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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. Marshall

    This is just pandering propaganda for the 2012 election.He is afraid of falling even farther behind in the polls.I personally do not believe his claim of Christianity no more than I do that Bush or Clinton or almost any president is truly Christian or even religious for that matter.They use it to win elections,and that is it.They understand that religion is an effective tool to control the masses.Personally I think RELIGION IS MENTAL ILLNESS .After all,Bush said God wanted him to be President.I wander what Obama thinks God wants of him.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  2. joneg

    WHY? I really am scared and HATE reading this BS... as an american it SICKENS me that religion is in the mix of government,
    I don't care I don't care, I DON"T CARE..

    I don't believe in ANY religion i believe we are already living in hell. how can kids get killed by there parents?>
    how can a kid bring his DAD's gun to school to shoot everything in his way?
    how can we kill each other?
    I worked for many big companies all I see is GREED, people wanting POWER, and doing anything to get it.
    STOP telling me that your faith is the right one there all crap, I can't believe you people believe this stuff.

    anyone that believes in the BIBLE or any other of your comics SCARES me.

    there is no such thing as a GOD..... sorry it's true

    go NON BELIEVERS!!!!!

    we will be the last one's standing
    after all the religious people kill each other because it doesn't go there way...

    February 3, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • MNBluess

      If you believe we are living in Hell then you are believing "some" religion. Just your own. Your words...not mine=)

      February 3, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  3. stephanie Sterner

    My political belief is in the separation of church and state , my personal belief is that we all should believe in something but what is right for me may not be right for my neighbor, my religious belief is that of Christian. Again what is right for me may not be right for another.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Tania

      You are soo right!! You stated this perfectly.

      February 3, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  4. mrRight

    what a lying piece of poo!

    February 3, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  5. Alex Martinez

    Kudos to Mr. President for standing up for his faith. People who question the faith of another person need to reflect on themselves, because regardless of what, "nobody is better than anybody", especially when we are all made of the same materials. It's cowardly to use a persons religion as a targeting bulls-eye to gain an advantage on what in the end does not predict the actions of that person whether for good or evil. I would imagine that free-will exists in all religions, doesn't it?

    FYI
    I believe in God!

    February 3, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  6. elcio loch

    This man was elect by us, but under His will.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  7. WHAT THE!

    i am not sure about this, but isn't this story about the President coming out of the closet with his Christianity at the national prayer breakfast? then please tell me why this story ended on giffords being a target of the shooting! come on CNN.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  8. Omega

    Wow. Obama a Christian?? You can't be pro choice/abortion and be a Christian. The guy is an idiot.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  9. Doug

    I find it disturbing that political officials are forced into these kinds of public declarations by religious nut-jobs constantly questioning everyones faith and demonizing those they feel are unworthy or anti-christ. I personally don't care how religion effects President Obama if at all. I am more concerned with his, and other politician's, decisions and actions. That is of course how we will all be measured in the end. Are we no longer America? Have we devolved into a Christian fundamentalist state all of a sudden?

    February 3, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  10. Omega

    Wow. Obama a Christian? You can't be pro-choice and be a Christian!

    February 3, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  11. BOB

    Well, what those poll numbers probe is that Americans aren't very attentive, actually downright disconnected. If I believed 20% of us thought Obama was a Muslim , I'd be ashamed of us.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  12. Incredulous

    All this fuss over a story book written and changed and rewritten over the centuries by men with the alterior motives of keeping their populous in check and making it easier to get them to go to war ... oh and money, let's not forget money. There may or may not be a God ... none of us know ... but organized religion is without doubt the biggest scam ever perpetrated. What a joke!

    February 3, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  13. Patrick K. Canon

    May the President be praised and saluted for taking a stand for Jesus Christ. God bless America!

    February 3, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  14. drew

    Funny how the people that do not believe in God or the Bible live by its teaching everyday just do not want to admit it. Maybe you should stop and think about the timeline of History and how the Bible corresponds with that timeline. What comes to my mind is the fact that no time in History has anyones religion come under more attack than now. All religions have been around for a very long time, so the fact that there are so many people trying to turn people away from God right now only proves to the points of the Bible. Can you think of any other time in history where people of religious beliefs (not just christianity) are attacked for their beliefs other than now? Atheist should just accept the fact that they are mentioned in the Bible and their role in the second coming is of utter importance because without them the end times could not happen.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  15. Angel

    I don't think God cares what people think. Its none of their business. If God appoints all leaders, why are those who are so for Him against Him on His current choice of America's leader. Don't they believe they will be alright no matter who is in charge. I mean that is what faith is ain't it. The Lord knows the President's heart. They are just bitter that who they wanted God did not choose through the people to put in office. Not only is he a democrat, but a black one....LOL

    February 3, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  16. Debbie Farley

    And then some of you still wonder how this man got to be your President. He is our President, the man whom God has chosen to lead us through these very dificult times. May God be with him and all how stand with him. I for one has never had any dought about him at anytime. I am so thankful that God is in control working through our President.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  17. Carol

    Fact Check: Ok these haters need to be for real and stop being cowards hiding behind all of these other stupid excuses. Stop all of the name calling and just ssy it, you don't President Obama because he's black. It has nothing to do with all of those other stupid excuses: he's not a Christian, he's a muslim, healthcare bill, he's a socialist, he's not a US citizen, believes in abortion, he's doesn't go to church (hell when he went to church you still hated him). In case you didn't konw you better go back and read your history books because African Americans ancestors came to this country during the 1600's they were slaves, many of your ancestors didn't arrived to this country centuries later and some of you are only 1, 2 and 3rd generation americans. African Americans are 10/15 generations in this country before your so called found fathers. LOL!

    P.S. Jesus Christ was a socialist.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  18. wf

    My christian belief keeps me going while I am against the core teachings of the Bible such as gay marriage, killing the unborns calling it women's right to choose. My christian faith keeps me going while my hate crime bill targets christian religious freedom, those who speak out against gay and lesbian life style. My christian belief keeps me going in tough times while I am planning to do away with DOMA – telling God that He is wrong about marriage. I am against God's standard of living but I am still a christian. One has to wander what kind of christian is he? In the words of Jesus, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven, Mat. 7v21.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      Powerful and strongly stated!

      February 3, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Buster Bloodvessel

      None of that crap is "core teachings" of the Bible. The Bible never mentions abortion, and sternly commands you to render unto 'Caesar' what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's. The core of Christianity is that you should be good, love everyone, do good works, be faithful and honest, protect the weak and helpless, and do this in God's name. When you spout slanted crap like "hate crime bill targets christian religious freedom" that you know isn't true, are you thinking of Jesus as you press POST? I can't really see Him as an internet troll, snickering as he slams someone; but of course, you can.

      February 3, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  19. xKylex

    Separation of church and state. Why should anyone care if he had certain relics covered or not?

    February 3, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  20. Sense

    As I am sickened by Obama and his relentless work as a senator for the "rights" for partial birth abortion... (http://taeprado.blogspot.com/2008/05/obama-obama.html)

    with that being said, regardless of his religion or lack of it.. I believe in salvation, I believe in miracles, I believe he is a child of God and therefore has the priviledge and rights to the atoning gifts that is extended to all those (yes even you who hate these words) who turn to the Lord and believe on Him. And whether or not he has accepted Him (I cannot judge that) I pray for him as a person and as our leader. I pray the spirit softens his heart and guides him as he guides us as the Lord would direct in these scary times. I pray he is converted and has a change of heart in many ideas.. that he repents for his evil work against innocent children of God who have no voice. I do pray for Obama.. I do care about him.. I do love him. I'm a sinner and as I pray and hope for mercy in the Lord.. I hope that any of you pray for our president.. see the wisdom in these words.. this is the only effective way to do anything about our situation. Whether you like it or not, he is in the WH.. so pray for a miracle, a change of heart...

    A country cannot stand for long without the Lord.. Pray for our president.. Pray for our country. God will not stand for His country to murder his children for long.. He has been merciful thus far.. God save us.

    And ignore the nonbelievers... you cannot prove to them anything, logically or otherwise. They don't believe not because of proof or darwin theories or professors or logic, etc etc. They do not believe because they will not humble themselves and get on their knees. They fail to see it has little to do with being a good person or a bad person. We are all just people making good and bad decisions, trying to get through this life the best we know how...True conversion is within the heart as the Spirit personally testifies and this cannot happen when one 's heart is hard and unwilling to hear... there is nothing you can do about that.

    This is in response to our posts about 1/4 of the way down the page on abortion.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • some emo kid

      "They do not believe because they will not humble themselves and get on their knees." When you say stuff like that, you sound crazy. It's exactly the way the terrorists talk. Victory is assured, God is on our side.

      February 3, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Buster Bloodvessel

      So Sense "loves Obama" and "prays for him" as a "Christian," after posting a link to some loser blog vilifying him as an abortionist. Nice. You are a real piece of work. Please don't start "loving" me or "praying" for me that way.

      February 3, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Sense

      "Vilifying him as an abortionist"? what?? no one needs to do that... he is who he is and has done what he has done.

      and yes I agree victory is assured... But it is not crazy to say why someone does not believe. It really is that simple... it's a matter of humility. You are weird as a believer..

      February 3, 2011 at 4:50 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.