The Adventist Review shares the following world news from Religion News Service as a service to readers. Opinions expressed in these reports do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Review or the Seventh-day Adventist Church. -- Editors
Obama Bares his Soul for Easter Event
resident Obama bared his soul before a cross section of Christian leaders at a White House Easter breakfast on Tuesday (April 6), where he spoke publicly of his faith in redemption through Jesus in his most personal terms since becoming president.
Addressing his “brothers and sisters in Christ” among the nearly 90 pastors, community activists, and bishops in attendance, Obama spoke of “our risen Savior” and the inspiration he takes from Christ's resurrection.
“We are awed by the grace he showed even to those who would have killed him,” Obama said, pausing occasionally to glance at written notes. “We are thankful for the sacrifice he gave for the sins of humanity. And we glory in the promise of redemption in the resurrection.”
Among those seated with presidential aides and cabinet secretaries in the gilded East Room were Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Vatican's U.S. ambassador, Houston megachurch pastor Joel Osteen, and National Council of Churches President Peg Chemberlin. They were joined by former members of Obama's faith advisory council and prominent black clergy, who met privately with the president before the breakfast.
Obama said the Easter breakfast, along with a recent Passover Seder and a Ramadan dinner last fall, was part of his pledge to make the White House “a place where all people would feel welcome.” Presidential aides also said it gave Obama the opportunity to thank Christian leaders for their community service.
But the breakfast also provided a platform for Obama to speak openly about his Christian faith, even as a small but stubborn minority of Americans believe he is Muslim.
Obama did not directly address those doubts on Tuesday, but said: “as Christians, we believe that redemption can be delivered -- by faith in Jesus Christ. And the possibility of redemption can make straight the crookedness of a character; make whole the incompleteness of a soul.”
The president also said that of all the Gospel stories, Jesus' last words on the cross -- “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” -- especially resonate with him during the Easter season. “These words were spoken by our Lord and Savior, but they can just as truly be spoken by every one of us here today,” Obama said.
Tuesday's breakfast comes during a faith-filled week for the president, as the first family celebrated Easter Sunday at an African Methodist Episcopal Church in one of this city's poorest and most violent neighborhoods.
“For those who are wondering or have doubts about whether he is authentically Christian, I think today's message puts all doubts to rest,” said the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, another Houston megachurch pastor who attended Tuesday's breakfast.
Obama's father was a Kenyan Muslim-turned-atheist, his mother an agnostic, and his Indonesian stepfather an unorthodox Muslim. Caldwell, who is close to Obama and his predecessor, President George W. Bush, said he is galled by the number of Americans -- one in 10 according to a 2009 poll -- who refuse to believe Obama is Christian.
“Never in modern history has a president said: “I am a Christian,” and others said, “No, you're not,”' Caldwell said. “It's stupid and an insult to him.”
Churches Wrestle with Drop in Donations
The number of churches that reported a drop in giving due to the sour economy rose nearly 10 percent last year, according to new survey.
In 2009, 38 percent of churches reported a decline in giving, versus 29 percent in 2008.
Megachurches -- those with 2,000 members are more -- were hit hardest, with 47 percent reporting a decrease in giving last year, up from 23 percent in 2008.
The second State of the Plate study, by Colorado Springs-based Maximum Generosity and Christianity Today International, was based on data from 1,017 churches. The study included small and large churches, as well as mainline, evangelical, Pentecostal, nondenominational, Catholic and Orthodox parishes.
“Multiple research projects last year documented the sharp decline in church giving,” said Brian Kluth, founder of Maximum Generosity. “Our research this year shows things have only gotten worse for a growing number of churches.”
West Coast states suffered most from the depressed economy: 55 percent reported decreased giving. Mountain states were close behind with 48 percent reporting a drop in giving.
The study also found that December contributions, usually high during the holiday season, fell short of expectations, leaving many churches in the hole as they started the new year.
Even so, 45 percent of churches increased their budget for 2010, and 24 percent kept their budget the same. The report said the 34 percent of churches that scaled back made cuts in travel and conferences, ministry programs and expansion or renovation projects.
The survey, sent via email, was not a traditional random phone sample and does not have a statistical margin of error.
Groups Press for Religious Freedom Envoy
In an open letter sent to President Obama on Tuesday (March 30), 29 human rights groups and faith leaders pressed the president to fill the vacant position of ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.
“The absence of senior level leadership in your administration on this critical issue is of grave and urgent concern,” said the letter, which was signed by leaders representing Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, and Mormon groups.
The letter was also signed by a number of human rights groups, the former director of the State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom, and a former ambassador for international religious freedom.
The ambassadorship for religious freedom was created by law in 1998, and is tasked with monitoring religious persecution and discrimination worldwide. The post has been empty since Obama took office last year.
In a high-profile speech to Muslims in Cairo last June, Obama called religious freedom “central to the ability of peoples to live together.” A White House spokesman said the president “remains committed to filling this position with the most qualified candidate.”
More than two-thirds of the world's population lives in countries that place serious restrictions on religious freedom, according to a December report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
Noting the report, the letter to Obama said the religious freedom post should be filled by someone with foreign policy experience, expertise in religion, and enough clout to navigate the State Department's bureaucracy.
“In short, we believe your administration should fill this position not only quickly but strategically,” the leaders said.