President Obama on Wednesday prayed with several Christian leaders to find an answer to the debt ceiling crisis that doesn't undercut federal programs to the poor.
Opening a White House meeting with a diverse group of Christian religious leaders, Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner said she reached across a table to hold the president's hand "to pray for God's wisdom."
And at one point in the following discussion, the president referenced Matthew 25 from the Bible in praying that the cuts envisioned by his negotiating team don't fall on "the least of these."
Said Skinner, the former Congressional Black Caucus executive director who heads the Skinner Leadership Institute, "it was amazing that the president himself used that term in his reference to those in need because as a Christian, he too knows that is the word of God."
Those in the meeting were not allowed to directly quote much of what the president said.
The group was there to seek the president's help for their "Circle of Protection" effort, an international plea by spiritual leaders to keep programs for the poor both in the United States and overseas safe from the budget cuts.
Many of the leaders pressed Obama to especially save programs to feed the poor in famine-ravaged continents, like Africa, noting that the are among the discretionary spending plans facing the knife.
After their prayer, Skinner said that Obama "was moved, and I think he was moved because he was prayed for he was moved because somebody was thinking of him as a person."
Another religious leader at the meeting said that Obama, quoting Lincoln, noted, "If you don't pray before you get here, you pray when you get here and that the presidency drives you to your knees. And in the middle of all the crises our country faces that was a moment of, I think, not only reflection but refreshment for everybody in the room."
The leaders spoke on a conference call with reporters today. Included in the Wednesday meeting were White House advisers Valerie Jarrett, Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes, and Director of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Joshua DuBois. [See the month's best political cartoons.]
Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, was left with the impression that Obama would fight cuts to programs for the poor. "He indicated again yesterday that the sacrifice in budget or deficit deal should not be born by the least of these. He used that phrase, 'The lease of these,' and of course we know that's from Matthew 25 where Jesus says, 'As you've done to the least of these, you've done to me.' So that was the reason we were all there, that's the text that brings us there and it's always heartening to hear a political leader refer to that text, that he knows that text."
Wallis also said that the nation's Christian leaders are ready to take Obama's message to their followers to explain what's going on in the budget talks.
"It would be a powerful thing if our pulpits could be linked to the Bully Pulpit here and together we could say, however else we do this, however we put our fiscal house in order, we can't do it with more sacrifice from those who are already sacrificing and hurting so much. So we'd like to link our pulpits with the Bully Pulpit here and help the American people understand what's at stake and who's really going to be impact by all of this. So I felt encouraged."