WASHINGTON — President Obama, in wide-ranging remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast, said Thursday that he was praying for the violence in the Middle East to end, and separately called on the country to move beyond polarizing debate to remember that few people are right all of the time.
Mr. Obama told an audience of lawmakers, religious leaders and heads of state (from Equatorial Guinea and Macedonia) that in the middle of strife, it is important to “go back to the Scriptures to remind ourselves that none of us have the answer.”
Mr. Obama spoke for around 15 minutes about his upbringing, which he said was not religious. His father, he recounted, was a “nonbeliever,” and he said his mom, “whose parents were Baptists and Methodists, grew up with a certain skepticism.”
“She only took me to church at Easter and Christmas … sometimes,” Mr. Obama said.
Still, Mr. Obama said his mother “nagged me consistently about the homespun values of her Kansas upbringing,” and credited her with helping him to “understand the equal worth of all men and all women.”
American presidents make it a practice of attending the national prayer breakfast, a hodgepodge mix of Republicans and Democrats and, in the case Thursday, one Hollywood film producer, Randall Wallace, who gave the featured speech. Mr. Wallace said he was a descendant of William Wallace, the 13th-century Scottish freedom fighter on whom the movie “Braveheart” was based. Mr. Wallace opened with a clip of the actor Mel Gibson playing the title character, his face painted and kilt-wearing legs exposed. “They may take our lives, but they will never take our freedom!!!” Braveheart roars.
The audience clapped weakly.
“An introduction like this sort of infuses me with Hollywood glamor,” Mr. Wallace said before starting a story about meeting Ms. Universe and putting on his sunglasses and saying, “Hi, I’m Randall Wallace.”
Mr. Wallace told stories from his childhood, including a convoluted one about his grandfather, who he said was one of only two white men working with black men, when the other white man, a supervisor, said that he was used to calling the black workers “S.O.B.’s,” and that Mr. Wallace’s grandfather shouldn’t get upset if he mistakenly called him an S.O.B. sometimes. Mr. Wallace’s grandfather replied something about not getting upset if he hit the guy in the face with something, Mr. Wallace recounted.
Mr. Obama, sitting next to the lectern where Mr. Wallace was speaking, looked down at the table with a slight smile.
Mr. Wallace also talked about having a piano-playing pig named Pigerace.
When he was done, it was time for Mr. Obama’s remarks. He thanked “Randall for all your wonderful stories and powerful prayers.”