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Obama Says He's Inspired by Easter's Resurrection, Meets Black Pastors

5 years ago
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President Obama has arguably cited his Christian faith and the importance of religion to him and to the country more than even his faith-based predecessor, George W. Bush, and he continued that trend in two post-Easter events at the White House on Tuesday.

One was a meeting with about 20 African-American church leaders that was seen as an effort to ease their worries that Obama -- the nation's first black president and one who is steeped in the African-American church tradition -- was not addressing the concerns of their flock, which has been hit especially hard by the recession.

This was the second White House meeting in three months to discuss the needs of the black community -- though White House spokesman Corey Ealons told The Washington Post, "This meeting is not about politics."

"It is about connecting with key faith leaders on the challenges impacting our nation," Ealons said. "President Obama appreciates the acute challenges facing African-Americans across the country and respects the work these pastors are doing to support the communities they serve."

Obama has often had to balance concerns that he is not addressing his political base with suspicions from some critics, especially on the question of race, that he would advance a "black agenda." The ministers at the White House meeting rejected that concern and renewed their support for Obama ahead of the event.

Earlier, at a prayer breakfast with 90 Christian clergy from a range of denominations -- from the Vatican's ambassador to Washington, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, to megachurch televangelist Joel Osteen -- Obama again showed why he can be as effective a preacher as he is a speechmaker.

The president opened his remarks by noting the West Virginia mine disaster, and saying that he spoke with Gov. Joe Manchin of West Virginia last night to assure him that federal assistance was available if needed.

But he focused on the religious aspect of the tragedy, asking for prayers "for the safe return of the missing, the men and women who put their lives on the line to save them, and the souls of those who have been lost in this tragic accident," as well as the families of the survivors.

Obama then noted that he had hosted a Seder dinner for Passover, and an iftar meal to break the Muslim fast during Ramadan. So he wanted to continue that by gathering with Christian leaders after Easter -- and his preacherly eloquence showed that this kind of setting is clearly in his comfort zone:
I can't tell any of you anything about Easter that you don't already know. I can't shed light on centuries of scriptural interpretation or bring any new understandings to those of you who reflect on Easter's meaning each and every year and each and every day. But what I can do is tell you what draws me to this holy day and what lesson I take from Christ's sacrifice and what inspires me about the story of the resurrection.
Obama said the story of Easter morning is still vivid in his mind's eye, from the crucifixion to the "discovery, just three days later, that would forever alter our world -- that the Son of Man was not to be found in His tomb and that Jesus Christ had risen." He continued:
We are awed by the grace He showed even to those who would have killed Him. We are thankful for the sacrifice He gave for the sins of humanity. And we glory in the promise of redemption in the resurrection.

And such a promise is one of life's great blessings, because, as I am continually learning, we are, each of us, imperfect. Each of us errs -- by accident or by design. Each of us falls short of how we ought to live. And selfishness and pride are vices that afflict us all.

It's not easy to purge these afflictions, to achieve redemption. But as Christians, we believe that redemption can be delivered -- by faith in Jesus Christ. And the possibility of redemption can make straight the crookedness of a character; make whole the incompleteness of a soul. Redemption makes life, however fleeting here on Earth, resound with eternal hope.

Of all the stories passed down through the gospels, this one in particular speaks to me during this season. And I think of hanging -- watching Christ hang from the cross, enduring the final seconds of His passion. He summoned what remained of His strength to utter a few last words before He breathed His last breath. "Father," He said, "into your hands I commit my spirit." Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. These words were spoken by our Lord and Savior, but they can just as truly be spoken by every one of us here today. Their meaning can just as truly be lived out by all of God's children.
A partial list of attendees released by the White House included:
Pastor Bill Hybels, senior pastor, Willow Creek Community Church, Ill.
Bishop Vashti McKenzie, bishop, A.M.E. Church
Elder Nancy Wilson, Metropolitan Community Church
Commissioner Israel Gaither, national commander, Salvation Army
Pastor Joel Osteen, pastor, Lakewood Church
Hyepin Im, Korean Christian Community Development
Dr. Arturo Chavez, president, Mexican American Catholic College
The Rev. Sharon Watkins, general minister and president, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
The Rev. Larry Snyder, president, Catholic Charities
The Rev. Peg Chemberlin, president, National Council of Churches
Dr. Julius Scruggs, president, National Baptist Convention of America
Sister Carol Keehan, president, Catholic Health Association
Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell, senior pastor, Windsor Village United Methodist Church

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