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. Jon S.

    So what the heck??? Obama sets foot inside an Episcopal church. He takes communion. One afternoon's visit. You rest your case? He's a Christian? That's what being a Christian is? Spending one solitary afternoon sitting in a pew and eating a wafer? That's what Christianity is? The man also sat in another church, if you recall, for OVER TWENTY YEARS, listening to Pastor Jeremiah Wright... but one afternoon in a fresh pew, and he's reborn??? This is responsible journalism? Do you people even know what you're writing about? I'm not saying the man is Muslim. I'm saying your article doesn't prove a damn thing. He's a politician (i.e. who the hell knows what governs his decisions, aside from political points)...

    September 19, 2010 at 9:15 pm |
  2. Iqbal khan

    Want to know about Islam

    September 19, 2010 at 9:15 pm |
  3. Sam

    To Lamar H. About Hubal.

    Yes Hubal (an idol) was an ancient God in the Arabian peninsula, and the Kaaba (Mecca) was a place of pilgrimage. And Mohamed destroyed all the idols but kept Mecca as a pilgrimage for the only one God that worshipped Abraham. It was the same too in Europe; many pagan religious places for cults became Christian after Christianity spread in Europe. The famous church of Mont Saint Michel in France was a sacred place for female druids who sacrified young men from the height of the hill and now it is one of the most important Church in France. When we look for the devil we can find it everywhere!!!!!

    September 19, 2010 at 9:12 pm |
  4. Cara

    To the person who said Obama is half white: It is an ugly but longstanding "tradition" in our country, especially in the South, to consider people black if they have even one great grandparent who was black. Historically, unless they could "pass" as white, they were victims of segregation based on that heritage.

    September 19, 2010 at 9:07 pm |
    • David Johnson

      It is an ugly but longstanding "tradition" in our country, to notice the color of any man's skin, and assign a value to him based on color.

      September 20, 2010 at 11:16 pm |
  5. Matelot

    I believe Obama is one the finest president this country ever had. Just became a citizen, along with the hundreds of new immigrants who became citizens and Democrats that day. I will campaign and vote for him.

    September 19, 2010 at 9:01 pm |
    • David Johnson

      May you live a thousand years! May your first born be a male child!

      Cheers to you!

      September 21, 2010 at 11:42 am |
  6. truthywood

    Christianity is most violent religion on earth, Its sad that Obama is appeasing those cultists.

    September 19, 2010 at 8:59 pm |
    • brad

      Christianity is not a violent religion. Many of it's followers are. Human nature can distort anything. Science is good, right? Depends whether human nature is using it to treat cancer or build nuclear bombs.

      September 20, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
    • David Johnson


      You said, " Science is good, right? Depends whether human nature is using it to treat cancer or build nuclear bombs."

      Each society decides what is good and bad based on an action's effect, or perceived effect, on itself. Often these effects change over time – new information, new circ umstances, new beliefs.

      During World War II, it was not considered "bad" to build a nuclear bomb. It wasn't even considered "bad" to use it. Society was protecting itself.

      We fought a cold war with the Soviet Union. The military doctrine of the time, was mutual as sured destruction (MAD).
      Both the attacker and the defender would be utterly destroyed. Everyone dies. Hideous huh?

      Point is, neither the Soviets nor the U.S. thought themselves "wrong" . They were protecting their societies.

      Right and wrong is not black and white. There is no absolute.

      September 21, 2010 at 11:40 am |
  7. mark grose

    If this is news that someone out there cant see for what it is,please look further. Not saying that , in a mean way ,but please look at the history of this man. I love this country and served proudly 1972-1976,non combat If that,s supposed to make a difference.
    We are in trouble ,Period Mark Grose

    September 19, 2010 at 8:50 pm |
  8. Rich

    Sad when a news piece is published on the President going to church. Very sad.

    September 19, 2010 at 8:48 pm |
  9. righteousnessbeforegodliness

    The fact that mr. President is making headlines with his trip to the funny farm should alarm the open/strong minded. I don't care where, or for whom, he got on his knees. After all, if any president campaigned that they we're going to be unnavailable for 1/7 of the week and consequently 1/7 of his term for anything but "church" he would be run out of "town". Wake up and smell the responsibility that is ours, not a floating beard in the clouds. Peace and pieces.

    September 19, 2010 at 8:43 pm |
  10. Avis

    Folks, stop the debate. The fact is that Obama is a hypocrite who follows the polls very closely. It is more than clear that the man is pandering and trying to solicit support from religious few left in this country. I, for one, do give a hoot if someone goes to church. In my humble opinion, one who doesn't believe in a higher authority is one who won't think twice about screwing another.

    September 19, 2010 at 8:43 pm |
    • David Johnson


      Not true. I am an atheist and I am very honest. I have never been arrested for any reason. I have been married to the same woman for 30 years.

      Morals are not dependent on a god.

      Our morals developed along with our intellect.

      Parents teach their morals to their children. Along with their religion.

      Society stamps its citizens with its values. The U.S. is a nation of where ~83% of the population is Christian. A person living here all their life is likely to have many Christian values.

      Look out your door. How many atheists do you see rioting and ra ping, and killing?

      Less than 1% of the prison population is atheist.

      If there is only 1 true god, why do different cultures have different morals?

      September 20, 2010 at 11:12 pm |
  11. watcher

    Too bad the public testimony is so apostate it can't discern when evil enters in the front door.

    September 19, 2010 at 8:43 pm |
  12. radicalmoderate

    Nobody was calling him a muslim when they were blasting him for being a congregant of rev. wright. Such short memories we all have.

    September 19, 2010 at 8:42 pm |
  13. ohioboy

    You cannot serve both God and Mammon. Amen. Hypocritically, Obama and the power elite controlling America are ardent worshippers and servers of Mammon. If they really worshipped and served God we would not have the highest childhood poverty rate in the modern world or be practically the only country on earth without paid parental leaves.

    September 19, 2010 at 8:36 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Things will be much worse if the Republicans take over Congress in November. Vote For the Dems!!

      September 20, 2010 at 10:57 pm |
  14. MsJesusChristaboveallthings

    I see you have been reading the bible...lol The devil always makes a fool out of his people...Keep reading don't stop

    September 19, 2010 at 8:33 pm |
  15. truthywood

    People who are questioning Obama's faith are not different than Nazis and those Talibans.

    September 19, 2010 at 8:29 pm |
  16. Retaining1

    I don't have any faith in Obama. I don't care what 'faith' he has, whether or not he fakes it or treats it as a media photo-op. I have no faith in HIM. Whoever is his opponent will likely have my vote. I don't care for his lies, his throwing people under the bus, his self-importance and his manipulations. Goodbye BO... hope you have plenty of time to 'attend church' after you're voted out of office in 2012.

    September 19, 2010 at 8:27 pm |
    • fojeba

      Obama will be elected again in 2012.Remember 2008 when people used to say he wasn't electable because of his name ,his race, his financial situation.Tea party movement is a blessing for him as they are hurting republicans they are not hurting Obama.for 99% of African Americans who by the way are mostly unemployed Obama is still a God.

      September 19, 2010 at 9:25 pm |
    • David Johnson


      I really pray you are right.

      September 22, 2010 at 2:41 pm |
  17. Cindy V

    This is just ANOTHER photo op due to a dip in the polls. It's all a show!!!

    September 19, 2010 at 8:19 pm |
    • JeanV

      And you know this how?

      September 19, 2010 at 8:32 pm |
  18. MsJesusChristaboveallthings

    Corrections...Don't play with God....The shoe is on the other foot....Typos

    September 19, 2010 at 8:18 pm |
    • David Johnson

      If there was a god, wouldn't he not let you make typos?

      September 19, 2010 at 10:33 pm |
  19. Sara

    By most of the comments here, you all go to your church every Sunday, because all Americans attend. Right. Going to church doesn't make you better. You can be a very good Christian and not attend a church. Your religion is one thing, your faith is another. I happen to like our President and he is doing the best he can, just like most Presidents. In fact he has done more than most, as I see it. Can't we just move on with this issue. It is getting old fast.

    September 19, 2010 at 8:18 pm |
  20. robby

    U guys don't get it at all obama trying to help everybody. He is better than bush because he ingore the umeployment that getting worst. All he focus on wars. And not slove the encomy problem. And spending all our money on wars. Where it go?? It should be used on fixing america's problem. America is not other country babysit. Take care of the world. When they scream for help. And using our money to help other country.
    Obama is only person that saw what the biggest problem in his backyard. The worst the unempolyment if keep ingore the problem it will lead 2nd great depression. He is wise enough to pull out the troop out of middle east. U guys don't judge other people only god can judge. In my option there so many false reglious in the world.
    Only the real one with fact and proof is christian. But who am I to judge huh? If they worship idol then let them when time come it will not look pretty. So give obama a slack. He show effort. Better than anybody. All u guys do is cry baby help me boo hoo hoo but obama is trying his best only one thing that stand in is way is replub they are one greedy people only care about their self. If I were obama I would paid off all credit card on usa and limit it and unlimited for biggest company alike billionare. So if person earn 20,000 dollar a year then credit card should be alike 10,000 dollar credit limit. Or something alike that I am not math whitz but plm is spending money that we cannot afford. Is biggest problem. When unable pay back. The fault is us. But the rich people just don't care.

    September 19, 2010 at 8:17 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Obviously he isn't doing very well at teaching spelling...

      September 20, 2010 at 6:23 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.