Acts of Faith
President Barack Obama closes his eyes while a prayer is made at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Speaking at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, President Barack Obama said faith is the "great cure" for fear. (The White House)
On Wednesday, President Obama went to a mosque to encourage Muslims not to be afraid. On Thursday, he told one of the most influential Christian gatherings of the year that their “fear can do funny things” and that faith is the cure. “Jesus is a good cure for fear,” the president said.
[Obama speaks to country’s fears at prayer breakfast]
Obama’s comments to the National Prayer Breakfast were highly anticipated, as the annual Christian power-fest often makes news, especially in recent years as it has showcased a liberal Christian president and a crowd that leans conservative. Last year Obama told Christians not to get on their “high horse” about violence inspired by Islam, setting off angry criticism, and in recent years the breakfast has featured speakers — presidential candidate–doctor Ben Carson and author Eric Metaxas — who criticized Obama as he sat next to them, thrilling his detractors.
But in 2016, as Obama’s presidency is winding down and many Americans view topics related to religion as a lit fuse, the event seemed aimed at striking a healing tone. Obama’s constant theme was the importance of fighting fear, a religious duty he conceded he struggles with himself.
During his presidency, “that’s what faith has done for me. It helps me deal with the common, everyday fears that we all share,” he said. “God gives believers the power, the love, the sound mind required to conquer any fear, and what more important moment for that faith than right now? What better time than these changing, tumultuous times to have Jesus standing beside us, steadying our minds, cleansing our hearts?” In closing, Obama said: “I pray that my failings are forgiven.”
Without naming Islam in particular as the “some sinister other” of which Americans are afraid, Obama made that point explicitly 24 hours earlier, when he traveled to a suburban Baltimore mosque — his first U.S. mosque visit as president. In a historic 45-minute talk at the Islamic Society of Baltimore that was part history lesson, part pep talk, Obama encouraged Muslims and framed their critics as anti-American.
[In 2009, Obama sought to build a U.S.-Muslim World bridge. In mosque visit, his aims were more modest]
At Thursday’s event, he continued to highlight religious tolerance, a theme he has touched on more and more in recent months as the presidential race has become increasingly religiously divisive. Obama’s words are desperately wanted and appreciated by some but rejected by others, particularly some religious conservatives who see the administration as having been dismissive of their concerns, on subjects such as gay marriage, contraception and abortion. Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro quipped that the president has been good — in a way — for religious life.
This gives the (acronym) descriptive initials, POTUS, a new meaning, Pontificator Of The United States.