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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. Sagebrush Shorty

    "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". Just a coincidence of course. Nothing political about it. He said that his administration would be transparent and he was correct, we can see right through it!

    September 19, 2010 at 7:42 pm |
  2. Black Rose

    If I were Obama I would refuse to attend church again until after his term, saying "Whenever I go to church it upsets the American people so severely, I feel badly about it–I don't want to do that."

    September 19, 2010 at 7:40 pm |
  3. Roscelette

    I can't help but feel this was just for public display, but that's between Obama and God. It is not impressive, however, to voters. His policies are horrid, very bad for our country. Can't wait until November when we can deprive him of some power and then 2012 when we can take it all away.

    September 19, 2010 at 7:37 pm |
  4. Nik Kripalani

    Oh Sure you guys all like Bush and he got elected twice. The reason he is a Musilm is because the opposite of that is Hinduism which is my faith, i am shocked that he won't attend a temple. People grow up and lets fix the real problems, the middle doesn't like one party or the other, they want us to fix everything and work together. If someone is Republican, then I can counter and work with him so he can see the difference. Look at other countries how they have solved problems and yes do blame each other, but at least they find solutions to what ever faith they are.

    September 19, 2010 at 7:33 pm |
  5. ola

    Freedom of religion is what this country was founded on. Why is the media and GOP entertaining this discussion. We have more pressing issues to deal with.

    September 19, 2010 at 7:32 pm |
  6. caskinner

    I see the Obama's attending church as a PR stunt.

    September 19, 2010 at 7:29 pm |
  7. mrsfonebone

    What a surprise. The big O does everything by the polls–so he goes through the motions and then thanks everyone will accept the facade as truth. He must think we are really stupid.

    September 19, 2010 at 7:28 pm |
  8. JoAnn

    OK, so the president and family go to church for political reasons. Timing is no accident, he is too transparent and most of us see through it. Shame on you Obama for faking faith and love of God.

    September 19, 2010 at 7:28 pm |
  9. OldOwl

    It is commonly understood among the followers of Christ that when one receives the blessed sacrament of the altar, one participates fully and wholly in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus, and in his most sacred gospel, or "good news," establishing beyond any and all doubt that the one who so participates and lives accordingly IS a Christian. I am so pleased to have the President of our great nation, and his wonderful family, participate with all other Christians today in hearing of the Word, and sharing in the body of Christ through Holy Communion.

    September 19, 2010 at 7:28 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Actually, they have had the wafer and the wine analyzed before and after it is consecrated. Either way, it was not blood or flesh. It was a wafer and bad wine.

      In defense of this, I read that the Catholics believe the "transformation" is made at the moment the host is placed on the tongue of the believer. It immediately reverts back.

      This is sort of like the fastest gun in the west joke.

      Isn't it funny how all things religious are fake? LOL

      September 20, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
  10. HookLine&Sinker

    Please, we all know the man wouldn't have bothered if his beliefs weren't being questioned. My money is on Obama eventually announcing his conversion to Islam as the result of spending time with Imam Rauf. Michelle is that you hiding back there? Carla says to say "bonjour!", and she hopes your life becomes more tolerable real soon.
    =)

    September 19, 2010 at 7:27 pm |
  11. chic

    He's not going to church, he's campaigning.

    September 19, 2010 at 7:27 pm |
  12. vanessa

    Sick & tired of the lunatics critizing PRESIDENT Obama everymove! it seems everything he does is wrong! i voted 4 him & will again do so in2012 because he's an exxcellent president! i don't care what religion he practices.. i care that he does a good job represing me as an American citizen!

    September 19, 2010 at 7:22 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @vanessa
      You said, "Sick & tired of the lunatics critizing PRESIDENT Obama everymove! it seems everything he does is wrong! i voted 4 him & will again do so in2012 because he's an exxcellent president! i don't care what religion he practices.. i care that he does a good job represing me as an American citizen!"

      Lady, if I wasn't already married to 4 women, I would ask for your hand! I love what you said!!!

      September 19, 2010 at 7:25 pm |
    • Adrian

      Married to 4 women? You sound like a Muslim or a Mormon.

      September 19, 2010 at 7:29 pm |
    • David Johnson

      I am a born again Atheist! Proud of it!

      Did you pray to god for your best argument for his existence yet?

      September 19, 2010 at 7:33 pm |
    • Adrian

      I already gave you one just look under reddog.

      September 19, 2010 at 7:40 pm |
    • Sagebrush Shorty

      He does a good job of" represing" everyone.

      September 19, 2010 at 7:45 pm |
  13. Jim in Indiana

    Neither Thomas Jefferson nor Abraham Lincoln attended church that much, if at all. Instead, they read the Bible. And Jefferson didn't care for parts of the Bible, so he re-wrote his own version of the Bible. We are talking about two of the presidents on Mount Rushmore, you know?

    September 19, 2010 at 7:21 pm |
  14. Txbadboy

    Amazing, just two years ago, so many were questioning President Obama regarding his twenty year membership at Trinity church. How could he have been a member for twenty years, and now all of a sudden he is supposedly now a Muslim. Some of you really need to make up your mind.

    September 19, 2010 at 7:21 pm |
    • Jim in Indiana

      TXBoy, I believe the technical term for it is ... insanity...?

      September 19, 2010 at 7:23 pm |
    • Sagebrush Shorty

      It goes along with dual citizenship.

      September 19, 2010 at 7:49 pm |
    • J.A. Messenger

      Also, the technical term for it is called "taqiyya". This is a practice of deception to hide a person's belief in Islam, and it is considered okay, in the writings, to practice deception, in order to support the ultimate goal of the ideology: for total world domination. Thus, it should not be considered ludicrous for an islamist to pretend to be a believer of another faith while, at the same time, knowing deep down, what they truly believe.

      September 20, 2010 at 10:18 am |
  15. Over~It

    @carolyn
    So your saying prayer will prevent a second 911 type event. ROTFLMAO
    I'm sure some one some place was praying. if not thousands on that very day. You pray ill lock and load.

    September 19, 2010 at 7:20 pm |
  16. Anita

    People are stupid. Why does his religion matter?

    September 19, 2010 at 7:19 pm |
  17. astarte

    Who cares what religion he is? I believe that he's a Christian, but even if he's not, I don't think that has any bearing at all on his ability to be president. For heaven's sake, he's not leading a church, but a country. If the man wants to be able to sleep in one morning a week, who can blame him? Tons of christians don't go to church, and at my church we always joke about the C&E's – the people who pack the place on Christmas and Easter only and make it hard for the rest of us to even get into the place. It's nobody's business but his how he feels about God, Allah, etc. Besides, can you imagine the pain in the butt it is for the rest of the people in the congregation every time they show up? Holy distraction, Batman. Pun intended.

    September 19, 2010 at 7:16 pm |
  18. kay

    You all need to get a life.
    To those professing to be christians should practice what they preach and follow the golden rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you).

    September 19, 2010 at 7:16 pm |
  19. Paul

    Obama going to church is a political move, not a religious one.

    September 19, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
    • m0t0rm0uth

      Amen.

      September 20, 2010 at 12:16 am |
  20. sandra

    david there is something wrong with you if you think there is no GOD . who got you up today it was not the clock

    September 19, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @sandra

      Prove there is a god. You have no evidence except a flawed bible and a feeling in your heart.

      September 19, 2010 at 7:31 pm |
    • m0t0rm0uth

      @David – prove that the Bible is false. Prove that there is no God.

      September 20, 2010 at 12:15 am |
    • David Johnson

      @m0t0rm0uth

      You said, "prove that the Bible is false. Prove that there is no God."

      As I explained to Adrian in an earlier post, no one can prove a negative. I can't prove there is no god.

      But, I am not required to. I am not making the extraordinary claim, that there is a god.

      If I tell you there are fairies living in my left shoe, you could not prove I do not. But proving the fairies do not exist, would not be your burden.

      Since I am making the claim, you could demand I give you proof. If I fail to give you proof, you would be fully justified to ignore my silly claim.

      Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. – Carl Sagan

      September 20, 2010 at 11:04 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.