February 3rd, 2011
12:01 AM ET

Obama delivers major speech on personal faith

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

President Barack Obama gave an unusually personal speech about his religious faith on Thursday, saying that "it is the biblical injunction to serve the least of these that keeps me going and keeps me from being overwhelmed," in address to a prayer breakfast in Washington.

The speech, delivered at the National Prayer Breakfast, comes on the heels of public opinion surveys that show only a minority of Americans know that Obama is a Christian and that a growing number believe he's a Muslim.

"My Christian faith has been sustaining for me over the last couple of years and even more so when Michelle and I hear our faith questioned from time to time," the president said Thursday, referring to his wife. "We are reminded that ultimately what matters is not what other people say about us but that we are true to our conscience and true to our God."

"When I wake in the morning, I wait on the Lord, I ask him to give me the strength to do right by our country and our people," Obama said later. "And when I go to bed at night, I wait on the Lord and I ask him to forgive me my sins and to look after my family and to make me an instrument of the Lord."

The address was televised and streamed live on the White House website.

The White House denied that the speech is a response to public misperceptions about Obama's religion.

"He's a committed Christian, one who takes his faith very seriously," said a White House official before the speech. "There may be misunderstanding and some folks who attack his faith, but at the end of the day the American people know who he is and where he stands."

A major survey last fall, however, showed that a substantial and growing number of Americans believes that Obama - a self-described Christian - is Muslim.

Nearly 1 in 5 Americans believes Obama is a Muslim, up from about one in 10 Americans who said he was Muslim in 2009, according to the survey. It was conducted in July and August by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Fewer than half of Democrats and African-Americans, core components of Obama's political base, correctly identified Obama as Christian.

The Rev. Joel Hunter, a Florida minister who is close to the president and was consulted about parts of Obama's Thursday speech, says he has encouraged Obama to open up about his faith.

"He needs to openly declare himself a Christian and not settle for people's skepticism at that point," said Hunter, who leads an evangelical church in Orlando. "All of us ought to be able to say who we are and taken for our word. It's frustrating because he still has some people questioning his faith."

Hunter says that he and the White House were caught off-guard by the results of last year's Pew survey on Americans' views of Obama's religion.

On Thursday, Obama spoke at length about his prayer life, saying his prayers fall into three categories: for those who are struggling, for personal humility, and to be closer to God.

"Faith reminds me that in spite of being one very imperfect man I can still help whoever I can, however I can, wherever I can for as long as I can," Obama said of the first kind of prayer, "and that somehow God will buttress these efforts."

"The second recurring theme in my prayer is a prayer for humility," Obama said later. "God answered the prayer early on by having me marry Michelle."

"The challenge is to balance this uncertainty and humility with a need to fight for deeply held convictions," he continued. "I pray for this wisdom very day. I pray for God to show me and all us the limits of our understanding."

With regard to his third kind of prayer, Obama said the recurring theme "is that I might walk closer to God and make that walk my first and most important walk."

The White House believes that some of the ignorance about the president's faith is the result of a misinformation campaign against him.

"Under the radar there are of course those who would not tell the truth about him," said the White House official, who would not speak for attribution. "There are folks who have a misunderstanding of the president's faith and who repeat that misunderstanding."

But Hunter said that the speech was as much a product of Obama settling into office and feeling more comfortable about revealing his personal side.

The White House official echoed that point. "He's had a little over two years in office now and he's had some time to reflect on how his faith intersects with public work," the official said. "He's had the time to make those reflections."

The National Prayer Breakfast has been an annual Washington event for 58 years.

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.

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' husband will speak at the breakfast on the congresswoman's behalf, her office announced Wednesday.

Capt. Mark Kelly, a NASA astronaut, will deliver the closing prayer at the event, the Arizona congresswoman's office said in a statement.

Authorities say Giffords was the primary target of a shooting that left six people dead and 13 injured in Tucson, Arizona, on January 8.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Christianity • Politics

soundoff (1,298 Responses)
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  4. Engraved Gifts

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    September 13, 2012 at 12:23 am |
  5. John

    Sorry, I don't believe his lies. He is not a Christian and that's ok, but don't lie about it. Show me a picture of him going to any church since his break with Rev. Wright. Show me a picture of him and his wife attending church and I will stand corrected. I have seen many of our past Presidents going to church during their presidency.

    August 23, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • PGG

      I think you must believe in a "works salvation." I say that because by your comment, you don't believe President Obama can be a Christian without going to church, which is not what salvation is. To be a Christian you believe that Jesus died for your sins, admit you are a sinner, and call on Jesus to save you, or accept Jesus as your Savior. President Obama has done that, and that is what makes him a child of God. It is not our works or our own righteousness that makes us a

      December 10, 2013 at 11:54 am |
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  9. John

    What a hypocrite, if none of you noticed, he is speaking at the national prayer breakfast. It's obvious he is saying what that crowd wants to hear in order to get votes for the upcoming election.

    2 Timothy 4:3 says it well: For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear."

    February 18, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  10. curt barile

    Obama has spoke in the past on being a muslim as he was in the presidency, (I still have the video of him saying he is a muslim). Then when did he convert to christian. I'm confused and need clarification on this matter, the video is not,or does n't seem to be altered in any way.

    February 4, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  11. Sheryl Harp

    How can President Obama say he's a christian and not live according to Gods word which last time I checked is the Bible. The Bible is an instruction book on how we should live our life and a lot of things President Obama has said goes against what God says. Shame on you Mr. President. What I see is you trying your hardest to make your mission that of no morals what so ever. If I were you I'd start praying for God's forgiveness for turning your back on his word and doing what you think is popular with the people instead. God loves the sinner but hates the sin remember that.

    January 26, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Tom

      The bible is not and has never been God's Word or the Word of God. The bible has always been the bible. Nothing more and nothing less. It was inspired by Holy Spirit but it is not God's Word.

      Jesus Himself is God's Word aka the Word of God. We must never demean Jesus by saying that the bible is God's Word.

      February 2, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • Tom

      A lot of Evangelicals reject what Jesus taught and still claim to be Christians. The bible says that Christians are not allowed to serve in the military but they just disregard what Jesus taught.

      February 2, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • Chad

      @Tom "The bible says that Christians are not allowed to serve in the military"

      =>It does

      honestly, where did you read that? What ever site it was has absolutely no clue.

      February 18, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
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  13. Emedditleft

    Всем привет! В общем, наверное, люди не зря создают такие темы, даже если просто хотят узнать, в чем смысл жизни для каждого. Как и многие, я зарабатываю с помощью интернета. Пожалуй, немного о себе. Я студент, мне 20 лет. Сначала я закончил колледж (после 9-го 4 года отучился), теперь поступил в универ, сейчас на 1 курсе. Особо универ не посещаю, учусь на тройки, в основном "ухожу" в себя, сижу дома, что-то "придумываю" с интернетом) миллионы не зарабатываю, сео – как хобби=))). Проблема в том, что ни в колледже, ни в университете, я не учусь на ту специальность, которая оч. нравиться. Я – инженер. Вроде более-менее престижно, но – это не мое. И самое интересное, что на КСС-е или програмировании я бы тоже не хотел учиться. Всегда хотел быть врачом. С детства нравиться биология, медицина и т.д. Вот благодаря Интернету, как бы так выразиться, немного успокаиваюсь. Создаю сайты на биологическую тематику, или про медицину, когда вылаживаю материал, сам его "взахлеб" читаю – не могу оторваться. Прихожу в универ – все нудно, все не то. Хотел на зимней сессии бросить, но... не бросил) Живу без отца – только с мамой, которая постоянно твердит, что необходимо иметь хотя бы "корочку". Знаете – ненавижу получать что-то для того, лишь бы оно было. В общем – учусь для родителя)

    Я понимаю, что многие здесь взрослые люди, которые, возможно, в штыки воспримут и напишут "будь мужиком", "ты наверное забыл свои яички в детском садике" (люблю сериал "клиника"=)), но я тоже так думал. Почему-то депрессия, началась больше полугода назад и никак не проходит. Вечно пытаюсь себя чем-то заинтересовать, но в конечном итоге все оказывается не то... Каждый месяц я возвращаюсь в себя и думаю "а все ли я делаю правильно". Ведь в глубине души, каждый хочет делать именно то, о чем он всегда мечтал, но получает то, что нужно. Понимаю, что заниматься любимым делом в наше то время – это что-то на грани фантастики. Но все-равно, люди же находят для себя "нишу" и живут благодаря ней всю жизнь.
    Сопли, сопли... но тем не менее – в чем смысл жизни для каждого, кто прочитает это? К чему Вы по-настоящему стремитесь? Что бы Вы хотели сделать именно в свое удовольствие?

    May 24, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  14. Interested Party

    I don't think it is so much a matter of his belief system as it is in believing what Obama says. In one case he went to church headed by a questionable person, he says he doesn't believe in heaven and hell, so what the heck is real?

    April 7, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  15. jm318

    Regarding Faith in God: only the individual person and God know the reality and can vouch for the veracity of such a faith, and in all cases it happens deep in their heart and soul. No other human can ever comment or pass judgement on such matters. Besides, why should the Presidents faith matter – there is no law stipualting that only a Christian person can become a President of the United States

    February 9, 2011 at 8:21 am |
    • Jkfal

      You're right there is no law stipulating the religion of the president, but out of curiosity how many presidents were NOT of the Christian faith? I wonder....

      February 20, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Amanda

      Jefferson was a unitarian, which falls outside of tritarian christianity. Eisenhower was a Jehovas Witness. Oh and the big one, Abraham Lincoln was openly Deist. (sorry for my crappy typing folks, btw,) There are a few more, but I don't actually feel like typing a giant paragraph.

      February 21, 2012 at 2:54 am |
  16. Epnoticias

    I have to say WOW

    I always think that "politics must be sarcastics and hypocrits" in any aspect of their lives. They've been trained for that purpose.

    Mr presindent Obama's speech about his belifs tells me that he is a totally new type of politic, the new leader of generations of politics. His words tellme that he is a human being with such a gift of spirituality that is using as a powerful tool. We need more from you Obama. You are a live leyend already. I am proud of you. I believe in your words but whoever could be you religion there is only one purpose, "Be what God's want you to be". Now, I can tell you and tell everybody something you just said in the name of god: I can still help whoever I can, however I can, whereever I can for as long as I can. God bless America and the rest of the world.

    February 7, 2011 at 8:48 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.