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February 3rd, 2011
12:01 AM ET

Obama delivers major speech on personal faith

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

President Barack Obama gave an unusually personal speech about his religious faith on Thursday, saying that "it is the biblical injunction to serve the least of these that keeps me going and keeps me from being overwhelmed," in address to a prayer breakfast in Washington.

The speech, delivered at the National Prayer Breakfast, comes on the heels of public opinion surveys that show only a minority of Americans know that Obama is a Christian and that a growing number believe he's a Muslim.

"My Christian faith has been sustaining for me over the last couple of years and even more so when Michelle and I hear our faith questioned from time to time," the president said Thursday, referring to his wife. "We are reminded that ultimately what matters is not what other people say about us but that we are true to our conscience and true to our God."

"When I wake in the morning, I wait on the Lord, I ask him to give me the strength to do right by our country and our people," Obama said later. "And when I go to bed at night, I wait on the Lord and I ask him to forgive me my sins and to look after my family and to make me an instrument of the Lord."

The address was televised and streamed live on the White House website.

The White House denied that the speech is a response to public misperceptions about Obama's religion.

"He's a committed Christian, one who takes his faith very seriously," said a White House official before the speech. "There may be misunderstanding and some folks who attack his faith, but at the end of the day the American people know who he is and where he stands."

A major survey last fall, however, showed that a substantial and growing number of Americans believes that Obama - a self-described Christian - is Muslim.

Nearly 1 in 5 Americans believes Obama is a Muslim, up from about one in 10 Americans who said he was Muslim in 2009, according to the survey. It was conducted in July and August by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Fewer than half of Democrats and African-Americans, core components of Obama's political base, correctly identified Obama as Christian.

The Rev. Joel Hunter, a Florida minister who is close to the president and was consulted about parts of Obama's Thursday speech, says he has encouraged Obama to open up about his faith.

"He needs to openly declare himself a Christian and not settle for people's skepticism at that point," said Hunter, who leads an evangelical church in Orlando. "All of us ought to be able to say who we are and taken for our word. It's frustrating because he still has some people questioning his faith."

Hunter says that he and the White House were caught off-guard by the results of last year's Pew survey on Americans' views of Obama's religion.

On Thursday, Obama spoke at length about his prayer life, saying his prayers fall into three categories: for those who are struggling, for personal humility, and to be closer to God.

"Faith reminds me that in spite of being one very imperfect man I can still help whoever I can, however I can, wherever I can for as long as I can," Obama said of the first kind of prayer, "and that somehow God will buttress these efforts."

"The second recurring theme in my prayer is a prayer for humility," Obama said later. "God answered the prayer early on by having me marry Michelle."

"The challenge is to balance this uncertainty and humility with a need to fight for deeply held convictions," he continued. "I pray for this wisdom very day. I pray for God to show me and all us the limits of our understanding."

With regard to his third kind of prayer, Obama said the recurring theme "is that I might walk closer to God and make that walk my first and most important walk."

The White House believes that some of the ignorance about the president's faith is the result of a misinformation campaign against him.

"Under the radar there are of course those who would not tell the truth about him," said the White House official, who would not speak for attribution. "There are folks who have a misunderstanding of the president's faith and who repeat that misunderstanding."

But Hunter said that the speech was as much a product of Obama settling into office and feeling more comfortable about revealing his personal side.

The White House official echoed that point. "He's had a little over two years in office now and he's had some time to reflect on how his faith intersects with public work," the official said. "He's had the time to make those reflections."

The National Prayer Breakfast has been an annual Washington event for 58 years.

Obama had been a member of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago until spring 2008, when he left after videos surfaced showing his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, delivering controversial sermons about the United States.

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' husband will speak at the breakfast on the congresswoman's behalf, her office announced Wednesday.

Capt. Mark Kelly, a NASA astronaut, will deliver the closing prayer at the event, the Arizona congresswoman's office said in a statement.

Authorities say Giffords was the primary target of a shooting that left six people dead and 13 injured in Tucson, Arizona, on January 8.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Christianity • Politics

soundoff (1,298 Responses)
  1. conoclast

    As long as we're ignoring the thrust of the article, here's my current favorite bumpersticker:
    Instead Of Being Born Again, Why Not Just Grow Up?

    February 3, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  2. R. Potter

    The fact almost half of Americans, including some posting here do not know or believe Predisent Obama is a Christian is absolute proof as to the racist leanings as well to the pathetic stupiditiy and ignorance of many Americans. This makes the U.S. one of the most dangerous countries in the world akin to Nazi Germany when facts no longer matter but emotions control the brains and actions of many. To the one in five of you developmentally dysfunctional people out there, I have ocean front property in Iowa for sale to you special people at a real good price.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  3. romans5:8

    Romans8:31 What shall we then say to these things? If God before us, who can be against us? I am sorry for those who believe our president is a true Christian the evidence has been shown over and over that he is not. He is a very good actor and is playing Christian very well, but he is a muslim because he slips up and things he has said about his faith and then the muslim faith don't go together. He has also decide to stop backing Israel and the Bible says( not a direct quote) that the nations that stand with israel shall be bless because they are the Lords chosen people.
    This once great nation is going down hill because instead of putting God first we are putting him on the back burner like those of you who believe the Bible is fiction(I pray you Find the Lord before its everlasting to late) this once great nation founded on God no longer cares about God and we will get what's coming to us before it over with. I don't hate our president I pray for him everyday but he is not a Christian he is a Muslim and its gonna bite us in the butt. And when your looking at how long he has had a church record and his Christian past, think about it do you know how long they were planning the 9/11 attack before it happened? You don't maybe you should research it. I'm not saying our president is a terrorist but he might be a tool for a bigger plan we can only wait and see but we will see and we won't like the out come of it. God forgive us where we fail you and be with this country we need you, more than most know.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  4. Fed Up

    If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck. Obama has nothing to say about the attacks on Christians, but he defends the Muslims at every turn. Why would a growing number of people think he is a Muslim? I just can't understand that (she said sarcastically).

    February 3, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  5. RacistGodFreaks

    Everyone that I have ever met that doesn't like Obama is either A) a racist hillbilly B) a republican or C) a religious christian nutcase. The majority of people disliked Obama from the beginning because of his race. Unfortunately most Americans are sheep and believe what they are told instead of researching and forming their own opinions. A person can be smart, but damn, people are stupid. More than likely human will be their own demise.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  6. Jonas Otis

    I am so sick and tired of the self righteous ignorant people who are judgmental about what others profess to be. If Obama says he is a Christian who are we to judge? After all as Christians we welcome people who profess to have converted to Christianity, so who are we to say he is not a Christian. It is absolutely ridiculous to read on this blog, people who have logs in their eyes but will rather point out the twig in other people’s eyes. Whether you like it or not he is the president so suck it up. After all George Bush also professed to be a Christian and how come we never challenged his faith. The sad thing is that most of you questioning his faith, so called Christians are those who are quick to take another man’s life (are for the death penalty but are against abortion). In my opinion, you should judge a man by his deeds.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  7. Qularkono

    500 eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. the resurrection was the proof that Jesus is The Christ and that He is sinless, that He is the Truth and that He is the Only Way to be right with God.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  8. Mike

    Matthew 6:5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 6But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

    US politics has too much focus on religion, It says in your own bible (Matthew 6:5) that if you are truly faithful you can keep it to yourself and do not need to be validated by showing it off all the time. Focus more on a presidents ability to think logically and lead, not in his choice of religion. What would the US be like if the Christans would just read their own book.....

    February 3, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  9. RJ

    Why does the President have to prove he is a Christian? Does a President need to be Christian?

    February 3, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  10. joseph

    1 John 4 verse 1Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. 2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: 3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. 5 They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. 7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God 15 Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. Remember to read the scriptures for their is the true wisdom and don't get caught up in who is and who isn't a Christian leave that job to God. Let Christ be your Rock and Saviour today in Jesus name. Amen

    February 3, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  11. captaincanuck

    what else is he SUPPOSED to say to court favour from the American public? It's the necessary thing to say in the US for a president, your country would NEVER elect someone that wasn't Christian

    February 3, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  12. CW

    @ Reality,

    Let me ask....What do you believe? Your always trying to discredt it the Bibe so have you created your own Bible or sorts? Let me guess you go an wo-'r-'ship whatever the-'ry of the day is or research of the day is.

    The Bible is the true word of God..period. You can pick and choose your way through it all you want but that doesn't
    change its truth. You say I can't prove there is a God to you just like you can't prove there isn't one. Tell you what...you stick to totally manly fabricated theo-rie's and I'll stick to Bible where God USED man to write his perfect work.

    @ Steve the real one,

    GOOD POST!!!! I would like to read the reply.

    @ AT,

    Good encouragement....I hope Reality listens....maybe they will. I've tried to reason with this po-'ster and they won't listen....I agree with everything you say

    February 3, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  13. Dot44

    Good for him. I like what he said and his convictions. I bet the liberal gays cringed when they heard him speak. HAHAHAHA ....Go Tea Party.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  14. James

    Uhhhhhh–Don't you mean Muslim Faith–

    February 3, 2011 at 11:12 am |
  15. Wayne

    Total B.S. from Obama.
    A Christian would never cover the image of Jesus Christ while giving a speech as Obama did in 2008.
    A Christian would NEVER turn it's back on Israel as Obama has done.
    A Christian would never admit that the Muslim call to prayer is the most beautiful thing he has ever heard as Obama did.
    A Christian would never lie about his past as Obama is doing.
    A Christian would never bow to leaders of other countries. A Christian ONLY bows to the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Obama is utter B.S. This loser is a lying worthless S.O.B. and should be arrested.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • grannymax

      And it's obvious that you don't know what a Christian is. The Bible says that if you confess with your mouth the belief that Jesus is God, died and rose from the grave and sits on the right had of the father interceding for his people, you are saved. Everything else you said is man-made. President Obama has said many times over that Jesus is his Lord and Savior. When did you get to overide the Word of God?

      February 3, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • sara

      and whoever gave birth to you!

      February 3, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Wutend

      Wow, Sara, how christian of you.

      February 3, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  16. JIm8

    Amazing how effective the Fox News misinformation machine is.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Wutend

      This story from CNN said that 1/2 of the democrats that voted for Obama do not believe he is christian. Where does fox news fit into any of this?

      February 3, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  17. A Follower of Christ

    "Love never fails."

    I Corinthians 13:8a

    February 3, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  18. Grumble Jones

    Obama's not a Muslim. From the first two years of his presidency it should be pretty obvious to anyone that he's a godless communist!

    February 3, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • R. Potter

      You wouldn't know a godless communist if one bit you on you pointed little pinhead. You are proof of a what a minimalist education gets you in this country.

      February 3, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  19. Pagan

    Is anyone else tired of the "Forward Looking Obama File Pictures"?

    February 3, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  20. nedu

    Reality,
    I humbly say you come across as passionately convinced of your opinion, but desperately ignorant of what actually happened in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I have a feeling you have not read the entire Christian Bible before. Since you like to quote the Bible, I find it highly pleasurable to give you one more to quote. Luke 24:1- 53 Enjoy!

    February 3, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • Reality

      nedu,

      Many contemporary NT scholars after extensive analyses of passages such a Luke 24: 1-53 have concluded that the entire resurrection story was invented and/or copied by the authors of the NT. For example, from Professor Gerd Ludemann's book, Jesus After 2000 Years:

      "It follows from the analysis of the tradition that the historical yield is nil".

      Also, was Pentecost an historical event or simply more myth concocted by Luke to gain members to the newest cult in town??

      e.g. Luke, the only gospel writer to note the Pentecost, started this tale in Luke 24:49 i.e. a single attestation and therefore historically unreliable.

      February 3, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.