Hardline rightwing Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama briefly opened the event, followed by Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas. Andrea Bocelli showed up to sing.
It's very much a Christian event, though they make gestures toward ecumenical inclusion. It is sponsored by a conservative Christian group called The Fellowship Foundation, aka, The Family.
The obnoxious and weird Texas Republican Louie Gohmert also had a presentation, babbling about the power of prayer. He was one of the co-chars of the events.
The main address was given by Seventh Day Adventists Ben Carson, who holds the impressive title of director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.
He's also an evolution-denier. Here, the hack anti-science Discovery Institute features and article praising him for the Know-Nothing stance of evolution, Ben Carson and the Evolution-Morality debate by Richard Weikart 05/13/2012. A reminder that much of medicine, important and specialized as it is, is technique and not science as such, though honest medicine is based on science. While most doctors know enough science not to be creationist advocates, doctors are often very narrowly focused in the science that they do know. Although natural selection is so basic in understanding things like the mutations of germs and viruses, it's kind of alarming to see such a prominent physician embracing scientific quackery on evolution.
Here's another brief sketch of him, Dr. Ben Carson PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly 01/11/2008.
And his presentation is religiously pretty unsophisticated, featuring major whining about political correctness and how people are supposedly afraid to see "Merry Christmas". He mostly talks in conservative platitudes about family and individualism. None of this sissy librul crap about the role of public policies for him! He did talk about education; mostly about how today's schools aren't nearly as good as they were back in the Good Ole Days. Plus, The National Debt is about to kill us all in our beds and sending us down the road of the Roman Empire, or something. We need to cut all the moochers off federal funds and institute a flat tax so paupers pay the same as hedge fund billionaires. And the usual supply of dumb jokes.
His economics apparently aren't much more sophisticated than his views on natural selection.
President Obama's presence validates this kind of talk and rightwing attitude, which is almost uniformly directed against Obama's nominal domestic priorities. His presence at these events may be personally an example of turning the other cheek to people who hate him and what he stands for. But it also enables and validates some of the ugly attitudes and positions The Family and their supporters promote. He's also the President and the head of the Democratic Party. If he wants to turn the other check to the rightwingers at the National Prayer Breakfast, he should wait until he leaves office.
His own message was pretty tame and not very memorable. The White House text is here, Remarks by the President at the National Prayer Breakfast 02/07/2013.
CREW (Cityzens for Responsibility and Ethics) opposes the participation of public officials in the event. In The National Prayer Breakfast Lives On 02/06/2013"
The annual breakfast serves as a meeting and recruitment event for the Fellowship Foundation, also known as "The Foundation," "The Fellowship," or "The Family." The shadowy group’s leader, Doug Coe, has served as a spiritual adviser to government officials and uses the organization to push his unorthodox brand of Christianity within government circles. The organization operates under a veil of secrecy, concealing the sources of its funding, its financial holdings, and its political goals.Laurie Goostein reported on the event three years ago in National Prayer Breakfast Draws Controversy New York Times 02/03/2010:
The group operates the infamous C Street House, a tax-exempt boarding house and former home to scandal-ridden former Sen. John Ensign (R-NV). Mr. Coe’s group also supported Laurent Gbagbo, the former president and dictator of the Ivory Coast, and pushed for anti-gay legislation in Uganda that made homosexuality a capital offense. At past breakfasts, organizers have even facilitated meetings between foreign dignitaries and U.S. politicians — well outside the reach of the State Department.
Despite frequent presidential addresses, the placement of presidential seals at the event, and an organizing committee made up of members of Congress, the breakfast is in no way a government-sanctioned event. By attending the breakfast, both the president and Congress lend legitimacy to the Fellowship Foundation, and assist it with networking and fundraising. As in past years, CREW urges lawmakers to boycott the event.
Usually, the annual event passes with little notice. But this year, an ethics group in Washington has asked President Obama and Congressional leaders to stay away from the breakfast, on Thursday. Religious and gay rights groups have organized competing prayer events in 17 cities, and protesters are picketing in Washington and Boston.Jeff Sharlet has done a book on The Family, as Goostein reports:
The objections are focused on the sponsor of the breakfast, a secretive evangelical Christian network called The Fellowship, also known as The Family, and accusations that it has ties to legislation in Uganda that calls for the imprisonment and execution of homosexuals.
The Family has always stayed intentionally in the background, according to those who have written about it. In the last year, however, it was identified as the sponsor of a residence on Capitol Hill that has served as a dormitory and meeting place for a cluster of politicians who ran into ethics problems, including Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada, and Gov. Mark Sanford, Republican of South Carolina, both of whom have admitted to adultery.
Jeff Sharlet, author of “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power" (Harper Perennial, 2009) said in a telephone interview, "Here's an organization that, in the past, has not acknowledged its own existence."I wrote about last year's event in Prayer Breakfast speech 02/26/2012, where the Rev. Eric Metaxas postured as a being a great truth-teller to the President. The President gave a vague, friendly speech last year like this one. I wrote in 2012:
"It's not a sinister plot. This is their theological stance," said Mr. Sharlet, who infiltrated the group to do research for his book. "Their leader, Doug Coe, says that the more invisible you can make your organization, the more influence it will have."
Obama gives a decent speech, included in the video above, explaining his general approach in the context of religious values. It's a careful, sensible presentation, and relates his Christian person to those of Islam and Judaism. (Pam Spaulding provides a full transcript in Transcript: Remarks by the President at the National Prayer Breakfast Pam's House Blend 02/04/2012.)
But such a mainstream Christian presentation, with its distinct ecumenical elements, is jarringly out of harmony with the narrow exclusivity and obvious hostility Metaxas shows. I don't see what sense it makes for a President not part of the same narrow fundamentalist perspective to lend the prestige of the Office of the President to a gathering like this with a narrow sectarian purpose and a hardline conservative political bent. Or, if he does, he needs to directly confront the narrowness and bigotry that the Christian Right practices, something he has so far steadfastly refused to do.
From C-Span, President Obama Speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast 02/07/2013: