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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. Wendy

    Saw this story four days ago on CNN. Have actively searched for it on Fox News. Can't find it. So Fox doesn't want people to see a story about the President professing his Christian faith? Maybe that's why so many people think he is a Muslim – Fox won't print or air any stories to the contrary. Um, Fair and Balanced? I don't think so!
    When Bush professed his faith, I believed him. When all the other political candidates and office holders profess their faith, I believe them. I could have said that I think Palin is not a Christian because her unloving, hurtful and alienating words do not express a Christian witness. But would it be true? I don't know because It is not for me to judge someone's faith. We are all imperfect beings and fall short. Let's all quit judging and try working together to make this country great again!

    February 6, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  2. Lightning

    Barack Hussein Obama alias Barry Soetoro...it a better deceiver than a leader...
    Barack Hussein Obama is a liar and told ABC's George Stephanopoulos the truth when he said,,,,"my Muslim faith."
    He admits he is a Muslim
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AthT4haUerQ&w=640&h=360]
    slips and reveals his "muslim faith;

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQqIpdBOg6I&w=640&h=390

    February 6, 2011 at 12:15 am |
  3. malfredo cardenas

    Obama is a great speaker. He says beautiful thing about his personal believes and his relationes with God. One thing that I do not understand isnhis policiies in abortion that are killing thousands of unborn human beings.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  4. Mike the Baptist

    The new and only acceptable religion today seems to be to treat all religions as equal. Jesus said, He who hath the Son hath life,but he who hath not the Son hath not life, but the wrath of God abideth on him. The only difference,is that in a christian nation we tolerate NOT respect other religions. How can you respect a religion that is sending someone to hell? In muslim controlled countries "infidels" or dissenters are tormented, tortured, or killed. See Voice of the Martyrs. Notice the difference?

    February 5, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  5. Jacob Jones

    Does anyone with a brain still believe this walking bag of lies. I thought not.

    "it is the biblical injunction to serve the least of these that keeps me going and keeps me from being overwhelmed"
    That means with your own resources fool, not those of others. I want to make the decision who gets my charity dollars, I don't want the decision made by a marxist.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:32 am |
  6. FrankTrades

    Voters will see through this. What a lying sack...

    February 5, 2011 at 1:17 am |
  7. Godislove

    I dont believe he is a Christian, actions speak louder than words, especially how he is all for the building of a mosque, if a person only believs in being a Christian why would Obama put another belief system to steer people away from God. Also bow down to a muslim leader. Seriously??? You do the math =o(

    February 4, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  8. U can't handle the truth

    Personally all the Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddaists, Taoists, rastsforians, satanists etc... are all wrong. Convert to his holy noddleness the flying spaghetti monster and learn the way of the pastaforians. Ramen to all.

    February 4, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      If His Holiness The Flying Spaghetti Monster (notice the capitalization, unlike when I write pope-a-dope) doesn't offer gyoza then I question whether He is on The One True Path.

      February 5, 2011 at 1:44 am |
  9. Bolivar

    Personally, my hope is for an end brought on by Christ coming back for His Church and leaving the liberals to enjoy their desired utopia. Fortunately for them, His mercy is long but I'm starting to wonder when we have so much garbage breathing the air now. Just sayin..

    February 4, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • nunya

      And according to the Bible, we are not to judge. Final judgement is left to God. That statement doesn't sound the least bit judgemental. WOW, just know that we are all going to answer to Him someday for everything we have done or said or typed on the internet.

      February 6, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  10. melissa

    What a shame he has got to go this route. Need my boots really. Some day he will really have to answer to God for this speech that obviously was ackward for him because he kept looking at the script. He certainly would never get my vote. I would never vote for someone that has never even run a taco bell or that can not produce an American birth certificate.

    February 4, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  11. tdubya

    The only Christian church that I know Obama attended had a preacher that used Gods name in vain when he said "God Damn America" What kind of a preacher is that?

    February 4, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  12. tdubya

    President Obama says he wakes waiting on the Lord-God he never never says Jesus Christ. All religions believe in a Lord, a GOD. But not all believe in Jesus Christ the son of the Lord our God. You see Mr. Obama is a Muslim not a Christian, there is a big difference! A big big difference!

    February 4, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  13. seadina

    Personally, I am very excited that President Obama is a Christian. If he says he is one and believes so then who are you to judge him? It's between him and God. As long as God accepts him as his child and heir to his kingdom, he should care less what anyone else thinks. If God grants him the wisdom, insight and peace to make decisions and care for others then I say Praise God!!. President Obama just has a peace about him that can only come from God. He has such a calm and peaceful demeanor that God grants to those who love and trust in him. Remember when people sometimes either criticize or admire him and says wow, he's so cool/too cool, that nothing bothers him? Well, if you know the Lord is on your side and he said he will never leave you nor forsake you, then you know you can go about your business knowing you are in excellent hands and will never be let down. Mr.President, I respect you, I pray for you and your family, and may God Almighty continue to be your strength, your shield, your peace, your righteousness, your sword, your salvation, your truth and your everything. God bless!!!!

    February 4, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  14. ninformant

    i love obama. i'd love him more if he'd just come out and say he's an atheist already. god is dead!

    February 4, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  15. luke

    THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT The gift of the person of the Holy Spirit,His power and His purpose.The seqence of the gift of the person of the Holy Spirit and the clothing of the power of the Holy Spirit is very clear in the Scriptures.Jesus made two definite promises cocerning the Holy Spirit and and accordingly made two provisions to fulfill them.The first brought peace synonymous with salvation:the second brought power which was for was for service.Promise of the person of the Holy Spirit was given by Jesus in John 14:16,17.When He said,"I will pray the Father,and he shall give you another Comforter,that he may abibe with you for ever...ye know him;for he dwelleth with you,and shall be in you."The Holy Spirit was to become resident in the.believers,because Jesus, keeping his promise Provided the gift of the person of the Holy Spirit to His disciples on the night of the resurection.there Jesus said,"Peace be unto you.""When he had said this,he breathed on them,and said unto them,Receive ye.the Holy Ghost."John 20:22).They received the Holy Spirit and He became resident.It is similar today for He is received by a believer "hearing by faith"(Galations 3:2)and dewells I your body which "is the.temple of the Holy Ghost."(1 Corinthians 6:19.To the disciples in whom the Holy Ghost.was reident Jesus Promised the power of the Holy Ghost almost seven weeks after He became resident in the the disciples.At the scene of His ascension He said in Luke 24:49 "And,behold,I send the promise of my Father upon you:but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem,until ye be endued with power from on High."This is the same promise recorded in Acts 1:8"Ye shall receice power,after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you,"which likewise was made at the time of the ascension.Provided the Power.Jesus,as He had promised,sent forth the power of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost.The record is given in Acts2:3,4.The Holy Spirit "sat upon (or rested) each of them.And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost,and began to speak in with other tongues,as the Spirit gave them utterance."This glorious power to those who possessed the Holy Spirit was given for the Purpose of communicating the gospel and glorifying Christ Jesus.The heares said,"We do hear them speak in our tonges the wonderful works of God."Acts2;11,Jesus said,"He shall glorify me:for he shall receive of mine,and shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine,and shall show it unto you.""Wherefore tongues are for a sign,not to them that believen,but to them that believe not."(1Corinthians 14:22.The public display of the power of the Holy Spirit is to communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ,and not to work confusion."For God is not the auther of cofusion,but of peace"(1Corinthians14:33).Therefore,"let all things be done. Decently and in order.)(1Corinthians 14:44).let it ge known that if the power cofuses,it is counterfeit.To be of God the power must communicate Christ and glorify H-. 4+ His divine purpose may be accomplished.See also John 16:14 MATURING THE NEW MAN The birth of a new babe in Christ after you have presented the plan of salvation to him completes only the first phase of your witness with the word.With the birth of the newborn babe in Christ comes the responsibility of helping him grow to maturity.invite, instruct,interest,and inspire him to be faithful.When overtaken by sin,the new man must learn to rebound into fellowship with Christ.He.should see his privileges and opportuities as a child of God.By accepting your own obligatios to him,you teach him to accept his own responsibilities"Look that we lose not those things which we have wrought,but that we receive a full reward"Let the cross ge seen in your life.Look up to Christ and as you trust him,show the vertical faith that reaches from your heart to heaven (Gogward).Step out before men and confess Christ and show the (horizontal)faith you have in Christ.It is from your mouth to tell men you tell Christ saves you now (Manward) As yiu trust with your heart ,it is. Vertical faith (Godward).As you tell with yor mouth,it is horizontal faith.(ManwardY. Now is the day of salvation.2 Corinthians6:2,Mattew18:3,James4:14

    .

    February 4, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  16. Harvey

    Maybe I'm going out on a limb here, but does the faith of your president really matter? I mean the fact that he is representing your country in the most positive lights should be enough. I think it's remarkable that he even has a faith considering the rise iof believers of atheism as of late and I think the general public should feel proud that they have a President that can put more important issues ahead of his own personal religious views. In my opinion, it is unfortunate that the president felt the need to address the public about his personal values, when there are far more pressing matters and concerns that could use his focus and attention. But, that's just my opinion.

    February 4, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  17. Anon

    The belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.
    Well we're screwed...

    February 4, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  18. Pam

    I Obama is such a Christian, then why did he omit "God" twice when reciting our Declaration of Indpendence!

    February 4, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  19. En3rgy16

    nice one!

    February 4, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  20. zlata

    I don't understand anymore? Why somebody have to be Muslim or Christian to be good or bad.Religion is something private and if all of us pray no matter how in Muslim way or Christian way we all will love each other more.I love you my President Obama .God bless you no matter what is your religion,.I see you have human bean value and for that I respect you and love you!All of you who still thinking what religion some of us belong do something better

    February 4, 2011 at 12:01 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.