FAITH IN ACTION
By Katherine Marshall
Last week's National Prayer Breakfast cast a spotlight on the gaps between what people of faith say (and pray) and what they actually do. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both discussed the puzzle of how religion can be such a uniting force, but also such a divisive one.
Obama pointed to the fractious political divisions we suffer at home. "We become absorbed with our abstract arguments, our ideological disputes, our contests for power. And in this Tower of Babel, we lose the sound of God's voice," Obama said. "And this erosion of civility in the public square sows division and distrust among our citizens. It poisons the well of public opinion. It leaves each side little room to negotiate with the other. It makes politics an all-or-nothing sport, where one side is either always right or always wrong when, in reality, neither side has a monopoly on truth. And then we lose sight of the children without food and the men without shelter and the families without health care."
Clinton spoke about Haiti: "As the news cameras move on to the next very dramatic incident, let us pray that we can sustain the force and the feeling that we find in our hearts and in our faith in the aftermath of such tragedies. Let us pray that we will all continue to be our brothers' and sisters' keepers. Let us pray that amid our differences, we can continue to see the power of faith not only to make us whole as individuals, to provide personal salvation, but to make us a greater whole and a greater force for good on behalf of all creation."
Clinton linked her faith to her belief in human rights and her diplomatic priorities: "We are also standing up for girls and women, who too often in the name of religion, are denied their basic human rights. And we are standing up for gays and lesbians who deserve to be treated as full human beings. And we are also making it clear to countries and leaders that these are priorities of the United States."
The two most earnest prayers were to work and reason together. Faith requires us not only to believe but to do, "to do all the good you can by all the means you can in all the ways you can in all the places you can at all the times you can to all the people you can, as long as ever you can". And then, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, "Come now, and let us reason together, said the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."
With the realities of Haiti and the realities of Congressional stalemate both so starkly before us, the calls to translate the good we have in us and the good intentions we share into action seemed more apt and more urgent than ever before.
Katherine Marshall is a senior fellow at Georgetown's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, a Visiting Professor, and a senior advisor for the World Bank.
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