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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. Unabashedly Blue

    All in favor of restoring sanity to American, join me at Jon Stewart's rally on Oct. 30th. The rest of you Obama-is-a-[fill in the blank]-conspiracy nutwings can just continue to post ridiculous comments and drive yourselves crazier.

    September 19, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
  2. Bonesaw

    who cares? Why is this one of the top stories? Nobody even needs to go to church to be a christian.

    September 19, 2010 at 6:38 pm |
  3. Patty

    I think it's great that the President and his family attended church. I only hope they all attended for the correct reasons, and not for politcal gain. Election time does funny things to people of all faiths.....

    September 19, 2010 at 6:38 pm |
  4. pana wiya

    Please those of us who point our little figures at our neighbors, note there is always the 3 pointing back at us. If you're one claiming to be a christian, I would urge you to read Matt 5-7, the sermon by Jesus himself to his followers and onlookers. And note the last thing Jesus says is there is only 2 ways, you can be happily going on the broad road with a broad gate or narrow road with a narrow gate at the end. And not everyone who calls me" Lord, Lord' will enter thru narrow gate. So does not matter how often you attend church, your knowledge of the Bible and so on. What matters to God is your heart, your secret lives that no one else except you know. Please stop picking on the President or anybody else for that matter, instead let us please pray for the President.

    September 19, 2010 at 6:37 pm |
    • Critter

      Why pray? Why don't you use your hands for something more helpful? Why don't you get out and help people instead?
      If God wanted you to pray about everything, then why did he give you two hands and two legs?

      If you want to help the President, ask your Representatives and Senators to stop taking bribes and to actually help our country for once in their lives. Praying shouldn't take long, but our country will be struggling forever unless there is real change in the way they do things inside the Beltway.

      Bribes are not free speech. Bribes are what have ruined this country like few other things.
      We need honesty and ethical behavior in Congress. They have been taking money to act against the interests of the American people and against the Constltution for far too long.
      That would help our President get things done more than prayer, as far as I am concerned. God help us all if he exists, for we are surely going downhill, although not so fast now that Bush is out of office...

      September 20, 2010 at 12:06 am |
    • Critter

      I was assuming you had two hands and two legs...sorry.

      September 20, 2010 at 12:08 am |
  5. Dorkus Maximus

    Personally, I wish all politicians would keep their mysticism to themselves. Keep the roads in good repair and the trains running on time and keep your metaphysical beliefs to yourself.

    September 19, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Amen. Actually I would feel way more secure, if a president would announce he doesn't believe in a sky daddy.

      September 19, 2010 at 6:53 pm |
  6. helen hevener

    Abraham Lincoln one of the greatest Presidents ever- never attended church period- I dont think it is essintial for the President to have to be a member of any church. I have seen enough to know that some of the church goers- are the biggest hypocrites!!!

    September 19, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
  7. CK

    He is a public figure so whatever he does idle people just take a 'miki' out of him. Well he's got to set an example and a good one too. So why don't you take a walk to a small church too... after all Obama has put the unknow church on the world map and next sunday it's going to be a full house lol

    What religion teach is love your neigbour be charitable... respect mother nature and don't use up your MOUTH 🙁

    September 19, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
  8. PippN, Severna Park

    Trying to appear Christian, like his latest plea to blacks to go to the barbershop and tell other blacks to vote, is as misguided as his entire presidency. Not to mention it's too little and too late. O/Bama is on his way out half way through his first term and is becoming desperate.

    September 19, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @PippN, Severna Park

      You said, "Not to mention it's too little and too late. O/Bama is on his way out half way through his first term and is becoming desperate."

      If Obama does not get a second term, it will be because of racism.

      September 19, 2010 at 7:19 pm |
  9. reddog

    Some people wear their religion like a medal to prove their faith in God to everyone. Others confer with the Holy Spirit in their hearts. It doesn't matter whether or not President Obama believes in the Holy Spirit. It moves through him as it does through all of us.

    September 19, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @reddog

      Doesn't move through me. Or you, or anyone else. It's all in your head.

      September 19, 2010 at 6:58 pm |
    • Adrian

      Speak for yourself David.

      September 19, 2010 at 7:03 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Adrian

      Prove there is a god. Give me your best argument. Pray to your god, to give you the best argument for his existence. Amaze me! Amuse me.

      September 19, 2010 at 7:17 pm |
    • Adrian

      Ok how can matter or light be created from a void? How does life come from non-life? If there was nothing then you'll get nothing.

      September 19, 2010 at 7:20 pm |
    • Grinnin

      YO -@Adrian

      I think you just made it pretty clear that you got "nothin'".

      (if you want to know what I think, I think that if God exists, he is absolutely DEAD SET on not letting ANYONE prove his existence.... I say this because I actually had an excellent proof pop into my head one day but it flew right back out and I have never been able to get it back – go figure...I was using the scientific method, too.)

      (@David Johnson...you don't know how many times I have wished to get that argument back. I think God might have taken it away on purpose. Sorry. )

      September 19, 2010 at 8:03 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Adrian

      You said, "how can matter or light be created from a void? How does life come from non-life? If there was nothing then you'll get nothing.

      According to Prof. Hawking, the entire universe can be explained without a creator.
      String theory allows the existence of an" unimaginable mult itude of different types of universes in addition to our own," but it does not provide a selection criterion among these and hence no explanation for why our universe is, the way it is", says Prof Hertog.
      "For this, one needs a theory of the wave function of the universe."
      And now the world of cosmology has one. The next step is to find specific predictions that can be put to the test, to validate this new view of how the cosmos came into being.

      The nothing gets you nothing argument is not a good one.

      Where did your god come from? If you say he always existed, then why can't the universe aways have existed?

      We both have the same problem. But I am not claiming there is a god. It is your burden to prove there is a god.

      Science doesn't yet know what "caused" the singularity. Not knowing doesn't mean god did it. At one point in history, a rumbling mountain was attributed to god. We now know, god is not involved.

      September 19, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
    • Adrian

      No what im saying is that no one can prove if God is real any more people can prove how the Universe is formed there are as many Theories for the Universe as there are religions. I dont see how you can believe that the universe was made from a void if the Law of Conservation says it cant.

      September 19, 2010 at 8:09 pm |
    • Adrian

      Or where multiple universes can exsit, has Hawking seen them or detected them? And while God is all powerful matter and energy arent (Law of Conservation Of Mass) He has just one more of a long list of Theorie , when someone PROVES that their theory is true then I'll shut up about it. And then we have the problem with life coming from non life. And yes i've heard of Abiogenesis. Recreate it then.

      September 19, 2010 at 8:22 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Adrian

      You said, "I dont see how you can believe that the universe was made from a void if the Law of Conservation says it cant."

      I can't believe that a god created the universe in a 7 day creation spree. I can't believe in talking snakes, trees that yield knowledge and eternal life fruit, people who lived hundreds of years, a world wide flood that required 2 of every animal be stuffed on a boat, a tower god was afraid might reach heaven, unicorns, satyrs, leviathans that god defeats in battle, zombie messiahs and any other myth I missed.

      Do you know how much evidence exists for a young earth? NONE. The universe is about 14.5 billion years old. The earth is about 4.5 billion years old.

      All of the species found on the earth are products of evolution. If this is not true, why are there transitional fossils? Did god keep creating species until he got it right?

      Your god is a fraud!

      September 19, 2010 at 8:28 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Adrian
      You said, " God is all powerful "

      How on earth would you know that? Because a bible that contains errors tells you so?

      The only proof you have that there is a god, is a flawed bible and that feeling you get in your heart.

      I can claim my putter is all powerful, but it doesn't make it so. Proof Man! or shut up.

      September 19, 2010 at 8:33 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      @Adrian

      You are 100% right – science does have a long list of theories. All these theories are up for public scrutiny, experimentation, replication by others, and many are very good at making predications that actually come true.

      You use "theory" as if it's a bad word – if religion had the least bit of integrity, it would put religion at the top of the list of theories and subject it to the same scrutinity that Hawking's theories get. Oh, I forgot, one must have blind faith to understand religion. What a load...

      THERE ARE NO GODS – NOT EVEN JUST 1!

      September 20, 2010 at 2:24 am |
  10. tpod

    so...here's a question for ya..

    WHO CARES!?

    September 19, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
  11. Dave Lacks NY, USA

    Nice of the President to attend church just before elections! Guess we can look forward to his next attendance in September of 2012.

    September 19, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Obama is one of the smartest presidents we ever had. He doesn't need a sky daddy.

      September 19, 2010 at 7:00 pm |
  12. Jones

    Fake and Ghay.

    September 19, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  13. Frank

    who cares?

    September 19, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  14. Michael

    Even if he was Muslim, why would it matter?

    Americans can't possibly believe that every musl-

    Oh....nevermind.

    September 19, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  15. timothy

    who cares if he is muslim or christian or any other cult....

    September 19, 2010 at 6:19 pm |
  16. adam

    I guess most Christians think Obama went to church just for appearances because that is what most Christians do.

    September 19, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
    • laurie

      Best post in here – amen!

      September 19, 2010 at 6:30 pm |
    • Bill

      Double amen to that, brother!

      September 20, 2010 at 2:03 am |
    • Morgan

      AMEN! Every time i go to church it is full of hypocrites anyway. I rather pray in the comfort of my home. Most people go to church for appearance, the funny thing is most of the time they don't even pay attention in church and sit there and look at their watch every 15 minutes. I believe that Obama is Christian, even though WHO CARES! Leave the man alone. It's like america is divided and it's not gonna get any better any time soon unless we start supporting his ideas to make a real difference. This is sooo said.

      September 20, 2010 at 3:49 am |
    • 4444

      правда где?

      September 20, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
    • Rita

      Look at all the Christian bashers using the word Amen. I didn't realize muslim victory mosque supporters used that word.

      September 20, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
  17. OC

    Will see if Obama will attend the church regularly from today?

    September 19, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Not if he is as smart as I think he is.

      September 19, 2010 at 7:14 pm |
  18. Joan

    How can Americans be so stupid? Can Palin, Fox news., Limbaugh and Beck influence you to such a riidiculous conclusion? It's beyond sad !

    September 19, 2010 at 6:14 pm |
    • Lamar H

      I agree!!!! They even elected Obama as President, how stupid can Americans be!!!!

      September 19, 2010 at 7:09 pm |
  19. adam

    I would feel most secure if we had a president who was a self confirmed atheist.

    September 19, 2010 at 6:12 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Sing it preacher! Best post so far!

      September 19, 2010 at 7:02 pm |
    • honestanon

      @ adam

      Agree... but then people would assume that he was impressionable and be worried about him converting.. to whatever. And not trust him anyway... Gotta go with the populist approach – just plain sound political strategy...

      September 19, 2010 at 7:27 pm |
    • peace2all

      @adam

      Very well said....

      @HONESTANON-–You said...."Agree...(But) then (people) would assume that he was impressionable and be worried about him converting.. to whatever. And not trust him (anyway)..etc..etc.."

      More 'spin' filled rhetoric by the 'Nazi Propaganda blog tr0ll'......

      Which people....? Your posting presupposes *all*

      Why would these *unknown* people *assume* anything...? And again....you said..."worried about him converting..to whatever." WHAT is 'that' all about...?

      Good attempt though...at the spin game.... Please take another 'spin' at the wheel and try again.....

      Peace.....

      September 19, 2010 at 7:41 pm |
    • peace2all

      @honestanon

      Ooops.....almost forgot..... your last little *inference* and *presupposition* you tried to 'sneak' on by everyone...

      You said...."And...(not trust him *anyway*)" Wow...again, I love patterns of inference and linguistics and neuro-linguistics.

      Contrary to your feeble attempt to spin this once again......A lot of people actually *do* like and *TRUST* President Obama....

      Again nice try at the spin game... @honestanon... You are obviously becoming a blog favorite...!

      Peace.....

      September 19, 2010 at 7:47 pm |
    • honestanon

      @ peace

      Your mom's calling.. your pizza roll are done.

      September 19, 2010 at 7:59 pm |
    • peace2all

      @honestanon

      Wow... Ouch....! Is that the best you got blog Tr0ll...? You continue to make my point......and.... pretty much everyone else as seeing 'you' as you really are.

      A hate-mongering bigot, who attempts to use the techniques and tactics of HITLER and his propaganda machine to spin things your way.

      Not working for ya'.....? Again....good try at the spin game.... I, and the most of the rest of the folk who have been on these blogs for a long time posting and debating will continue to de-bunk your 'spin' game.

      Card carrying k*k*k member possibly as well are you @honestanon.......? Your new white hoodie coming in the mail...?

      You are very bad at this blogging thing.... pathetic actually....

      Peace......

      September 19, 2010 at 8:11 pm |
    • peace2all

      @honestanon

      "My mom's calling...my pizza (roll) is done...." LOL.... 🙂 Oh, keep em' coming buddy...

      And just remember @honestanon..... YOU ATTACKED THE REST OF US, AND WERE INCITING HATRED TOWARD OTHERS. YOU STARTED THIS PAL....

      September 19, 2010 at 8:14 pm |
    • Critter

      Who the heII eats pizza rolls? I think honestanon is giving us a clue as to how old he is...

      September 19, 2010 at 11:50 pm |
  20. Chip

    It's a shame that you can't get elected to higher office in America unless you at least pretend to be Christian. I am pretty sure Obama is, at heart, an agnostic. I'm sure McCain is the same. But unless you pander to the religious, you'll never become president. Not in this century at least. Thomas Jefferson would be saddened to know that.

    September 19, 2010 at 6:11 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.