WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama linked his economic policies to his Christian faith, saying on Thursday that meeting the nation's challenges requires strong values as much as smart policies.
Obama, making his third appearance as president at the National Prayer Breakfast, used his remarks to justify many of his actions, such as his call for the wealthy to pay more in taxes and his health care overhaul. He said they were not only economically sound but also rooted in his Christian values.
"When I talk about shared responsibility, it's because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling and at a time when we have enormous deficits, it's hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income or young people with student loans or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone," Obama said.
"But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus' teaching that, for unto whom much is given, much shall be required," he said.
His remarks came one day after Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney created a flap with clumsy comments about the struggling middle class. "I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it. I'm not concerned about the very rich. They're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling. You can focus on the very poor, that's not my focus," Romney said.
Obama didn't mention Romney or the other Republican candidates. But his defense of his policies was a rare injection of politics into the prayer breakfast. The annual event is hosted by lawmakers from both parties, and speakers usually refrain from direct political references, sticking instead to calls for civility and respect in Washington.
The president said his faith also guides some of his foreign policy decision, including supporting foreign aid or sending U.S. troops to Africa to target a notoriously violent rebel group.
"It's not just about strengthening alliances or promoting democratic values or projecting American leadership around the world, although it does all those things and it will make us safer and more secure," he said. "It's also about the biblical call to care for the least of these, for the poor, for those at the margins of our society; to answer the responsibility we're given in Proverbs to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute."
Obama said that while personal religious beliefs alone should not dictate a politician's decisions, leaders should not abandon their faith entirely.
"We can't leave our values at the door. If we leave our values at the door, we abandon much of the moral glue that has held our nation together for centuries and allowed us to become somewhat more perfect a union," he said.
Obama speaks often about his faith but prefers to worship in private. He said Thursday that he starts each morning with a brief prayer, then spends time reading scripture. Sometimes, he said, pastors come to the Oval Officer to pray with him, for his family and for the country.