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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. Dizzyd

    Shame on all you so-called 'Christians' who are quick to judge others to be not true 'cuz they have liberal views, who are quick to hear and pass along slander against Obama! What happened to 'judge not, lest you be judged'? The Word says to leave the judging of wheat and tares to the angels, NOT you!

    February 3, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
  2. Gina

    Instead of judging a man let God judge him! If you do not believe in God then fine! But please don't say that Christians are hypocrits when you have no idea what it is like to walk in my or anyone elses shoes! As a Christian, we face the same daily struggles has anyone, it all depends on how we act and react. No one is perfect! Now, lets see, no one bashas the Karan for what it says, and for those who have killed our friends and fmaily in the name of Alla! Now, if you need to bash a religion then bash those! Being a Christian is about having a relationship with God, allowing Him to change you and mold you into a better person. Those Islamac religions are the ones that are teaching destroy and death in the name of their god....lets put the blame where the blame is do! The enemy, the one we are actually fighting.....Satan! The deciever of all! What ever Obama believes the Lord knows and the Lord will judge him! We need to support our president who ever he or she is because they are the President, and our leader!

    February 3, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  3. Erwin

    Gets a lot of votes doesn't it? There are still MANY deluded people in "God's Country."

    February 3, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  4. bettejodux

    I live in Hawaii President Obama's birth state. On Kauai, the most beautiful island in the world I think. A blue state. The best state in the Union. Please come and visit me at http://bettejo.wordpress.com/ Our daily news paper the Garden island is a window into America. America at her best. i think my column helps put it in perspective. If you leave me a message i can help you tune into the paper. Read our Forum. Our discussion group, we're the best. Peace and love Bettejo

    February 3, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  5. Cute

    Just remember people – yes it sounds nice – sort of prodigal sonnish, but this is what he did when campaigning previously. He told the Christians what they wanted to hear and got their vote. Remember the interview with Rick Warren?

    February 3, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  6. Annunaki

    Faith may sustain him, but it's the power of Christ that compels him...with a little sprinkle of holy water and some 360 degree head action from Michelle.

    February 3, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  7. Shalshem

    They're here!! The two witnesses spoken of in revelation chapter 11!! Please call 800 613 9494 or visit Facebook.com/wefoundthem 
    Don't delay,call today! Your whole existence depends on it!! You will learn the whole TRUTH!!!

    February 3, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  8. cindy

    My issue with Obama claining to be Christian is he does not believe everything the Bible says. For example he supports abortion and gay marriage. These are not Christian beliefs. You have to believe in the Bible as God's Word and accept it all or nothing. You can't pick and choose what you want to believe.

    February 3, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  9. maxhedroom

    I hope the day will come when we have an openly agnostic/atheist/Secular Humanist president. Seriously, 90% of politicians are charlatan fakes anyway. They would toss their religious "beliefs" in a second if it would help them get elected or gain more wealth.

    February 3, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  10. Name*haruon

    President Obama can be a christian or a muslim,but a true muslim dose not hide his faith is he dore then he is a hipocrite

    February 3, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  11. Newyorker

    The smear tactics used by Christian fundamentalists who accuse Obama of being a Muslim are utterly vile. On the other hand, what business is it of the country what President Obama believes in? Presidents should be expected to have good moral characters and personal values that 'transcend' their arbitrary interpretations of any particular faith. Otherwise, he can never unite the country, but only divide. The President should be the President of the whole nation, not of any single group, be they Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or atheist.

    February 3, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  12. Bobbie Canberra

    I reside in a country where our current Prime Minister is an avowed atheist. While I don't like her policies or her Party Politics, her religion or lack thereof has no relativity in her job. Many of you would be astounded to know how naive and short sighted the rest of the world considers Americans and their view of world affairs and domestic poliitcs. This is a prime example. Can't see the forest for the trees.............

    February 3, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  13. wow

    Faith is good,not much bad could come out of it,but why does he have to sound like such a weakling? He's the President of FCKING UNITED STATES! He shouldn't be talking about his weaknesses! He should appear strong. Invincible. Hes too timid. Old presidents weren't like that – they has backbones. This guy walks on egg shells. US presidents should never walk on eggshells. We don't need to need to kiss up to anyone – we are the most powerful nation in the world. Someone needs to remind Obama of that.

    February 3, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  14. D-Money

    If he has to prove that he is not a Muslim, he could simply eat a nice big ham sandwich with some bacon added for spite. 😛

    February 3, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  15. Dennis

    If he ended a State of The Union address with "Zeus bless America!" , Why then people would think he was crazy.

    February 3, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  16. Reality

    Forget what the illiterate, simple preacher man aka Jesus might have thought about BO, we can make our own judgements. Obviously, BO won the presidency on the backs of 35 million aborted womb babies and therefore is the leader of the Immoral Majority i.e. the fastest growing USA voting bloc: The 70+ million "Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers" of aborted womb-babies" whose ranks grow by two million per year.

    2008 Presidential popular vote count 69,456,897 for BO 59,934,814 for JM

    What BO can do to at least lift part of the Immoral Majority label?

    He says abortions should be "safe, legal and rare" but says nothing about the basic tenet of proper human conduct i.e. Thou Shalt Not Kill. And where is BO's sense of indignation that abortions are not rare and that these acts of horror demean the Golden Rule considering that he says he is a Christian. And where is his sense of indignation that women who use the Pill do not use it properly resulting in an failure rate of 8.7% as per the Gu-ttmacher Inst-itute statistics.

    Using these and other Gu-ttmacher Insti-tute data, this failure of women to use the Pill properly results in ~1,000,000 unplanned pregnancies every year. And the annual abortion rate in the USA is?? ~1,000,000 as per the CDC.

    And do males use co-ndoms properly? No, as said failure rate for this birth "control" method is 17.4%!! Again using Gu-ttmacher data, said failure rate results in another ~1,000,000 unplanned pregnancies every year.

    The Gu-ttmacher Insti-tute (same reference) notes also that the perfect use of the pill should result in a 0.3% failure rate (35,000 unplanned pregnancies) and for the male condom, a 2% failure rate (138,000 unplanned pregnancies).

    Bottom line: BO is still not aware of the basics of birth control and still remains the leader of the Immoral Majority and will remain so until he becomes a true Christian and one who respects and protects human life in all its forms and who at least emphasizes the proper use of birth control methods!!!

    February 3, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  17. Newyorker

    My faith in a future where people who feel the need to believe in a non-existent Deity will one day realize their mistake and become atheists, is what sustains me.

    February 3, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  18. Jaynicia

    Since when did being a christian become a prerequisite for the Presidency of the United States?

    February 3, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Newyorker

      It is theoretically a secular country that in practice is all but theocratic. And alas it was so, ever since its founding.

      February 3, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  19. wowlfie

    Obama has sinned more against Americans than any person who has ever lived in America since 1776.

    February 3, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  20. wowlfie

    Obama has sinned more against Americans than any person who has ever lived in American since 1776.

    February 3, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • Newyorker

      You have sinned against logic and common sense. For a human being who supposedly has a brain, this is a far greater sin.

      February 3, 2011 at 5:57 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.