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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. Ishmael Mohamud

    Obama is a righteous leader, who's only trying to be on the balance and do the right thing.... Watch what happens to America once he's done.. CHAOS

    February 3, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • Phil Lewis

      Everything about the man is a farce. He is plunging the nation into an abyss already.

      February 3, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  2. Luis Wu

    Great. That's real encouraging to hear that your president believes in an invisible, supernatural man in the sky. When will people stop believeing in ignorant fairytales?

    February 3, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • David

      There are no atheists in Hell because once you die you will undoubtedly believe in God but by then it will be too late. Trust Jesus now while you have time.

      February 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Luis Wu

      David – you are an incredibly ignorant fool.

      February 3, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  3. Senya Norman

    Presidents Obama's faith is not for discussion. Do I Believe he is a Christian, Of course. His word is enough.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  4. Preacher Man

    If Obama wasn't Muslin and claims to be "Christian", then why didn't he say, "Jesus Christ Is My Lord & Saviour"

    February 3, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Pretzel Logic

      You are also a complete moron. Do you two know each other?

      February 3, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  5. PDstone

    This is the second time, before election, Obama has claimed to be Christian. But yet, he didn't recognize national day of prayer shortly after his being elected. He wrote a book about being raised by two fathers who were muslim and how that greatly influenced him. Then the book was taken off the shelves shortly before he ran for President. He doesn't stand with his hand over his heart when The Star Spangled Banner is being played. I think that this is the same lie told twice, at least, about him being Christian and wouldn't you know it, just before his campaign starts up again. I don't believe it!

    February 3, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Pretzel Logic

      You are complete moron.

      February 3, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  6. Voice Of Reason

    Its a proven fact that the more intelligent a person is, the more likely they are to be an Atheist. Likewise the less intelligent, the more maniacally religious they are likely to be.

    With a president as brilliant as Mr. Obama, I have a hard time believing he could subscribe to any religion.
    BUT-
    The fact of the matter is, in the USA, stating that you are an atheist means political suicide.
    Which speaks volumes about this country. It is ruled by religious psychopaths.
    You're all deluded. God doesn't exist. Get over it. Accept the fact that Nature is all there is and take off your training wheels.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Buckwheat

      o'tay... woooo woooo. here comes the twotwotwain ... wooo ... wooo

      February 3, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • Phil Lewis

      Actually, get your facts straight. Look thoughout history and find some of the great leaders of this nation as well as how many nobel prizes were won by people around the world who believed in God. A person chooses not to believe in God so he won't have to answer to Him nor to his own conscience.

      February 3, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  7. Eli

    Behold HUMANS WAKE UP!!! there is a coming UFO alien invasion, only Prayer helps because energy from prayer burns them they can't be near someone who is praying they always prey on the weak ex; aethiest A PERSON ALONE WITHOUT THE CONCEPT OF GOD, is in for a rude awakening, Aliens are real!!! UFO!!! are real Threat to the human race, wake up humans I love all in GOD"S Holy Name

    February 3, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  8. Richard McCarthy

    It's very interesting to scroll through these comments and responses. Pro-Obama, anti-Obama, religious right, religious left(?), atheist. All sides will voice their opinions, and then twist their political and/or religious agendas to fit what they want to believe. There only seems to be a few truly objective ideas and opinions here. Most everyone else has lost their ability to be objective and reasonable, and now it's all about "us or them". It is truly disheartening.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  9. Meh

    Why do I care...?

    February 3, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  10. Carol

    Well Mr. President, as a woman of God believe you and wife are Christians meaning you believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and he died on the Cross for your/all of our sins including the hypocrites. They laughed at Jesus Christ and mocked and crucified him. Your faith and belief in God is between you and God Almight, what others think doesn't matter. People have taken Christanity out of context to fit they sick synical world. Having a person Spiritual relationship with God/Jesus Christ is truly your protector. Believe me I know. It doesn't matter what the people say. I believe you are lead by God Almight and you are doing a great job. I pray that God will continue to give you wisdom, knowledge, guidance and protection. In Jesus Name Amen.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • Phil Lewis

      Glad you want to believe he is Christian simply because he says so & knows the lingo. Actions, however, speak louder than words. This man supports an agenda & lifestyle that is contrary to the Bible (the rule for Christians), supports abortion on demand (devalues life – which the Bible teaches begins at conception), canceled National day of Prayer in the capital, then turned around and celebrated the Muslim day of prayer; these are not actions of a true believer. Needless to say, he is seen by a large percentage of people as untrustworthy; most likely there is deception involving much of his background and involvement with extremists (like Jeremiah Wright). Ongoing deception is not part of a Christian's conduct. I think the man may have his own definition of "Christianity".

      February 3, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  11. ranger

    Re presidents faith: With all due respect- who cares, what's the diff, maby he's a martian. Whatever. He's still pretty cool.
    Almost as cool as Michelle. And I hear She's a Buddist from Venus. 🙂

    February 3, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  12. LemmieTellia

    Thanks to the relentless efforts of conservative commentators, a huge number of gullble Americans believe Obama is a Muslim. They've been dumbed down and they're proud of it. Comedy, pure comedy.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  13. Uh Huh...

    @ Lou Ellen Russell – You Are Correct!

    February 3, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  14. Concerned American

    Why don't we EVER see the First Family attending mass like we've always seen with past Presidents? I understand the First Family has not chosen a church in DC?? Practice what you preach!!

    February 3, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  15. Roy Lee

    AMEN! God is so good.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  16. QS

    "All of us ought to be able to say who we are and be taken for our word. It's frustrating because he still has some people questioning his faith." – Rev. Joel Hunter

    Interesting concept Reverend....too bad this, like a majority of other statements made by religious leaders, turn out to be complete hypocrisy as soon as you bring up gay people.

    When I tell a religious person I was born gay and it's who I am, should I not be taken at my word rather than being accused of making a "lifestyle choice" that happens to not jive with their (your) belief?

    It's a bit offensive that you say it's frustrating because people are still questioning Obama's faith, but so many who consider themselves of that faith question more than just my 'faith', they question my actual worth as a person.

    Try something – next time you hear a seemingly innocuous and benevolent statement from any religious leader, after hearing the statement immediately insert the question, "and what about gay people?" and just see if you can still convince yourself that the things these people say have any credibility whatsoever!

    February 3, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  17. Gman

    Instead of reading all of the get rich quick authors that regurgitate 18th and 19th century false claims, do the research for yourself. There were no death and resurrection gods prior to Jesus and this is peer reviewed fact. Read Lee Strobel for a well researched and supported book on the subject. – done, proof is made

    February 3, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  18. Deacon terry Morris Clark

    The New Age Of Scribes and Pharisees by Terry M. Clark

    I truly believe a whole generation of loving and caring human beings are being written off and banned from our local churches, and in some cases our communities, because of the new age of scribes and Pharisees. I have been going to church all my life off and on. I was raised in a Church of Christ. I have never seen the aggressiveness and almost mob mentality so prevalent as I have seen today in the conservative Christian world. The hypocrisy and the political influences of such a close-minded group of people have shut massive groups of people out of our churches and our lives. This has created more separate church communities than ever before. They been allowed to play and say God so much in this country, that they have forgotten what Jesus was really about. These church leaders influence a group of believers to condemn, ignore, and shut out gay and lesbian people. I believe in the Bible and understand what it says, but I do not condemn people. I try not to judge them in real life. My gay and lesbian friends are welcome in my life and my church. I won’t judge them, make them feel worthless or try to change their views on who they wish to love in life. it is not my place! I personally feel that man killing man is still worse than man loving man. I love my wife, and I would not want a gay community telling me I was wrong for my feelings.

    While most of the conservative Christian world is trashing the New Age churches, they look like total hypocrites. Those churches are full because we have pushed “Human Beings “them out of our churches. Those people are searching and trying to find a God with members who will accept them and love them like brothers and sisters! If Jesus came back today where would he be?

    February 3, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • Tsk, Tsk

      U R Nuts! You just "judged" your "Gay" friends, if you didnt, you wouldnt have posted and said they were Gay.

      February 3, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  19. Simon Says

    I find it interesting how many silly comments are made here. As far as I am concerned, I believe Obama is a Christian. I know a number of Muslims who are every bit the America loving patriots so many Christians claim to be. I find that a lot of Christians believe that being a patrioc is something only a Christian can be, I don't care if Obama IS a Muslim. if he's doing right by his country, and I believe he is, then who cares what his religious beliefs are!

    February 3, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  20. JonathanL

    What does religion have to do with government? Nothing – Keep church and state separate. Also keep synagoue and mosque (and assorted wooden idols) separate from state.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
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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.