WASHINGTON — President Obama used his final National Prayer Breakfast address as America’s chief executive to explain how he has combatted fear by drawing on his personal Christian faith and by looking to people of all faiths for inspiration.
“Like every president, like every leader, like every person, I’ve known fear,” Obama said today (Feb. 4). “But my faith tells me that I need not fear death, that the acceptance of Christ promises everlasting life and the washing away of sins. If Scripture instructs me to put on the full armor of God so that when trouble comes I’m able to stand, then surely I can face down these temporal setbacks.”
The address’s positive statement of the Gospel contrasted with Obama’s 2015 National Prayer Breakfast address, which drew pushback from some evangelicals after he warned Christians about getting “on our high horse” regarding Islamic terrorism. The Crusades, the Inquisition, American slavery and Jim Crow laws each had been “justified in the name of Christ,” he said.
For the third consecutive year, Obama mentioned American pastor Saeed Abedini, who was imprisoned in Iran more than three years for his faith before being released last month. “Last year we prayed that he might be freed, and this year we give thanks that he is home safe,” the president said.
The breakfast also included a keynote address by the husband-wife team of television producer Mark Burnett and actress Roma Downey, creators of the History Channel miniseries “The Bible.” House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi both spoke as well, and Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry of the University of Alabama delivered the closing prayer.
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson also attended the breakfast but did not speak, CNN reported.
The president based his remarks on 2 Timothy 1:7 — “for God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind” — which he referenced at least five times during his 27-minute address. “Lately,” Obama said, “I have been thinking and praying on” this verse.
Fear “can be contagious,” and its consequences “can be worse than any outward threat,” Obama said.
Some commentators interpreted the president’s references to fear as a veiled critique of 2016 Republican presidential candidates, whom Obama has criticized for playing on America’s fears.
“For me,” the president said, “and I know for so many of you, faith is the great cure for fear. Jesus is a good cure for fear.”
Obama said that when his faith falters, he looks to friends and family for encouragement as well as to “good people of all faiths who do the Lord’s work each and every day.”
Among the examples of faith he cited was a Christian American soldier in World War II who helped save Jewish soldiers from execution in a Nazi concentration camp. Another example was an American Muslim who prayed in public, despite his fears of persecution, the day following terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., by Islamic extremists.
In discussing the Muslim who prayed, Obama referenced “the peaceful spirit of Islam.”
Obama said his personal prayers include petitions that “our leaders would always act with humility and generosity,” that “my failings are forgiven” and that “we answer Scripture’s call to lift up the vulnerable.”
The National Prayer Breakfast, which is sponsored by the evangelical Christian organization The Fellowship Foundation, began in 1953 during President Eisenhower’s first administration. Obama has spoken at the event each year since he first took office in 2009.
— David Roach | BP