By Dave Andrusko
Editor’s note. In tandem with our story on President Obama’s remarks to the 2014 National Prayer Breakfast, we are re-running our stories about what he said in 2012 and 2013.
A word of explanation. These comments, based on President Obama’s remarks at Thursday’s National Prayer Breakfast, are intended to highlight where (if they were understood in a deeper sense) the President’s remarks might lead him. The allusions are to matters of faith for the simple fact this was a Prayer Breakfast. They ring particularly true for those of us with a faith base in our lives, but by no means exclusively so.
The President told his audience how at the inaugural he was “blessed to place my hand on the Bibles of two great Americans, two men whose faith still echoes today. One was the Bible owned by President Abraham Lincoln, and the other, the Bible owned by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.“
I am NOT likening our situation to Dr. King’s. He was in constant mortal danger. But I am saying this passage resonated.
“And I was reminded that, yes, Dr. King was a man of audacious hope and a man of relentless optimism. But he was always — he was also a man occasionally brought to his knees in fear and in doubt and in helplessness. And in those moments, we know that he retreated alone to a quiet space so he could reflect and he could pray and he could grow his faith.”
For those of us who’ve been in this Movement for 20 or 30 years (or more), we recognize that we are, and must remain, men and women of audacious hope and relentless optimism. And for many of us, when disappointments inevitably rear up and threaten to bring us down, we retreat to pray for strength, which grows our faith.
Referring to those who had come to the annual Prayer Breakfast, whose composition transcends the usual divides, Mr. Obama said, “We do so because we’re a nation ever humbled by our history, and we’re ever attentive to our imperfections — particularly the imperfections of our President.”
I take that at face value: an admission that he makes mistakes, that like all of us, he understands he is imperfect. That’s good advice for me, as well; it helps to keep me not from making judgments but from being judgmental.
The President continued: “We know that in Scripture, Dr. King found strength; in the Bible, he found conviction. In the words of God, he found a truth about the dignity of man that, once realized, he never relinquished.”
There are many roads down which we can reach the same destination: the conclusion that all—not some but all—of us have dignity. Not for what we do, mind you, but simply because we are.
But none approach the power (or the permanence) of the Bible to teach us that we have that dignity, not because a government gives it to us, but because we are made in the image of God. Dignity is not a gift from secular sources but a spiritual endowment from our Creator.
There are many other passages that speak to us (or at least to me), but let me conclude with the President’s penultimate paragraph:
“And most of all, I know that all Americans — men and women of different faiths and, yes, those of no faith that they can name — are, nevertheless, joined together in common purpose, believing in something that is bigger than ourselves, and the ideals that lie at the heart of our nation’s founding — that as a people we are bound together.”
Yes, and if I may be so bold, pro-lifers do, uniquely so. For us it’s not a mere rhetorical flourish. We do believe in and live our lives around the principle that we are bound together. Not just the planned and the perfect, but all of us—the old and the young, the sick and the healthy, the poor and the rich, the born and the unborn.
We believe in something bigger than ourselves—far bigger, I would add: the inherent dignity of all human beings, in and out of the womb, and our moral obligation to work ceaselessly until that dignity is reflected in the protection of the law.
Nearly three decades ago, I edited a book entitled, “To Rescue the Future: the Pro-Life Movement in the 1980s.” One of the contributors was my friend, Bob Morrison, who is now Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council. (The name may be familiar: earlier this week Bob wrote a marvelous tribute to Mike Schwartz, a great pro-lifer who just passed away.)
His essay was titled, “The Word met the Time,” and it was largely a brilliant exposition of Lincoln’s position on slavery and how it applies almost seamlessly to abortion. There is a passage that I wish President Obama—who often invokes President Lincoln—would read. Bob wrote,
“If abortion is not wrong, then nothing is wrong. It is more than a singular or separate wrong—it is the source of all wrong. To kill the small, the weak, the sick, the dependent, the defenseless violates all that our people’s faith and our nation’s history tells us is right. If we can choose between one human being’s right to life and another human being’s life style and give death to one and absolute power to the other then how can we ever again claim to be what Lincoln called us: the last, best hope of earth.”