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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. mlr

    What a hypocrit... so – the elections are rolling around, and his party is in trouble – so he is going to dress up the kids and head off to church for the first time in 2 years? And he expects the American people to buy this?

    September 20, 2010 at 9:59 am |
  2. Coach Lew

    I wonder why this is being made news worthy? Could it be he wants to shed his Muslim image just before November? I guess they think all of us citizens are dumb and can't see through this ploy. Good try "O" but it is not going to work.

    September 20, 2010 at 9:53 am |
  3. Ron Jeremy's thing

    its always good to make the public see you as a christian around election time – nice alibi, we almost forget youre a muslim

    September 20, 2010 at 9:41 am |
  4. Ben

    He's not a Muslim. He's not a Christian. He's a pragmatist and is whatever is politically expediaent at the time. Outside of that, I believe him to be a person of no faith.

    September 20, 2010 at 9:40 am |
  5. M.

    I am just wondering what does his religion have to do with anything? I thought church and state were suppose to be separate.

    September 20, 2010 at 9:21 am |
  6. S

    I love how he goes to church right around election time. What a joke! People wake up. This man is nothing but a phony and has you all snowed. If you havent checked into his background by now you're all a bunch of hypocrites spewing nothing but hate for the right. He is a socialist/communist and has no business being our president.

    September 20, 2010 at 9:18 am |
  7. S

    I love how he goes to church right around election time. What a joke! People wake up. This man is nothing but a phony and has you all snowed. If you havent checked into his background by now you're all a bunch of hypocrites spewing nothing but hate for the right. He is a socialist/communist and has no business being our president.

    September 20, 2010 at 9:15 am |
  8. michael

    Ed you are an idiot, you obviously don't know what a socialist really is if you think the president is one. All of you people who mouth this lie, why don't you take the time to actually find out what solcialism really is!!

    September 20, 2010 at 9:11 am |
    • S

      MIke, you need to educate yourself on our president. He surrounds himself in the white house with marxist advisors and communists. You are the typical person that refuses to see the truth and clings to their ignorant party affiliations and will never admit this president is a socialist for the rest of your life.

      September 20, 2010 at 9:18 am |
    • Ron Jeremy's thing

      you REALLY need to open your eyes

      September 20, 2010 at 9:43 am |
  9. michael

    The issue here folks is why is this even news?? Oh yea I forgot, there are alot of dummies in this country who insist he is a muslim..can you say republicans!

    September 20, 2010 at 9:09 am |
  10. indigo

    President Obama has stated he is Christian and that's good enough for me. He is doing the job he was elected to do and that's good enough for me too. All this blabber about his birth place and his religion are mere distractions and so much malingering from his detractors.

    September 20, 2010 at 9:08 am |
  11. Observerant

    I laughed when I read the bit about most republicans did not know the president's religion. Either that is a) a sign of their ignorance. Not knowing your 'rival' is a sure sign of weakness. Or it is b) a studied insult against Obama, in the belief that calling him Muslim is a slight. In my opinion that says little about Obama himself, but speaks volumes about the people believe it to be an insult.

    I personally give Obama my kudos for not letting his personal religious views contend with his requirement to provide responsible and fair government to all Americans, as he has demonstrated time and again.

    September 20, 2010 at 8:28 am |
  12. onuricle

    It's election time. Time for our muslim presdent to start pretending he's a christian again.

    September 20, 2010 at 8:15 am |
  13. Bud

    Typical Obama, too little, too late.

    September 20, 2010 at 7:47 am |
  14. helen

    KellyinCA

    "@observer143, I thought it rather unusual, actually, that an Episcopal service would have as its gospel reading the _same_ passage about the dishonest steward as is in the Catholic missal for this week."

    Many Christian churches follow a lectionary (a planned set of readings through the church year).
    I heard the same text and a sermon on it yesterday in a Lutheran church.
    It is not the Scripture but the way it's followed/not followed that makes us different.
    E.g. Most of the things Jack B. said would be considered violation of the Word in my church.

    September 20, 2010 at 7:46 am |
  15. Bud

    Once again, Mr. President. Too little, too late.

    September 20, 2010 at 7:45 am |
  16. Greg

    Judge not, lest thee be judged.

    September 20, 2010 at 7:45 am |
  17. jennie

    Anybody else remember their elementary school history classes? This country (the original settlements, to be exact) were settled by groups looking to escape religious persecution at home. Hence that whole 'freedom of religion' and 'separation of church and state' thing. Maybe you've heard of it? Quite honestly, who cares? And, I would encourage everyone to actually take the time to read up on Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and the roots all 3 share. Might learn something.

    September 20, 2010 at 7:31 am |
  18. Rob

    WHY is this a story- we have nothing better to do than track when president goes to church. W probably went every week, but still started two unnecessary wars...c'mon....

    September 20, 2010 at 6:44 am |
  19. DoubleD

    I bet every poster here has not gone to church in a long time.

    September 20, 2010 at 6:10 am |
  20. Ed

    Wow ! Great timing. Not only did Obama have his picture taken, but it got printed in the Press as well. Isn't he lucky.
    Obama is the first President to shun the "National Day of Prayer" in recent times.
    Whatever it takes to boost his poll numbers.

    September 20, 2010 at 3:47 am |
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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.