Speaking at the last National Prayer Breakfast of his presidency, President Obama on Thursday morning expressed his fears, his hopes and how his faith has helped him throughout his life.
The remarks, which lasted around 30 minutes, were centered on his call to use faith to overcome fear in the face of the seemingly overwhelming challenges the United States currently faces. “We’re surrounded by tectonic shifts” in the economy, “disruptions to the environment” and global threats, the president said.
He made reference to “refugees fleeing from a war torn home,” highlighting “those things are real.” He called on the fear that the refugee crisis, and the threat of terror, could inflict on those living in the United States. “It’s the faithful from mosques, churches and synagogues who welcome them,” the president said.
“Fear does funny things. Fear can lead us to lash out at those who are different,” president Obama said, adding “fear can lead us to succumb to despair, or paralysis, or cynicism.” The prayer breakfast came one day after the president made his landmark first visit to a U.S. mosque during his presidency, where he urged for a lessening in the rhetoric against Muslim Americans.
Human fear “is a primal emotion…it can be contagious” but, it can also “erode the bonds of community,” Obama said. “If we let it consume us, the consequences of that fear can be worse than any outward threat.”
Speaking at length about how his Christian faith has helped him overcome his fears, the president said “for me…faith is the great cure for fear.”
He said that his fears are sometimes large, when thinking about U.S. policies and the threats Americans face, but he joked that he also has fears as a parent, saying how quickly children grow up, and constantly worrying “will they call? Will they text?”
In a somber moment, the president recalled the story of U.S. Army Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds, who, during World War II stood up to his Nazi captor in defense of his fellow prisoners who were Jewish. “We are all Jews here,” Edmonds is recounted as saying to the captors. It was this act of bravery by the Tennessee native that earned him the posthumous awarding of the designation “Righteous Among the Nations,” this year. The designation is the highest honor Israel bestows upon non-Jews who put themselves at risk during the Holocaust. During his remarks Thursday, Obama touted the late Sargent’s unwavering “moral compass.”
In his final prayer, the president made a plea of sorts. “I pray that our leaders will always act with humility and generosity. I pray that my failings are forgiven. I pray that we will uphold our obligation to be good stewards of God’s creation, this beautiful planet. I pray that we will see every single child as our own, each worthy of our love and of our compassion. I pray we answer scripture’s call to lift up the vulnerable and stand up for justice, and ensure that every human being lives in dignity.”