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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. jason

    Obama is the opposite of a christian. This man takes god's Name in vain, using it as an item or another card in his political deck to dupe people into winning reelection. The last two years he has operated more like a Muslim, defending islam at every opportunity, while cutting down chrsitianity. do a youtube search and watch him MOCK The sermon on the mount.

    Obama loves to be a world celebrity. "Ye adulterers and adultresses, know ye not that friendship with the world is enmitY WITH GOD? So that they who will be friends of the world are the enemies of GOD." And JESUS SAID THAT MANY WILL SAY TO HIM at the day of judgement "LORD LORD, have we not done many wonderful works iN THY NAME?" but they will be hasted away to damnation. someone so full of himself and so wise in his own eyes does not have room in his heart for submission to CHRIST.

    It is noT ENOUGH TO CLAIM TO BE A Christian. Obama is all about obama–getting reelected so that he can continue to work much damage to the TRUE cause of christ.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  2. Steve Lyons

    Christians are not supposed to covet other peoples assets like Obama does. Obama is about as Christian as my dogs left testicle which IS to say not very Christian at all.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  3. Candy

    What does it matter? He is abviously a good man and a good president and is doing the best he can with the mess that wasa left to him.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  4. pitung

    If that is what Obama said, as Christians, we must believe it although only God knows whether what he said is true or not.
    We are not supposed to judge other people. If Obama now admits that he is a Christian, we should welcome him and not suspect him of anything else.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • drew

      uh people he never states that he is a Christian....... read the story.

      February 3, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  5. Epidi

    I still don't understand why people make such a big deal about his religion. As long as he does the very best he can with what he has to work with – why should his chosen path of spiritualism be anybody's concern? I am Pagan – so what? Just because most Book religions frown upon mine does not mean I frown upon thiers. To each his own. If every flower were the same in color, smell, or wether it's edible or not – what a BORING world this would be. Lighten up and seek your own truths. Worrying about anothers so much will make you stray from the path your own Diety has set you on.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  6. Oologist

    Obama is either a Toyota Camry, a streetlamp, or Providence, Rhode Island.

    This much I know for sure, America.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  7. Debbiedoo

    Dear Christians

    Abortion = MOTHER + DOCTOR-no where is Obama in the equation.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  8. Hischild

    To all you atheist, non-believers and cult followers..try having a near death experience..die for just a minute...come back and tell me what you think then...don't wait till it's too late. Confess your sins. It is the most beautiful thing to experience the love of God and all his many blessings. living for Christ is gauranteed life security.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Magic

      Hischild,

      "..try having a near death experience..die for just a minute...come back and tell me what you think then..."

      Hmmm, I wonder what Muslims see in near death experiences?.... or Buddhists? or Hindus? or Isolated Amazon tribespeople?

      February 3, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Buster Bloodvessel

      "try having a near death experience" I did, very recently. I laughed in death's bony face and told my wife it had been great and my son I loved him, and woke up two hours later feeling better. The doctor who saved me was black, by the way, and a Christian, but I didn't see any angels or feel any urge to repent.

      February 3, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Kafir

      – and then Buster woke up from his colonoscopy ...

      February 4, 2011 at 3:50 am |
  9. Bhamtiger

    Comment coming from the Bible Belt, I think all of you are wrong actually. I don't think Obama subscribes to any specific faith except that which will benefit him at any particular moment in time. "rker321", is that too insulting? Can we all remember the awful things that were said about George W. Bush, not just about his politics but about him personally? Like him or hate him, his presidency showed an absolute disrespect for the office itself, so let's not have a pity party for President Obama just yet. My opinion is that Obama believes in the power of Obama. Is he kidding about praying for humility? He is one of the most arrogant individuals I have seen. And how can your policies be so contradictory to your faith if you rely on it so much? This whole article is a joke, didn't everyone make fun of Bush when he talked about his faith? Did Obama not skip the National Day of Prayer last year? This is all posturing for the 2012 election, which I cannot believe is starting for both sides now in early 2011. I encourage everyone to pray for this president and the direction of the country as a whole and yes, like it was said early, remove the log in your own eye before worrying about the speck in your neighbors. Its time Christians quit attacking other Christians.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  10. Unimpressed

    Great, our president believes in magic. That sucks. Tricks are for kids. A very few people still hang on to that antiquity, like a MPB mullet. It's so 1990-fake. Free thought costs. You earn it, it's not free. Be your own god...it's waaaay more fun and fulfilling.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  11. rker321

    All of the responses in this thread, are quite interesting. They show, what is going to happen in 2012, What kind of President do we want. a Christian Fundamentalist. or a Socialist, LIberal, Nazi, non American, muslim like Obama.
    Looking at those two choices, I have made my decision, I will vote for the latter.
    By the way, I am a Republican, turning Independent, white American.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  12. Mimers

    Is he trying to convince God, Us, or himself that he is a Christian?

    February 3, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  13. sealchan

    I'm beginning to see an underlying thread in many of the conversations here about Faith, defining who is a Christian, how judgement is or is not okay...

    People will find Obama either sincere or not. People will argue whether he evidences sufficient beliefs to be considered a Christian or if he is only speaking for his political benefit. Let's remember that as President he may speak of his faith but he also has to honor a sense of the separation of Church and State so to be true to both roles is a very tricky thing. You can even argue about what it says about Obama's character that he is a Christian and some say its good, some say its bad (some athiests) and some, undoubtedly still think he is a Muslim. Does this range of opinion cause any of you to despair?

    If you stand back and look at this range of opinion as a whole, then think about how it would look from a fundamentalist who lives in a country run by a similarly oriented dictator, consider how messed up and lost this whole conversation must sound. Why do not Americans even agree on anything? Are they so lost that they can't even agree on who their President is? Or what they should believe? What a bunch of lost morons we must appear to be insulting each other and otherwise being unable to disagree...

    To this I say, without irony, thank God for America, home of the free. As a Christian I appreciate the Athiest for they are my sign that I am truly free to worship as I please. I wish Obama was a Muslim because then I would also know just how great America has become. Everytime I think about the fact that Obama is African-American I hear the words...

    'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'

    Some are called Atheist or Believer to tend to their flocks (those for whom they provide moral and spiritual guidance) and some are called to descend into the Heck of their Enemy (the opposing belief system). As long as we are all believers in democracy (and Freedom is a Faith belief, even a myth in the positive sense of the word), we should all rejoice at the above conversations.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  14. Michael Jordan

    If he says he is , if he's not God will deal with it himself, try asking him if he believes that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and by His blood we are saved

    February 3, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  15. ana ana

    The Coolest Superheros Vehicles is here moviesfan.eu/news/item/322-the-coolest-superheros-vehicles

    February 3, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  16. Maj

    I always find it scary that our political leaders rely heavily on the support of magical bearded sky wizards.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  17. Daphne

    Well, it's time for him to begin his campaign lies again. He's decided its best to tell everyone he's a Christian to see who he can fool this time around. Don't believe it. His brand of christianity is the strange hateful, racist stuff of Rev. Wright. His problem is he thinks he can lie all day long because he is "so smart." Well, he's not...and before all the lefties start in with the R word again, let me say if Larry Elder was running for president, I would vote for him in a NY second.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  18. nutmeat

    I find it funny that people care about this at all.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  19. Fricsaid

    If everyone worked on their own faults as much as they like to point out the faults of others, I think the world would be amazed at the results. Stand in front of a mirror today and address your own mis-deeds. I dare you.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  20. britnie

    I don't understand why his religion matters. We elected the man that we felt could best lead the country based on his platform not his religion. Americans need to learn how to separate religion from politics. He could be budist for all I care as long as he accomplishes the things we elected him for....

    February 3, 2011 at 2:50 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.