At prayer breakfast and with birth-control decision, Obama riles religious conservatives

PObama riles religious conservativesresident Obama drew on the Bible and his interpretation of the Christian faith Thursday to deliver a sharp, if tacit, critique of his chief Republican rival’s economic program, speaking at a forum that in the past has been largely free of electoral politics.

Speaking to about 3,000 people at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, Obama emphasized the importance of his Christian beliefs in his politics and personal life, arguing that his efforts to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, promote health insurance reform, help families with college tuition and send troops to prevent human rights abuses in Uganda were grounded in his faith.

“I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense,” Obama told the audience. “But for me, as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.’ ”Obama’s remarks injected religion, a politically treacherous issue for him and for Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, into the center of the presidential race. His willingness to do so suggested a new confidence in his evolving reelection message that restoring fairness to the American economy is crucial to its long-term success.

A Christian, Obama has faced voter doubts about his religious convictions for years, some of which have grown during his time in office. He is the son of a non-practicing Muslim father and a mother whom he has characterized as spiritual but not formally religious.Obama has also faced charges from GOP critics that he and his administration are at war with traditional religion.But on Thursday, he sought to resolutely affirm his relationship with the Christian mainstream, which is terrain that Romney, a Mormon, has had some trouble navigating politically.

Obama described his “faith journey” again in terms that coincide with the central themes of his reelection effort, drawing on biblical passages that have helped underpin his belief in what is called “the social gospel.”Obama spoke a day after Romney, who faces doubts within his party’s evangelical Christian base concerning his Mormon faith, said in an interview that he is “not concerned about the very poor” because they have a social safety net. -Romney’s intent was to emphasize his focus on the struggling American middle class. But, with those remarks in the background, Obama pointedly highlighted families “struggling to find work or make the mortgage, pay for college, or, in some cases, even to buy food.”

“The Bible teaches us to ‘be doers of the word and not merely hearers,’ ” he said. “We’re required to have a living, breathing, active faith in our own lives. And each of us is called on to give something of ourselves for the betterment of others.”Before his election as president, Obama spoke about the need for Democrats to speak more forcefully about faith rather than cede the issue — and millions of religious voters — to Republicans in every election. – WP