - and he extended to us that unfathomable gift of grace and salvation through his death and resurrection," Obama said.

The breakfast "was inspiring and uplifting," said Black. "Church leaders from a broad spectrum of traditions were present. The prayerful and reflective atmosphere on this occasion was most appropriate for Holy Week," he said.

The Easter event displayed the president's willingness to engage religion on his own terms, even has he has decided not to be a regular churchgoer or fully embrace public events like the annual National Day of Prayer.

The Easter breakfast - and following a Passover seder at the White House on Monday - also reflects an ongoing effort to combat lingering doubts about the president's faith.

Last year's breakfast came in the wake of polls that revealed as many as one in five Americans believe he is a Muslim. Since then, Obama has talked more openly about his personal faith, particularly around holidays like Easter and Christmas.

"He's had this problem with how to practice his faith; every president's had this problem," said the Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary of the Reformed Church in America, who attended Tuesday's breakfast.

"And I was thinking this morning that this sort of event is at least one way that he's found, very authentically, to have his faith nurtured," he said.

Obama quoted from the Book of Isaiah - "he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities," which Christians see as a prophecy of Jesus' death and resurrection.

"This magnificent grace, this expansive grace, this `Amazing Grace' calls me to reflect," Obama said. "And it calls me to pray. It calls me to ask God for forgiveness for the times that I've not shown grace to others, those times that I've fallen short."

White House officials said they held the event before Easter so the breakfast wouldn't conflict with participants' own worship services.

Additional attendees included members of the White House faith-based advisory panel, including Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Orlando megachurch pastor Joel Hunter and African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Vashti McKenzie.

The event also drew several prominent conservatives who have not always seen eye to eye with the White House, including National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson, the Rev. Tim Keller of New York's Redeemer Presbyterian Church and Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

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