I will be forever grateful to South Carolina Congressman Gresham Barrett for inviting me to be one of his guests at the 2009 National Prayer Breakfast. In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke at the first breakfast and every president since has followed his lead. This year, close to four thousand people gathered in Washington D.C. at the Washington Hilton to lay aside political and religious differences in order to come together to pray for our country, our leaders, and the world.
The keynote speaker this year was former English Prime Minister Tony Blair, who now heads the foundation that bears his name. According to Blair, the goal of the foundation is to “help achieve understanding, to take action, and to foster reconciliation between different faiths for the common good.” His address to those in attendance at the National Prayer Breakfast called for the unification of all religions under the banner of inclusiveness. He said, “For billions of people, faith motivates, galvanizes, compels and inspires, not to exclude but to embrace; not to provoke conflict but to try to do good.”
Blair also said reconciliation between religions “is not about the faith that looks inward; but the faith that resolutely turns us towards each other.” He called those who use their faith as a means of excluding others “extremists” and he applauded the work of humanists, “who give gladly of themselves for others and who can often shame the avowedly religious.” He lumped the religious together with the non-religious saying, “those who do God’s work are God’s people.”
President Obama’s speech followed much the same pattern, celebrating inclusiveness as the ultimate goal at the end of the path of religious harmony. The President spoke of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnership, saying the goal would “not be to favor one religious group over another-or even religious groups over secular groups.” Again we see the theme that belief and non-belief in God are equal with both bringing good qualities to the table of human advancement.
Both Prime Minister Blair and President Obama made reference to the “Golden Rule” (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you) as the absolute pinnacle of religious understanding. The message from both speakers was very clear. If you love everyone and exclude no one then you have the kind of religious belief that will be acceptable in the 21st century. If your belief in God allows you to simply love without calling into question the action or behavior of others then you are part of the “religious in-crowd; acceptable to those who have been enlightened enough to reject everything that divides us and embrace everything that unites us. Ironically, President Obama acknowledged, “there is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being.” That is fascinating considering the fact that the President supports abortion, recently guaranteeing by executive order the certain death of millions of innocent unborn children around the world all paid for by American tax dollars.
Both Prime Minister Blair and President Obama would have been well served to consult the Word of God before they wrote their speeches. When Jesus was asked which of the commandments was the greatest He answered saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Then He added, “The second is this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself”(Mark 12:30-31). By leaving out the first part of Jesus answer and focusing solely on the second part, Prime Minister Blair and President Obama elevated the love of our neighbor to a position above our love of God. It is in loving God that we find the strength to love our neighbors, our families, ourselves, and even our enemies. Loving God first calls us to be accountable with our lives to live according to the teaching of Jesus Christ who said simply, “if you love me obey my commandments.”
Humanists cannot love God nor can they obey Him. True believers cannot simply lay aside the teaching of Scripture as long as we agree to love our neighbor. If we love our neighbor with a love that flows out of our love for God we will want our neighbor to know the truth. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me”(John 14:6).
Yes…we must love our neighbors as ourselves. But we must first love God with a love that manifests itself in a desire to please Him by protecting all life; by defending the role of the family as the cornerstone of culture; and by calling non-believers to turn from their sin and embrace Christ as their only hope for salvation.
Jesus also said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household”(Matthew 10:34-36). Obviously, Jesus was not calling people to war against each other but merely stating the fact that His claim that He is the only way will cause much strife for those who embrace Him as the only truth.
The National Prayer Breakfast spoke of faith as merely a good feeling and good works. Faith, true faith in the one true God, will cause us to love Him more than we love the peace that comes from compromise. That love will motivate us to live right and glorify God even as we treat others as we want to be treated.
Dr. Tony Beam is Vice-President for Student Services and Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.