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An Email to President Obama Regarding Your National Prayer Breakfast Address

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From: Jerry D. Campbell To: President Obama Subject: National Prayer Breakfast

Dear President Obama,

I'm sorry to say that my invitation to this year's National Prayer Breakfast must have gotten lost in the mail. But I heard about your speech, saw the pictures and read your remarks from my office here at Claremont Lincoln University in Southern California.

It sounded like a very moving, inspiring and spiritual occasion. I especially liked the part where you said,

"[I]n my moments of prayer, I'm reminded that faith and values play an enormous role in motivating us to solve some of our most urgent problems, in keeping us going when we suffer setbacks, and opening our minds and our hearts to the needs of others ... We can't leave our values at the door."

Like you, I'm concerned about how we deal with the injustices of the world. I don't want this letter to get too political, but we live in a time where national politicians don't think they need to worry about the "very poor" since we have a social safety net. You probably haven't seen Jon Stewart's reaction to this yet, but he made a pretty good observation:

"Here's the thing about being in a net: Being in a net is bad, whether you're a butterfly or a fish or a trapeze artist or a poor person. If you're in a net, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong."

Those of us in higher education talk a lot about solving the world's problems. Some colleges and universities take a secular approach, calling on the power of human decency and American virtue to motivate young people to community service. Others take a mono-religious approach to educating young Christians and Jews for lives of service rooted in their particular traditions.

But we live in a time when the U.S. is comprised of people of countless religious and ethical beliefs. Some convictions are pious and rigid, and some open and accepting. Some are homegrown and deeply rooted, and some are introduced from far away lands and are adapting to the American way.

But all these beliefs have one thing in common: they're all here. They are among us, and they are all America. And solving our social problems with one set of values is no longer an option. It will take all of us if we want to truly make a difference.

Long ago, I was ordained as a Methodist minister, but I've spent my whole career in higher education. Today, I'm president of the nation's first intentionally interreligious university, which is one of the 300 or so schools taking part in your Interfaith Campus Challenge. So we understand how faith and values can improve the world around us. Like you, we put our beliefs into motion -- what we call "engaged ethics" -- from our perspectives within Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Jainism, Buddhism ... well, it's a long list, isn't it? But without collaboration across our differences how can we find world solutions?

So this email is to say that we hear your call. We're with you. We know that the great traditions have deep roots of justice and care. But they are also sources of violence and hatred. So we must educate the young people, together, to work together in public and private to bring about peace in our land and beyond.

Thank you for your prayers. Maybe I'll see you next year ...
Jerry D. Campbell
President, Claremont Lincoln University Claremont, California

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