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)
  1. Jonas Otis

    Stupidity does not ride a white horse and yield a flag, because you are against abortion does not make you a Christian, and because you are illogical does not make you a christian either. Is that why we support the likes of incompetent people like Palin, Bachman and the like? Solomon was wise? Wisdom and intellegence also comes from God. So please so called Christians there is more to Christianity than Abortion, murdering adults is also sin.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • sara

      You said it well.... I don't know any God-like person that would ever conceive the thoughts, let along say and believe Hate make you a Christian. Matter of fact we can just leave this site to the Haters.

      February 3, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  2. Dork from York

    The president is not the pope. His pronouncements on faith and morals are totally irrelevant, not to mention less than infallible. I would think that given the many problems around the world he would have something more pertinent to say. Perhaps, like his predecessor, he has too much time on his hands.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  3. Tom

    You can't be a Christian and be Pro-Choice. The two are mutually exclusive.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • thresher

      Just like you can't be Christian and pro-capital punishment.

      February 3, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Steve the real one


      There are scriptures that prove you wrong about capital punishment!

      February 3, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • thresher

      Steve the real one,

      Show me a New Testament passage that condones capital punishment.

      February 3, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      My pleasure Tresher: from Romans 13. The context is human governments. That would be the higher powers. Pay attention to verse 4 and the sword. That indicates judgement!

      1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God : the powers that be are ordained of God.
      2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
      3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:
      4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid ; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

      February 3, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • thresher


      So Romans 13 eclipses Romans 12 and its instructions to not repay evil with evil but let the Lord exact vengeance? What do you do with Christ's repeated calls to forgive? Or that he came to set the captives free? What about overcoming evil with good and love your enemies?

      Now you and I could go on and on trading Scripture passages as boxers trade punches. My point is that taking a certain position on capital punishment or abortion or a gazilion other issues does not make one a Christian or not a Christian. We may argue that such being pro-choice or pro-capital punishment is inconsistent with Christian faith. But it ludicrous and spiritually arrogant to pronounce someone is damned to hell simply becuase they take a different position than you.

      February 3, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • Steve the real one


      Stay with me here:
      1. Romans addresses the role of the CHURCH (believers)
      2. The scripture I gave you addresses HUMAN GOVERNMENT. Not the same
      3. I said you are in conflict with God's word! Romans1:26-27 addresses the g-a-y lifestyle.
      4. Believe what you will! That does not change the fact you are in conflict with God's word!
      5. You sound convicted as you are telling me I am condemning you to hell. Please quote (word for word) any of my posts that condemned you or anyone else to anywhere! Please show me...I dare you!

      February 4, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  4. tana

    Christ is real. One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  5. M. Blackmon

    I am really proud of President Obama for speaking out regarding his faith. I hope this will be the last time that he feels the need to continuously explain his faith to all of the ridiculous people out there who are gung-ho on believing that he is a Muslim. I hope he will use this moment to "live his faith out loud" and not always have to defend it. His actions will continue to speak louder than anything he has to say because people believe what they want to regardless of what he has to say. I believe that he is an instrument to be used by Jesus Christ because Jesus said that we would face many troubles and people would persecute us just as they did him. President Obama, stand on the word of God because just as he told Peter, "Upon THIS rock will I build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Be blessed Mr. President!!!

    February 3, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  6. NL

    Steve the real one-
    " Romans 3:3-4 Let God be true but every man (all opposers to include your contemporary sources) a liar! What do your sources say about that verse?"

    In context, doesn't that verse refer to the question of if circ.umcision holds some advantage for Jews over gentiles in having a relationship with God? Wouldn't that mean that Paul is arguing for a more liberal view on who God feels his people are?

    February 3, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Steve the real one


      Good observation NL! That however is not totally it. It order to fully understand what Paul was stating one has to understand what the unconverted Jews were attempting to do to the church. Not only was the Jews attempting to get the church to re-embrace circ-umcison, they also wanted to take the church back to the law! Paul told them that opposing what God was doing (now) through grace rather than law, made them liars as they were opposing God Himself! Circ-umcision was but one part of it! I hope that helps. Interestingly enough Paul (then Saul) was a teacher of the law!

      February 3, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
  7. iesha

    I been reading alot of the post. When we were kids certain topics like religon n politics u stay away from.But I have 2 jump n this 1.So many of pple claim Obama is the reason 4 the turmoil this country is in. Stop lying 2 yourselves.Some say Obama trying 2 sell our country 2 the muslims stop lying.Do yall remember 9-11.Who was running this country George Bush.When nyc got hit on that day our so called president Bush sat there in that classroom looking like the true snake he is.He also wuz the same 1 that wanted to take another country's oil. I can really go on and on with true facts.But so many blame Obama cuz he is black.Just like Clinton yall thru dirt on his name. At the end of the day problems in this country wuz there b4 Obama came n2 to office. His religion should not b topic.. But it shows that dis country here is in shambles n blame it on da man thatz in office.Instead of really blaming the real culprits.Lol I guess Obama is da the reason that we r in debt.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  8. sara

    I heard ther speech at the prayer breakfast this morning...because I pray for the same things and HAVE a personal connection to God....I was filled to the brim with the President's words...admit I became teary eyed. I pray for my President as I pray for myself. I pray for strength, courage and humility. These are the foundation for God in my life. Without these, I don't know what God you ae serving. But it's not the God I know and understand. Nothing about God stands for hate. It is so easy to USE GOD and RELIGION to try and oppress others... it was used in the South for years...yet hangings, murder and beatings of "other" God's children was acceptable. I holds true today when you see the same kind of mentality going on since the president was elected.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  9. NetNinja

    This is just a campagin message, his entire presidency has been one campagin speech after another.
    His best speech was the Arizona eulogy.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  10. Alex

    Mr President,
    I could care less weather or not you are a Muslim. Our country was founded on freedom of religion. I still believe in you. Thank you.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  11. seldom seen

    Hello, I am watching this morning CNN
    My Comment to Carol HOW WOULD YOU JUDGE OBAMA is a Christian...

    I think there needs to be drawn a line when anyone needs to defend his beliefs. ( YOU SHALL KNOW MY PEOPLE BY THIER LOVE)
    Love your neighbor as yourself, Do good to those who hate you; if someone asks you for your coat you should give it to him. If someone asks for food Dont give him a rock
    I believe that we as a nation Should Require that those who come into this country as visitors that they also return to thier home. That is a Visa. Visa requirements have been affected since 9/11, so if its' good for the Goose, its good for the Gander. These are points that would direct our paths back to where we should be.
    Charity begins at home. Send the people home to where they came from. Stop allowing others ( 1 million annually) indefinately until we can restore our Nations Wealth, self-esteem and restore our own supply of JOBS. If he cant promise them a Job, then he would definately need to create a way for them to get assistance. I listened to his speech.
    I dont need to bother Wondering about his Motive. He is our Leader. He is making decdions each day of his term which will affect our Lives ALL OF OUR LIVES

    February 3, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  12. minasaywhat

    Obama's faith should be not be questioned by any American, as this faith (Christian, Muslim, Atheist, or otherwise) is not part of his job requirement. It's not our business what his religion is, or how much a part of his life it is. We didn't elect him to be our pastor, we elected him to run our country. If his beliefs, morals, values, or opinions are in question – then question those. Most of our founding fathers questioned their faith, and designed our country to provide freedom of religion, but unfortunately more than two centuries later, a presidential candidate wouldn't even make it past the primaries if they didn't proclaim to be a devout Christian.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  13. AZsparrow

    Good grief... the Obama re-election campaigning has already started. Another two years of "American Idol" news, debates, and pundit commentary on the way. Sigh....

    February 3, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • thresher

      The re-election campaign probably started before he took the oath of office. That was also probably was the case for W and will be the case for who comes next. That's the way our political system works, unfortunately. Just think to how many congressional representatives have called it quits because they have to spend so much of their time fundraising and campaigning for the next election - whenever it might be - rather than doing the work of the country.

      February 3, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  14. Mark from Middle River

    ROFFL –

    Thanks Belief Blog for changing the picture ...

    Yes there are us Yahoo's and nuts on both sides that do pay attention.

    @Reality.... Is it time for the cut and paste of the myths of "REALity's Hate" post. 🙂

    February 3, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  15. Aleksandr

    Awww.. what a delight! Obama is publicly pushing his beliefs (which conviently happen to be the majority's) on all the citizens. Let's just wait till he issues a 'jizya' on all non-christians and leads us to Friday prayers.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  16. Mike

    "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."

    So because Americans are stupid, the President has to give a speech so the stupid of this nation can ignore it completely? What a waste of time.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  17. Ignorance is not bliss

    I think that the pervasive belief that the president is musliim is an example of stereotypes, and how easy they are for people to believe. If a name makes a person muslim, this is very unfortunate. How sad a world it must be where none of us have freewill and are bound by our names. Personally I don't care what religion the president is. What concerns me, is that he is being viewed as needing to justify his religion. There should be no need.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  18. Maryann

    I care that our President is a good and intelligent man who loves his country..I do not care what faith he practices and neither should anyone else...the world is a more complicated place every morning We must abandon the. middle age prejudice and march forward with the rest of the world...we must stop labeling and practice tolerance.The simpletons have no place here anymore....thank God for Barack Obama BTW I am a Christian CNN should go back to reporting
    NEWS again..not continually making Americans appear silly & igorant

    February 3, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  19. RP

    As a Christian I find that most comments or opinions on President Obama tend to be based on a political belief system. Most people are predisposed to their opinions of this presidents faith based upon their general dislike or like of his political ideology. As for me, I am saved by grace through Christ. No more deserving than another sinner but grateful and changed! But I also understand that the bible teaches very specific morals and behavior to adhere to. Another words being a Christian means to love the sinner but hate the sin. To love, cherish and value all human life. This includes the unborn, elderly, poor, disenfranchised and oppressed. I often find that we Christians cause more upheaval within our own ranks when instead of living and aspiring to walk like Christ, we do so for 1 hour on Sundays. I for one have an issue with this presidents faith. To profess a faith in a belief system, takes a careful decision to gives one's life over to the tenets of that system. Another words, if I am to be called a Christian then I must act, believe, and do as my Lord wishes me to do. Why? Because, with all my heart and soul and being, my obedience to my Heavenly Father controls my life now. If President Obama wants to rectify his public faith status then he must change his whole system of beliefs. Quite simply his political and social background, ideology, actions and words say differently. True faith changes you from within. It is changed lives that spread the faith of Christ. Not good speeches!

    February 3, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  20. HipoChristiansHearThis!

    What does it matter? This country was founded on, and built on religious tolerance of which most Americans can't seem to grasp. Does the term "seperation of church and state" sound familiar? Being he is the "Head of State", I really do not think it matters in which church he hangs his head? Americans grow up, read a book (other than the bible), escape from the clutches of ignorance and free your hearts & minds!!!!!

    February 3, 2011 at 11:19 am |
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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.