WASHINGTON — Barack Obama appeared at the annual National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, speaking on the subject of fear from Scripture, but also relating the message to religions outside of Christianity, people who he said “do the Lord’s work each and every day.”
The president quoted from 2 Timothy 1:7, which reads, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love and of a sound mind,” and cited what he considers to be fearful developments in current times, from “tectonic shifts in technology and in our economy” to “disruptions to our climate” to terrorism and the refugee crisis.
“Fear can lead us to lash out against those who are different, or lead us to try to get some sinister ‘other’ under control,” Obama said. “Alternatively, fear can lead us to succumb to despair, or paralysis, or cynicism. Fear can feed our most selfish impulses, and erode the bonds of community.”
“Jesus is a good cure for fear,” he continued. “He gives us the courage to reach out to others across that divide, rather than push people away. He gives us the courage to go against the conventional wisdom and stand up for what’s right, even when it’s not popular. … Less of me, more of God.”
Obama said that he struggles with fear at times as president, and again cited Scripture.
“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,” he stated. “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, surely I can battle back doubts, surely I can rouse myself to action.”
But he said that he also draws his strength from people of other religions in observing their good deeds in the world.
“[S]hould that faith waver, should I lose my way, I have drawn strength not only from a remarkable wife, not only from incredible colleagues and friends,” Obama stated, “but I have drawn strength from witnessing all across this country and all around this world, good people of all faiths who do the Lord’s work each and every day, who wield that power and love and sound mind to feed the hungry and heal the sick, to teach our children and welcome the stranger.”
He provided examples of the deeds he has seen committed by the world’s religions.
“When the Earth cleaves in Haiti, Christians, Sikhs, and other faith groups sent volunteers to distribute aid, tend to the wounded, rebuild homes for the homeless,” Obama said. “When Ebola ravaged West Africa, Jewish, Christian, Muslim groups responded to the outbreak to save lives.”
“When nine worshipers were murdered in a Charleston church basement, it was people of all faiths who came together to wrap a shattered community in love and understanding,” he continued. “When Syrian refugees seek the sanctuary of our shores, it’s the faithful from synagogues, mosques, temples, and churches who welcome them, the first to offer blankets and food and open their homes.”
Obama then contended that the duty of man is seek the common humanity with those different then themselves, or as he called it, “seeing God in others.”
“And we’re driven to do this because we’re driven by the value that so many of our faiths teach us [that] I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper,” he said. “As Christians, we do this compelled by the Gospel of Jesus—the command to love God, and love one another.”
“For this is what each of us is called on to do: To seek our common humanity in each other,” Obama continued. “To make sure our politics and our public discourse reflect that same spirit of love and sound mind. To assume the best in each other and not just the worst—and not just at the National Prayer Breakfast. To begin each of our works from the shared belief that all of us want what’s good and right for our country and our future.”
During his speech, Obama also told the story of a Christian man who helped save Jewish lives during the Holocaust and a Muslim man in the Chicago area who faced his fears following the San Bernardino attacks. Obama noted that he had just spoken at a Maryland mosque the day prior “to let our Muslim-American brothers and sisters know that they, too, are Americans and welcome here.”
“Now, those two stories, they give me courage and they give me hope. And they instruct me in my own Christian faith,” he said. “I can’t imagine a moment in which that young American sergeant expressed his Christianity more profoundly than when, confronted by his own death, he said ‘We are all Jews.’ I can’t imagine a clearer expression of Jesus’s teachings. I can’t imagine a better expression of the peaceful spirit of Islam than when a Muslim father, filled with fear, drew from the example of a Baptist preacher and a Jewish rabbi to teach his children what God demands.”
“I pray … that our differences ultimately are bridged; that the God that is in each of us comes together, and we don’t divide,” Obama stated.
The event was attended by members of Congress and other leaders in the Obama administration.