This morning, President Barack Obama spoke at the annual National Prayer Breakfast address, during which he highlighted his Christian faith, praised Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln and encouraged the nation, despite intense ideological differences, to find common ground. Painting a stark difference when compared to past speeches in which he pointed to a more complex and less flattering picture of Christian scripture, Obama heralded the Bible as a sustaining document with the power to teach important lessons.
At the beginning of his address, he said that the annual National Prayer Breakfast is an opportunity for the nation to come together “not as Democrats or Republicans, but as brothers and sisters and children of God.” This theme of togetherness was one that followed throughout the president’s speech, as he told those in attendance that the United States is a country that is continuously humbled by its history and “ever-attentive to our imperfections.”
“We come together because we’re a people of faith. We know that faith is something that must be cultivated,” Obama proclaimed. “Faith is not a possession. Faith is a process.”
In addressing the importance of seeking a higher power, Obama cited Hebrews 11:6, which reads, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
From there, the message turned more intensely religious, with the president noting the importance of going to God regularly.
“As Christians we place our faith in the nail-scarred hands of Jesus Christ, but so many other Americans also know the close embrace of faith,” he said, noting that Muslims, Jews — even secular Americans — have a deep faith in America.
Obama praised both King and Lincoln, noting their resolve and reliance upon scripture to take them through some of the most divisive periods in American history. Through the Bible, these men found important lessons from the Lord, he claimed.
“In the words of God he found a truth about the dignity of man that once realized he never relinquished,” the president said of King.
As for Lincoln, who faced fierce opposition and a nation very literally divided during the Civil War, Obama had similar accolades.
“In Lincoln’s eyes, the power of faith was humbling, allowing us to embrace our limits in knowing God’s will and as a consequence that he was able to see God in those who vehemently opposed him,” he continued.
Perhaps one of the most striking elements of Obama’s speech centered upon the nation’s current ideological division, a paradigm that he related back to the challenges faced by past leaders. While he said that today’s splinters are nowhere near as dangerous and pronounced, he believes they require tamed behaviors from people on both sides of the aisle.
“In the midst of all these debates, we must keep that same humility that Dr. King and Lincoln, Washington and our great leaders understood,” he said. “It is at the core of good leadership.”
The president, who in the past has been accused by critics of spawning divisiveness, called for common ground and for people to seek nuggets of truth even in opposing views. Rather than leaving the prayer breakfast and forgetting the lessons learned, he encouraged citizens to make a concerted effort to temper themselves when it comes to national debate.
“I do worry sometimes that as soon as we leave the prayer breakfast…everything we were talking about…has been forgotten,” he said. ”My hope is that humility — that that carries over every day, every moment. While God may reveal his plan to us in portions, the expanse of his plan is for God and God alone to understand.”
Watch the speech, below: