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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. Mark B.

    Let me ask all of you this: Do you think the president believes that Jesus Christ is THE ONLY way to salvavtion and died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead and sits by the Father? That is what defines a Christian. All the good, all the peace, all the righteousness and forgiveness stems from these beliefs. A tree is known by it's fruit.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  2. P-TX

    Great speech,
    I am so glad Obama is our President. He inspires my faith in the inherent goodness in Americans.

    To the so called self proclaimed Christians on this blog dare speak with false authority about what is and is not Christian – you are fools. You are much like the establishment Jews that had Jesus crucified 2000 years ago.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  3. rker321

    Can't believe some of the posts, they are amazing. I am a Catholic, my parents and grandparents, have always been Catholics, my children are Catholics, and yet, I have never when I pray on my own, have ever said Jesus Christ, I always refer by "MY God" . Does that mean that I am not a Christian, or a Catholic?
    You may or may not agree with his policies, but trying to insult him by denying him the right to be a Christian man, is absurd.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  4. DGirl101

    It looks to me like he is trying to make sure there is no question about his beliefs. Probably, in wake of the Egyptian protests, he doesn't want to be associated even erroneously with severe radicalism. I don't blame him. Frankly tho' it would be better if he just remained relatively silent to give the impression of impartiality, so that it would give the rest of us who are not either Christian or Muslim a sense of representation.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  5. T Diddy

    I thought he was a muslim? Or a mexican? I know it began with an "M"!

    February 3, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
  6. Natfka

    Hard to beleive he is a Christian. I personally could care less, but his faith is very sudden and out of the blue.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  7. dtbart

    The future of our country is in doubt when so much voice is given to such idiotic rehtoric as we see on this comment board. There is a large, ignorant, selfish, and parochial part of America that will not accept fact as fact or truth as truth and we allow them to vote. They consider themselve free thinkers yet continue to follow Beck and Limaugh et al contrivances as legitimate truth! Obama is a Christian more than any of YOU morons are Christian. He has enough Christian love and forgiveness to allow you to continue to be stupid. You continue to call him names and question his sincerity. You think that somehow Bush epitomized Christian faith. Why is that? Read Meagan McCain's book on politics and see what she thinks about the Bush campaign's tactics in 2000. Not very Christian actions. And – to all you athiestis and agnostics on this board – why do you try so very hard to convince everyone that Christianity (or an religion) is fake? The concept of moral right and wrong did not just pop out of the primordial soup one day. There is some higher Truth that leads us to be better than we are. Your lack of civility and compassion simply prove that humanity minus God minus morality equals destrution.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  8. Ron Anderson

    I WOULD HOPE ALL THAT ARE FOCUSED ON THIS GREAT PRESIDENTS RELIGION TAKE TIME TO FIGURE HOW TO HELP OUR COUNTRY NOT DIVIDE!

    February 3, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  9. enid

    what a load of crap. the only time obama was on his knees was to kiss the sultan's ring!!!!

    February 3, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  10. DannyTheMan

    Good to see the most powerful man in the United States believes in fairy tales

    February 3, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  11. Me

    Not sure what is funnier. The idiots that will still believe he is Muslim, or the fact that the head of state is delusional enough to believe in the fairy tale of the bible. Well I guess both are neither funny, it's just scary.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  12. david massey

    O'bama's state's lotto numbers were "666" when he won the nomination. Look it up. Go to Youtube and you can find him confessing to being born in Kenya, and being Muslim. Read the Qu'ran, you are urged to fool the people for the sake of Islam.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  13. Hischild

    It is so sad that so many are eternally lost. It is appointed for man once to die, then after that, the Judgement. So whether you choose to believe, or not to believe, very soon..your time will come. All of these man made religions,cults,self made excuses not to live right, is just a trick of the enemy to gain and obtain your soul. We should be living our lives as if it were the last day of it. GOD is real!..no matter what you say, it has been proven. THE HOLY BIBLE is real, it does not contridict itself, if you study it, you will understand that the old testament laws are different than the new testament laws. CHRIST died to pay the penalty for our sins so that we may live and have eternal life. It was a Gift from the almighty one who created both Heaven and earth, and the one who created us in his own image. BILL stated it so clearly in his comment when he said no one has proven the Bible to be wrong, and that the only reason why people are turned away is so they can live the way they want....it's all bondage!. Bible prohesy is fulfilling itself. The weather, Egypt...study people. Open your eyes. The tribulation is very near..please don't run. At least accept Christ as your personal savior, believe he died for your sins and rose again. NO OTHER CULT OR RELIGION HAS LEFT A COMFORTER WITH US LIKE THE HOLY SPIRIT. None! As you can read, I don't push scriptures or religion on people...religion is man made..to be a Christ follower is a way of life

    February 3, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  14. Michelle

    lol.. wow so many opinions, how many of you actually voted him in and now won't admit it?

    So what his parental heritage is linked to Muslim. Doesn't make him Muslim. I don't see him shooting down the Jews or Christians. instead I see him joining with Christians. If he IS Muslim, then perhaps he's taken a change of heart.

    Bottom line is in the US, we have freedom of religion, freedom to make the choice of which religion to follow. Freedom to be an athiest. Freedom to be US (no pun intended). I personally think he was handed a crap position with crap in place that will take longer than his term in presidency to clean up. I'm not fond of the health care proposition, but as an American living in Canada, our health care sucks in comparison to what US already has..... we wait enormously LONG times to just see a doctor, and many ER's have closed down. Obama took a long look at Ontario health care.. and yes your employers are going to pay for it (just like ours do), but in the end, you'll have a better solution than what we've had for years.

    I say give him a chance. Quit getting on his case America.. if you don't like what he's doing, you can ALWAYS vote him out !

    February 3, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  15. s. michel

    Your words make me love you Mr. President. I, a coptic Canadian of Egyptian origin, now feel I have true family members somewhere in DC. God bless

    I do have other family members (blood relations) in DC; I mean brothers, sisters and little kids in Christ Jesus big family. Glory be to The Holy Trinity

    February 3, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  16. Bryan Jon

    As a Born Again Christian and a conservative, I've never questioned my presidents Christian beliefs. Far be it from me to attempt to remove the speck from his eye, while I still have this plank stuck in my eye. God bless you President Obama and know that you are always in my prayers. In the name of Jesus Christ! AMEN!

    February 3, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  17. wmry44

    Obama can't be a born-again Christian for two reasons:
    He supports gay marriage and abortion.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  18. JustPlainJoe

    If Mr.Obama delivered a "major speech" on his gastritis, would CNN be just as interested?

    This is just pandering to an american public that insists you must "belong" to the Christian Country Club.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  19. LB Colorado

    I am very glad to hear this, I believe you are who you say you are. If you were a muslim and you said this, you would not be a muslim much longer. May God bless you and impart wisdom as you go forward. May you find strength in HIS strength. I love that you are open about your "Christ"ian faith.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  20. Muhammad's Turban

    Wow, President Osama is still perpetuating that lie huh?

    February 3, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • Peter

      What lie? That he is a Christian? So all that outrage from the right about Obama being a member of the Trinity Baptist Church for 20 years is now forgotten? And what's with calling him "Osama"? That is just kids' stuff. You seem convinced that he is a Muslim. Maybe it is his middle name? Yah, that proves it, eh? What nonsense. Ronald Reagan's middle name was "Wilson"....did that make him a Democrat? This is the thought process of a child.

      February 3, 2011 at 2:51 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.