September 19th, 2010
04:36 PM ET

For first time in months, President Obama attends church publicly

President Obama publicly attended church Sunday morning for the first time in nearly six months, and shortly after a major survey showed that only a third of Americans can correctly identify Obama's faith as Christian.

The first family attended the 9 a.m. service at St. John's Church Lafayette Square, an Episcopal congregation about a block from the White House.

The Obamas - the president, first lady Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha - made the trip on foot.

The family sat a few rows from the altar, among roughly 40 worshippers. Each family member received communion, led by the president.

St. John's rector, the Rev. Luis Leon, preached on the weekly gospel reading, Luke 16:1-13, which ends, "You cannot serve God and wealth," in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

The visit, Obama's first public trip to church since Easter, comes several weeks after a major survey showed that a substantial and growing number of Americans believe that Obama, a self-described Christian, is Muslim.

Nearly one in five Americans believe Obama is a Muslim, up from around one in 10 Americans who said he was Muslim last year, according to the survey, conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The number of Americans who expressed uncertainly about the president's religion, meanwhile, is much larger and has also grown, including among Obama's political base. For instance, fewer than half of Democrats and African-Americans now say that Obama is Christian.

The survey was conducted in late July and early August.

Despite intense media speculation about which Washington church Obama would join when he arrived in Washington, the White House has yet to announce that he has joined any, though the president sometimes attends chapel at Camp David.

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.

At St. John's on Sunday, Rev. Leon said that the week's gospel passage - known as the parable of the dishonest steward - was a call to "act shrewdly on behalf of God."

He said that the parable showed that "Jesus has a sense of humor... he also likes to shock us" and the extent to which "everyone has cut a corner or two."

After the roughly hour-long service, Obama chatted with Leon and the first family and strolled back to the White House.

According to the Pew survey released last month, most of those who think Obama is Muslim are Republicans, but the number of independents who believe he is Muslim has expanded significantly, from 10 percent last year to 18 percent this summer.

In March 2009, 36 percent of African-Americans said they didn't know what religion Obama practices. Now, 46 percent of African-Americans say they don't know.

"You would think the longer the person is in the White House, the more the 'don't knows' would decline," said Alan Cooperman, the Pew Forum's associate director for research. "But the 'don't knows' are higher now than when he came to office."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Church • Houses of worship • Politics

soundoff (508 Responses)
  1. B

    How about analyze what's happening as far as the elements, they are signs of a much greater happening. Who cares what the religion, that is not what it is about. The point is do you serve God because there is but one HE is the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Son. Come to know HIM, for yourself then you won't spend as much time concerning your time with everyone else. There would be a better understanding.

    September 20, 2010 at 3:40 am |
  2. Ed

    Obama is a polticial opportunist (and a socialist).
    If he can get votes or points in the polls by going to any Church, he will do so.
    He is the only President in recent tiime to shun the "National Day of Prayer". This is nothing more than a photo-op.
    His integrity has much to be desired.

    September 20, 2010 at 3:37 am |
    • michael tampa

      Okay, folks, way to much hatred going on here,,,just for the record they always go to church when they are in town, they go to different churches each time..this time a reporter happened to take a pic, it really is that simple so spew your hate elseware, oh i forgot, you only hate obama!

      September 20, 2010 at 9:17 am |
  3. demoans1

    It is beyond belief that people are on here calling the President a racist. He has been called every name in the book, people walking around with monkeys, posters with him as a jungle man, he has been Muslim, atheist, Jewish and everything ...in between. You have the dirty nerve to call him racist.
    You make remarks about black people wanting hand outs, being on welfare, having babies out of wedlock, (lets take that off the table since Sister Sarah as a illegitimate grand child) and all other kinds of racist remarks, and then want to say the President is racist.

    If someone said all this kind of hate about Bush, Karl Rove and the gang would have declared you Un-American.

    If anyone wants to see how far this county has come with accepting minorities they only have to read the trash that is written here and decide nothing has changed.
    We have a black President and so many Americans hate it so much they will say or do anything to try and destroy him.
    Who are the real racist?

    September 20, 2010 at 2:34 am |
  4. Sara

    Hey Chase... try reading before YOU speak... what Paul said was that people should CARE what invisible god the president worships AFTER we have the nice standards he set forth. He didn't say it would be fine if the president worshipped an invisible Satan, he said we should CARE about that AFTER the priorities are covered. Again – try READING before opening YOUR big fat dumb arrogant righteous mouth.

    September 20, 2010 at 2:26 am |
  5. c.k

    I thing you really got some problems >>>

    September 20, 2010 at 2:20 am |
  6. c.k


    September 20, 2010 at 2:11 am |
  7. wyatt

    Obamawill be the best Presdient ever, he will change the world!

    September 20, 2010 at 2:05 am |
  8. people are funny

    I want to see a religious smack down. Athiests against Religious people. Both of which talk alot about religion (Athiests may talk about god a little more) and think the other is stupid. Athiests... most of which were abused as children by religious adults.. Religious people... most of which were abused by religious adults. This is gonna be a great fight!

    September 20, 2010 at 1:57 am |
    • brad

      I appreciate you comment. But it's caused me to realize that most of the angry exchanges between theists and atheists is caused by the symptoms of religous abuse, not the substance. For example, you might compare Christopher Hitchens to his doctors. His doctors can treat the symptoms of his cancer but are defeated by the disease itself. Likewise, Mr. Hitchens attacks the "symptoms" of religion, but cannot manage its substance.

      September 20, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
  9. billclinton3

    you ain't foolin nobody

    September 20, 2010 at 1:38 am |
  10. NYLawyer

    I thought he liked that pastor that hates white people... oh ya, its close to election time again.

    September 20, 2010 at 1:35 am |
  11. sockeyerama

    I could be way off base here, but I always thought that Obama, while probably a spiritual man, was not really int the organized religion. That would explain Rev. Jeremiah Wright. I don't go to church, but to listen to this guy hammering on whites and the government would be worth the small homage expected in a basket. I never had the guts to do this,but I've known people who get stoned (and sometimes not) and attend a fundamentalist services. One guy and his girl got the whole Pentacostal congregation to "place hands" on them. What a trip! If I hadn't been a Catholic, I would probably get a hoot out of their services but I've been desensitized. Wish they could have kept it the way it was in the 50's. Medievil costumes but awfully boring sermons. I know..only boring people get bored.

    September 20, 2010 at 1:10 am |
  12. DonR

    Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have made a cottage industry of calling him a Muslim and other nonsense. This hoists them on their own pitard. That seems worthwhile to me.

    September 20, 2010 at 1:00 am |
  13. Chris

    I'm a Christian minister, so I'm glad to see the Obamas attending Church. However, his religious beliefs have little bearing on my voting for him or voting for him again in 2012. If he was a Muslim whose political views were most similar to mine, I would not hesitate to vote for him. On the other hand, I would NEVER vote for the hateful tea baggers who think they own Christianity and are the only people with real American values. Sickens me actually. And I think Obama even though he has his shortcomings, like all presidents, tends to be pretty authentic for a politician. If he was trying to prove something, he would go to church every week. He's a thoughtful, intelligent, introverted person. You no like, you no vote for him, but for the love of God, quit picking on the man!

    September 20, 2010 at 12:57 am |
  14. Brenda - Wayne, PA

    Vote Democrat this Fall! There is so much work to do ... since the lazy Republicans can only manage to say NO and get in the way. Vote Democrat this Nov. 2 – to Save America!

    September 20, 2010 at 12:50 am |
  15. murli

    Just a show, because 1 out of 4 polled think that he is a Muslim. I do not think that he is a Muslim but one side of his family (father's side) is Muslim so he is a Muslim lover (or not a hater of Muslims).
    But that is just natural and I do not hold it against him BUT I do resent this love of Muslims being foisted on grade students and New Yorkers affected by 9/11. I do not love Muslims but I have Muslim friends. It is a case by case basis.

    September 20, 2010 at 12:38 am |
  16. Sophie

    We have separation of church and state so if he is Muslim, Buddist, Baptism, it does NOT matter. It only matters to the crazy conservatives who wish to legislate morality if this country. We all have to take a chill pill about religion in this country. See what it going on in the middle east? Religious extremists are blowing themselves up in the name of god. Do we want our religion to lead to the same intolerance, hatred and fear? Are other secular countries freaking out if the Prime minister misses church?

    September 20, 2010 at 12:28 am |
    • murli

      It is a tradition for presidents to attend church (if Christians), If the president were Jewish he probably would attend Synagogue.
      Barack professed to be a Christian. he said that. So if he does not attend a Church, does not observe National Prayer Day, people wonder out loud. And if he is a Muslim and he does not attend a Mosque maybe he is not religious. he has to say what he is.
      I just observe the facts and wonder!

      September 20, 2010 at 12:44 am |
  17. Iqbal khan


    September 20, 2010 at 12:25 am |
  18. goofball


    September 20, 2010 at 12:21 am |
  19. goofball

    Actually, Obama is way to smart to be religious. he's an atheist, just like his stepfather. Once you have someone explain to you, a kid, that the whole religious mumbo-jumbo is bullshift, you are cured.

    September 20, 2010 at 12:18 am |
  20. Connie

    Who cares what religian he practices – all three major relgiians believe in the same God – God of Abraham.
    This is so stupid -)

    September 20, 2010 at 12:10 am |
    • David Johnson

      That might be true in theory. It is not true in practice. They are very different gods. there are over 1,000 different Christian denominations. You would find a diversity of gods here also.

      Believing in one god would not necessarily get you saved in another. The Jews don't believe in heaven or hell.

      Fortunately, they are all a myth. So we don't really have to sort them out. Cheers!

      September 22, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
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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.