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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. Greg

    Sim sala bim, God is great, God willing, and he is. Obama is a Christian or Muslim and he is the President of the United States. Like it or not he is all Americans top leader and if you don't like it you may want to vote in the next Presidential election.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  2. iesha

    And by the way who are we 2 judge this man.Do not judge this man at all. we are not the heavenly father upstairs.I feel sorry 4 alot of people just cuz they never have there facts straight.Obama is just a face and a signature. But so just do not comprehend.Folks pick up a book search search n get the truth. I thank all the jacked presidents that wuz n office especially Bush n his son.To think another Bush wants to b president I will get up n leave this country for good.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • Reach to Impeach

      Don't let the door hit ya !

      February 3, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  3. Guster

    Doesn't matter whether you believe in God or not....He believes in you.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  4. God

    People, listen too me. I am he who created the heavens and earth. I created Adam and Eve, and I created evolution! I am God, I can create or do anything! SO, EVOLVE ALREADY AND STOP FIGHTING! These are my words, and they are the truth because I say they are the truth! Not to mention it is on the internet (which I created, not Al Gore) so it is the truth! I am God, and the chapter in the Bible which I wrote about jumping on one leg and clucking like a chicken, well my agent talked me out of publishing it but it still in fact did exist! I am God, and I say this is my word, and my word is the truth!!!! Did I mention, I created the internet? Yes, I did it for fun. Your God derives much laughter from the postings on the internet!!!! Thank you people which I created, I now have DSL and a never ending stream of humor to read!!!!

    February 3, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  5. The Veteran

    For the Record: NOBODY IS BORN A MUSLIM, OR A CHRISTIAN.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • ron

      Tell that to the Muslims.

      February 3, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  6. Bible Prof.

    It is amazing to me that there is so much ignorance and meanness displayed in comments displayed here. Not everyone, of course. There is definitely a calculated campaign against our president in this country. It is motivated by fear, greed, and racism. In order to make one's profession of faith evident, there must be both a knowledge of the message of the Scriptures and a demonstration of the spirit of the message. Both of these are missing in many of these comments. President Obama clearly demonstrates both. I know that this will not change many because prejudice is so strong. The only real answer to this kind of hatred is love and prayer.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  7. The King

    After murdering 50,000,000 American babies by abortion, we now have 50,000,000 illegal foreigners coming into our country to make up the missing workforce. Unfortunately, they are so poor that they're also eating with our food stamps, saturating our hurting schools with non-English-speaking students, living in free Section-8 housing, are getting promoted over citizen's kids because of racial profiling, are bankrupting our hospitals and then blame American citizens for all their problems.

    So what we have here are foreigners illegally sneaking into America without any honor, milking the system to rob legitimate hard working American citizens via welfare payouts, committing one-third of all crimes in the U.S., and then blaming America's citizens for their homeland's problems. Talk about ungrateful. I'm tired of hearing paid off stooges like Sean Hannity say that Americans won't do the work which illegals are willing to do. The truth of the matter is that American citizens can't survive on $2 an hour. We do you think 10-20 illegals pile together in rented apartments? That's the only way they can survive. And what do they do with the rest of the money, they buy booze, booze and more booze. Not all of them; but a majority of the Hispanic immigrants in America that I've seen are drunks. We have lost our country. There is no border. No language. No honor. No culture. No class. No morals. No economy. No jobs. No government. Sad!

    It's quite a paradox when one considers that in "The Land Of The Free," the United States incarcerates more of it's citizens than any other nation in the world. With only 5% of the world's population in the U.S., our prisons contain 25% of the world's inmates. Think about

    February 3, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • Krystal

      @ The King

      I wonder how Native Americans feel about your comment.... : /

      February 3, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  8. IRONMIKE

    Say a prayer for $4.00 gal gas, highest food prices and record taxes. No social security increase only an increase for the politicians.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  9. The Veteran

    Conservatives are NOT Christian. They're Pharisees. That's why they don't know what a Christian looks like. They don't know Christ. If you don't know what Christ looks like, how can you tell if someone looks like him?

    February 3, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  10. mj

    Matthew 15:11 Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

    nothing but politics come out of his mouth. If he claims Jesus he should not be ashamed to mention one God one Jesus and not other Gods or religion.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  11. duhduh

    Declaring yourself to be Christian yet advocating the m.u.r.d.e.r of babies (e.g. abortion and late term abortion) is contradictory. Furthermore, it's an insult to the audience.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Debbiedoo

      Abortion = MOTHER + DOCTOR-n- there is no Obama in the equation

      February 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • duhduh

      Christian = belief in Christ + act like Christ. Yes, no Obama in the equation.

      February 3, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  12. skeptical

    A true Christian would never ever request that any Christian symbols be "covered up" before he spoke – such as in the case of the college that did just that – at his request.

    A true Christian does not go to Muslim prayer and take his shoes off and pray to Allah.

    A true Christian does not say that the Allah prayer is the sweetest sound he's ever heard.

    Sorry – but I don't trust his sudden found Christian faith. He is a wolf in sheep's clothing.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'A true Christian would never ever request that any Christian symbols be "covered up" before he spoke – such as in the case of the college that did just that – at his request.'
      He did no such thing. A christian should no bear false witness either!
      They put up a solid color backdrop, and a couple of flags, behind him when he spoke there. There were plenty of 'christian symbols' on view around the rest of the room.

      February 3, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • Bring it On1

      @ skeptical,

      You are pathetic, You are the type who will do anything not to believe in anything even after facts are presented. And you consider yourself a Christian ?? You don't know the meaning or what being a Christian stands for. Thank god there are not too many of you haters out there! You a Christian....boloney!!

      February 3, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  13. Lee

    It is sad that anyone has to "prove their faith". Just shows how predjudiced the people in this country are. Good thing he is not an atheist but hten again, an atheist could not be elected to office in this country. You must show reverence and "faith" in the boogeyman in the sky.

    It is hard to believe a majority of american's think he is muslim. This could be caused by: (1) They are very stupid people who can't or don't read as any bio and dozens of news articles mention the fact (2) They are tea pots who are still angered by a black president (even if partly black) so this is the best mud they can sling about it. Just like the idiotic "not born on american soil" argument. I guess it is a combo of the two. The politicos sling and their non thinking populous eats up every word.

    "Faith" is a dis ease of the mind that gets passed from one gen to the next.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  14. Robert

    As an Evangelical pastor the one thing that has changed in America is that Evangelicals are now the biggest Protestant group.
    The work Chuck Colson has done to bring Conservative Catholics and Evangelicals together make them a force to be reckon with. I never doubted that the President was a member and a professing Christian of a main-line church with it's liberal theology. The problem is that liberal Christian Theology is so different then Evangelical or Orthodox Catholic Theology that what the President does not correspond to anything Evangelicals can relate to. The President is just living out his main-line liberal Christian Theology. His stands on Gay rights and marriage strikes at the heart of Evangelical theology about the family, so when he supports Gay rights and marriage Evangelicals are negative. Liberal Theology seems to advocate One God but many paths to God where Evangelicals hold there is only one path to God through Jesus Christ. When Franklin Graham got dis-invited to the National Prayer breakfast because he is not inclusive this sent a message to Evangelicals. Many Evangelicals suspect that he is not a Christian becasue they don't really understand Contemporariness Christian Theology all they know is the Evangelical message. Add the Black Church experience then you truely have a faith that mystifies the average white evangelical. Hence with te name and the tolerence people think he is Muslim when he is really living out Contemporary Liberal Christian Theology. As a Evangelical I can only echo the word's Dr Machen "When evangelism becomes your God instead of Jesus Christ you are doomed to compromise in both theology and lifestyle." That my friend is what has happened to the main-line churches in our country!

    February 3, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Lee

      They are all the same. They all believe a man up in th sky is watching. They all hope and pray for "end times" a day when everyone is killed and the ugly filthy world is finally destroyed. Kind of like suicide bombers on steroids. In otherwords, total perverts.

      February 3, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • John ad

      How do people like you rationalize or explain all the terrible atrocities that have been, and continue to be, committed upon men, women, and children in the name of Jesus and all the other deities throughout history?
      God moves in mysterious ways – right.
      Religion is, and has always been, about controlling people. And sadly it continues to this day.
      People should open their eyes and start thinking logically for themselves, and stop letting guys like you tell them what to think or believe. You and all like you have no right to tell me or anyone else what to believe, our modern society has to base our beliefs on facts and science not thousand year old fairy tales- wake up!

      I wish your followers would take the time and read the bible, old and New Testament, cover to cover with an open mind, and, with the understanding that they can’t ‘cherry pick’ the parts to believe. If you accept some of it you should have to believe all of it. Take the test, and see if you can swallow it all. And, good luck to the poor goats, read it all and you will know what I mean.

      February 3, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  15. sara

    He must have FAITH to withstand all of the LUCIFERS biting at him since he was elected. Go Figure. The Lucifers who don't think he is a "legitimate" child of GOD....pitiful. Whatever God these people say they have I Don't Want None of It.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Wutend

      If you are reading the same news I am and you're not angry, you are the one who has a problem.

      February 3, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  16. Nonimus

    @Reality,
    I see you got a lot of bites today, congrats. I thought everyone knew to ignore you by now, but I guess not.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  17. John ad

    It is a shame that in 2011 with all the knowledge and information available to us that an intelligent political leader has to convince simpletons that he is under the influence of ancient fairy tales to be considered acceptable.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  18. amy

    The hard work of one accomplishes more than the prayers of millions. I would like to see the people attending the Prayer Breakfast have to pray for their breakfast and see how long it takes to get some food put on the table.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  19. Wutend

    I am just wondering if he is such a devout Christian why has he not found a church in DC? He left his church in Chicago because his preacher was a racist, and now he has not found another church. Wondering why not? He's been in DC for a while now. What's the hold up? oneangrywhitewoman dot blogspot dot com

    February 3, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • sara

      Hey Angry....maybe if you read or listened more and became Less Angry....you will learn something. What church do you attend....the KKK rallies?

      February 3, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  20. Steve

    I always had him pegged as an agnostic.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:32 am |
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About this blog

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.