President Obama offered prayers for the nation and the people of Egypt, and offered rare reflections on his Christian faith at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday.
WASHINGTON — President Obama offered prayers for the nation and the people of Egypt, and offered rare reflections on his Christian faith at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday.
Obama described how his beliefs were grounded in his mother’s spirituality and deepened through his career in public service. His faith, Obama told the gathering, has sustained him during the trials of the presidency, including when he hears his faith “questioned from time to time.”
“My Christian faith … has been a sustaining force for me over these last few years, all the more so when Michelle and I hear our faith questioned from time to time,” he told the crowd of about 4,000 at the Washington Hilton hotel. “We are reminded that ultimately what matters is not what other people say about us, but whether we’re being true to our conscience and true to our God.”
First lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden and several lawmakers were among those at the annual breakfast, which every president since Dwight Eisenhower has participated in.
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The president began his remarks by acknowledging Mark Kelly, the husband of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, saying that “we are with them for the long haul, and God is with them for the long haul.” Kelly attended the service as his wife continues to recover from the January shooting in Tucson and gave closing remarks.
Obama also briefly addressed the crisis in Egypt, saying: “We pray that the violence in Egypt will end, and … that a better day will dawn over Egypt and throughout the world.”
Most of his remarks were personal. He talked of his father, a “nonbeliever” whom he met just once. His mother grew up “with a certain skepticism about organized religion,” and rarely took him to church. Yet she “was also one of the most spiritual people that I ever knew,” he said.
That Obama has rarely attended religious services has been a source of controversy. An August 2010 Pew study found that only one-third of Americans identified Obama as Christian, and 43 percent said they did not know his faith.
On Thursday, Obama described how he “came to know Jesus Christ for myself and embrace him as my Lord and savior.” He also spoke of the value of prayer, saying, “Let me tell you, these past two years, they have deepened my faith.”
He talked of the daily meditations he receives from Joshua DuBois, head of his faith-based initiatives office, the occasional visits from pastors to pray with him in the Oval Office, and the “respite and fellowship” of the chapel at Camp David.
“When I wake in the morning, I wait on the Lord, and I ask him to give me the strength to do right by our country and its people,” he said. “And when I go to bed at night, I wait on the Lord, and I ask him to forgive me my sins and look after my family and the American people and make me an instrument of his will.”
In his remarks, Kelly, who also gave the closing prayer, said: “I hadn’t been a big believer in fate until recently. I thought the world just spins and the clock just ticks and things happen for no particular reason.”
He has come to believe, however, that things happen for a reason, he said; “that maybe something good can come from all of this.”
He didn’t go into details about his wife’s condition, but said that, “Every day, she gets a little better.”
Material from The Washington Post and The Associated Press is included in this report.