WASHINGTON( BP) – President Joe Biden encouraged unity amid diversity at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington Feb. 1, evoking the sentiment of Abraham Lincoln at one of the most divisive moments in American history.
“He said we are not enemies, but friends,” Biden said. “I’ve long believed we have to look at each other – even in our most challenging times – not as enemies, but as fellow Americans.
“Scripture tells us the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness. I believe that’s our collective calling today.”
He remembered the three U.S. Army Reserve soldiers killed Jan. 28 in an Iranian-backed drone attack in Jordan, recognized the trauma of the Israel-Hamas War, noted Ukraine’s enduring resilience in fighting Russia, and lamented growing anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other hatred in the U.S.
“We value and pray for the lives taken (in Israel and Gaza) and for the families left behind, for all those who are living in dire circumstances,” Biden said. “Not only do we pray for peace, we’re actively working for peace, security and dignity for the Israeli people, and the Palestinian people.”
He and Congress are working to free the estimated 100 hostages still held by Hamas, to ease the humanitarian crisis and to bring an enduring peace between Israel and Gaza with a two-state solution.
Biden, a Catholic, joined a bipartisan and racially diverse group of Congressional leaders in prayer at the 71st annual event held for the first time in Statuary Hall. Senate Chaplain and retired Rear Adm. Barry Black, the first African American and Seventh Day Adventist to hold the chaplaincy, preached and exhorted attendees in prayer and fasting.
House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Southern Baptist, joined key leaders and bipartisan breakfast hosts in several Scripture readings. House Chaplain and retired Rear Adm. Margaret Kibben, a Presbyterian, was among those who prayed.
Biden encouraged Americans to stand against hate, stating an idea America has proclaimed but has never fully implemented.
“We’re all created equal. We’re the only nation in the world created on an idea – we hold these truths to be self-evident – we’re all created equal and deserve to be treated equally throughout our lives,” he said. “We’ve never as a nation fully lived up to that, but we’ve never walked away from it either.
“It’s a covenant we have with each other that holds this nation together. This idea was made real before the soul became flesh, before this dream became a fact, was prayed for, was hoped for, was believed in. That’s the story of America.”
Black, noting the many global challenges, used Jehoshaphat’s prayer in 2 Chronicles 20 in instructing leaders to turn their crisis into conquest.
“The fact that we can come to this place, in this nation, and lift our hearts across the religious spectrum in prayer and praise is compelling proof that there is a force that can turn our crisis into conquest,” Black said.
Jehoshaphat appealed to God with prayer and fasting when facing three nations – all relatives – united against him. In response, God gave Jehoshaphat victory by turning his enemies against one another and allowing Jehoshaphat to arrive at a battle already won for Judah.
Black urged leaders to respect the weapons of fasting and prayer, to rely on God for guidance and to praise God before deliverance comes.
Hundreds of leaders on Capitol Hill are already praying and fasting one day each week, said Black, who leads a weekly Senate Bible study. Hundreds, including senators, representatives, chiefs of staff, waitresses, waiters and janitors, prayed and fasted during the past two presidential elections, as Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, and when Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, Black said.
“We have some saints in Caesar’s household,” Black said.
Biden encouraged leaders to believe the nation’s best days are ahead, to remember who we are as Americans, and to behave as such.
“We have really tough, tough differences. We really go at one another, but let’s remember who … we are,” he said. “We’re the United States of America. It’s all about dignity and respect. So let’s practice it.”