President Obama spoke at length about his faith at an Easter Prayer Breakfast at the White House on Wednesday, at one point getting laughs while quoting Jesus as saying, “ 'In this world, you will have trouble.'
“I think I heard an amen,” the president said to laughter, before repeating the line. “ 'In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.' "
The president also spoke with a straight Christian message at times, saying that the trials and tribulations of Jesus “put in perspective our small problems relative to the big problems he was dealing with."
“It was only because Jesus conquered his own anguish, conquered his fear, that we are able to celebrate the resurrection,” Obama said. “It helps us provide an eternal perspective for whatever temporal challenges we face. It puts in perspective our small problems.
"It gives us courage. It gives us hope.
“There are times where we have questions for God’s plan relative to us,” Obama continued. “But that’s why we should remember Christ’s own doubts.”
About 150 spiritual leaders from across the country attended the prayer breakfast, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, who has been a vocal advocate on behalf of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.
One pastor wore a hoodie to the breakfast, which has become a symbol of Martin’s death. The teen was wearing the garment when he was killed by Neighborhood Watchman George Zimmerman, who says he acted in self-defense.
The president’s religion and policies affecting religious institutions are controversial. In particular, the administration was sharply criticized this year for requiring employer-purchased insurance plans to provide birth control to employees without a co-pay. Republicans and some Democrats blasted the move as a violation of religious liberty and the administration responded with what it said was an “accommodation” allowing exceptions from the mandate for Catholic hospitals and other religiously affiliated groups.
The accomodation, however, would still force religious organizations, such as the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, to provide staff with contraceptives and abortifacients against its faith-based objections.
Critics depict the policy change as a ploy and say the mandate is evidence of the administration’s “war on religion.” Mitt Romney, the likely GOP presidential nominee, said this week that “there is a desire to establish a religion in America called secularism.”
Obama has pushed back on these allegations, warning against "using religion as a bludgeon in politics.”
"When we start using religion as a bludgeon in politics, we start questioning other people's faith, we start using religion to divide, instead of bring the country together, then I think we've got a problem," Obama told Des Moines's local NBC affiliate, Who TV, in March.
The president has also had to defend his personal faith, which has been questioned repeatedly, most recently by well-known evangelical minister Franklin Graham.
“He’s come out saying he’s a Christian, so I think the question is, ‘What is a Christian?’ ” Graham said on MSNBC in February, before later apologizing.
Speaking at the prayer breakfast on Wednesday, Obama addressed those who might disagree with his politics.
“I want to express appreciation for your prayers. Every time I travel around the country somebody is going around saying we’re praying for you,” he said. “And that means a lot to us. It especially means a lot to us when we hear from folks who we know probably didn’t vote for me, and yet express extraordinary sincerity.”
— This story was last updated at 11 a.m.