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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. ATLLADY

    You people are a bunch of goobers. Why is it he has to prove everything to everyone. I have seen people the will "Proclaim" Jesus is Lord and live like he doesn't exist. None of the other presidents were required to make proclamations. But because he's not white, and you people say he's not a Christian you want proof. Well where is your proof. If read the WHOLE Bible in a year you should know the one thing Jesus got on the Pharisees about was not showing mercy. You need it but won't share it. Oh yea that will win the lost. While you are online pecking away your TRUE hidden self what is Jesus thinking about who you "say" you are. He did say there will be those that say "LORD LORD" and he will turn and say I NEVER KNEW YOU!!! Does he know you or are you just making a proclamation?

    February 3, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  2. Ian

    Of course he is going to put up this charade he wants to get re-elected in 2012.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  3. Warren

    It saddens me that we are having this discussion at all. The United States was founded on the idea of religious freedom and that each American has the right to believe however they choose. The very basis of religious freedom is that no one has the right to question anything about any citizen's religious beliefs. It is a purely personal matter and has no place in public discourse for any reason.

    Now, if our president chooses to let us know how he/she believes and how that sustains them emotionally, socially or in any other way, that is their choice. But, just like with any other American citizen, the president's choice is his own, is personal and discussion about it (especially whether it is real, proper, in line with any religious doctrine or principal, etc.) has NO place in public discourse.

    The ONLY discussion we should be having is about the president's policies (economic, foreign policy, military, etc.). The more we publicly discuss the president's religion or faith, the more we walk away from the principles on which our country was founded. Further we insult our own citizenry because this country is a religious melting pot and ALL religions should be respected equally.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  4. Buster Bloodvessel

    Try this: find someone who insists he's a Muslim, and ask them about Rev Wright. They will immediately tell you who he is and spout a bunch of trash, proving that they don't think Obama's a Muslim at all but enjoy trashing him.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  5. Ayub Khan Kanjarzai

    These capitalist zionist puppet yankee pigs are no match for our latest secret weapon:
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vHiITxBRVU&w=640&h=390]
    God Bless the Mujahideen Allah Hu Akbar!

    February 3, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  6. Mark

    Look at all the no-it-all idiots posting. LOL. What a pathetic lot of morons.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Mark

      "Look at all the no-it-all idiots posting. LOL. What a pathetic lot of morons." Wait, that means I must be . . . oh well. Sorry.

      February 3, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  7. Big Kitchen

    Some may question Barak Obama's faith, while others do not. The are SURE that his proclamation of the Christian faith is illegitimate. Scripture tells us that even a child is known by his doings. You can't make up your own morality and God. This IS NOT a matter of biblical interpretation. It is a matter of knowing scripture in context and in its fullness. Let's pray for Barak Obama, but we can not accept him as a brother in Christ due to his stances, words and actions.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  8. Moose

    "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"

    SO ONLY THE PAST COUPLE OF YEARS???? HOW ABOUT MY FAITH HAS BEEN SUSTAINING ME MY WHOLE LIFE???!!!! I WATCH HOW A MAN ACTS, NOT WHAT HE SAYS. DOES A PERSON WHO SUPPORTS ABORTION AND LISTENS TO A "PASTOR" WHO CALLS THE UNITED STATES - "THE UNITED STATES OF KKK" - IS THIS MAN REALLY A CHRISTIAN? I HAVE TO AX MYSELF.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • some emo kid

      "I HAVE TO AX MYSELF." Film it and post it to YouTube. Pictures or it didn't happen. Also, turn off your capslock, Grampaw, and take your moose pills.

      February 3, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Moose

      OK Emo Bozo >> When you leave mommy's basement and get out on your own, come and talk to me. Until then, you will be the standard dou che bag who will contribute NOTHING to society.

      February 3, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  9. Will E.

    The President's religion is none of anyone's business. It's that simple.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  10. GetOverIt

    The only reason why it is such a problem is because he is black, and his last name is African.... No one has ever questioned a President beforehand. There are such things as Caucasian Muslims, but people seem to forget that. All we can do is take his word for it, whether you believe it or not is your choice. As long as he guides the country the way he is required to, his choice of faith shouldn't matter.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  11. scieng

    The question is not whether people know Obama claims to be Christian, it is whether we believe him after seeing how he lives. The corruption, the push for more poverty, the slow destruction of health care, the "hate America" themes in his international policy, the lack of integrity–do not demonstrate a Christian faith.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Buster Bloodvessel

      "the "hate America" themes in his international policy, the lack of integrity–do not demonstrate a Christian faith." You know that isn't true, so why say it? You just demonstrate your own lack of faith. Unless you hate America yourself, you better assume God gave us the best man for the job.

      February 3, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  12. Truth

    Good. I hope this puts away the stereotype and myth that Christian = Republican.

    Christianity is about knowing Jesus Christ personally and sharing it that freedom with others....not about republican or democratic agendas.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  13. madmatt

    Just another reason not to trust the lying sack of S*&T...tell us again how the bible says screw the poor and fellate the bankers.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  14. TDubz

    You know that memory-erasing device they use in Men in Black? I wish we could do that to the entire world just to wipe Religion out of peoples heads. No good comes from Religion anymore, it creates more problems everyday!

    February 3, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  15. Stephanie

    AMEN, President Obama!!!

    February 3, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  16. sam99999

    Ah Christianity, the great liberal hypocracy; they hate it, criticize it, redicule it, and paint it as the folly of fools – until they need it or it serves a political purpose.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  17. NcNice

    So many of you are going to die and realize you've been a fool all your life and you've been had. So sad. You've spent all your time worshiping someone you've never met, yet hate your own brother and sister whom you see daily and could've truly helped make a difference in his/her life. You're too busy dividing yourselfs along the lines of race, religion and social status-hating. Who really wants to be like you?

    February 3, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  18. MG

    1st Amendment-Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

    So first of all so what if he were a jew or a muslim or a communist or a socialist, that is his right!! this country is a melting pot. He shouldn't have to prove to anyone his faith or that he is a devout Christian. Being a Jew I am honestly offended by these comments. I do not believe in Jesus Christ and so what that is my belief and if I want to run for President than so be it. Where does it say that the President has to be Christian??? JFK was the only Catholic, which is bizarre because the majority of the Christians in this country are Catholic???? Religion is really for the birds it does nothing but cause Wars and Hatred because everyone tries to force Christianity or Islam down everyone's throats. When have Jews done that??? Never because they want to be left alone and no one will!!!! I say be what you want and leave me alone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 3, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  19. Muhammad

    THERE IS NO GOD EXCEPT ALLAH

    February 3, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Mary

      Actually, Satan masquerades as many different gods, Allah is just one of his manifestations.

      February 4, 2011 at 5:54 am |
  20. Reese

    An atheist president. . .now that would be progress

    February 3, 2011 at 3:41 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.