WASHINGTON, D.C. (Christian Examiner) – Seismic shifts in the world economy, a global refugee crisis, war and terrorism, poverty and famine – all are things that can make the strongest of world leaders afraid, President Barack Obama said at the National Prayer Breakfast Feb. 4.
He would be afraid, too, he said, if not for the promise of eternal life Christ made to those who believe in him.
"Like every president, like every leader, like every person, I've known fear, 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," President Obama said.
"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."
Obama said he has spent time over the past year reflecting on 2 Timothy 1:7, which says, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mound."
The president's address to the gathering this year took on a decidedly Christian tone compared to previous years, and especially to last year when he focused on the suffering caused by the Catholic Church during the Crusades. His mention of the centuries old crusades and failure to mention the rise of radical Islamism (ISIS and Al Qaeda) was widely criticized as both pandering to the Muslim community and patronizing to the Christian community.
Like every president, like every leader, like every person, I've known fear, 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, surely I can battle back doubts, surely I can rouse myself to action.
This year, however, little in the way of criticism has surfaced, in spite of the fact some of the comments were pointedly directed at Republican presidential candidates, including Donald Trump. Though Trump wasn't mentioned by name, Obama told the gathering fear can cause people to "lash out against those who are different, or lead us to try to get some sinister 'other' under control."
Obama has used similar language to describe Trump in the past. During the State of the Union address in January, Obama said politicians should not insult Muslims.
"We need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion," Obama said during the State of the Union address. "This isn't a matter of political correctness. It's a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith."
Trump had just called for suspending all Muslim immigration to the United States in the wake of the terror attack in San Bernardino, Calif.
At the breakfast Obama called fear a "primal emotion" that all people experience and that can "be contagious, spreading through societies and through nations."
"If we let it consume us, the consequences of that fear can be worse than any outward threat," he said. "It's all amplified by a media that is unceasing, and that feeds 24/7 on our ever-shrinking attention spans."
The president said his "cure" for fear is his faith in Jesus and the power, love and sound mind required to conquer it, even in the face of natural disasters, terrorism or a national economic crisis.
"What better time than these changing, tumultuous times to have Jesus standing beside us, steadying our minds, cleansing our hearts, pointing us towards what matters," the president said.
The day before Obama spoke at the breakfast, he addressed the Islamic Society of Baltimore and called for greater acceptance and dialogue between Muslims and Christians. In that address, he said religious liberty guarantees Muslims the right to practice their faith, but he also called for the Muslim community to distance itself from Islamic extremism.
At the prayer breakfast, he also devoted a portion of his address to Christian persecution in the Middle East, which he has rarely done. Obama said Pastor Saeed Abedini – now home – had been imprisoned by Iran "for no other crime than holding God in his heart."
"Last year, we prayed that he might be freed," Obama said. "And this year, we give thanks that he is home safe."
"We pray for God's protection for all around the world who are not free to practice their faith, including Christians who are persecuted, or who have been driven from their ancient homelands by unspeakable violence," he said.