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. Howard

    Obama will say, or do anything to keep his power. Actions are stronger than words, and his TWENTY YEARS in a radical church, and his actions, or rather non-actions, regarding his proposed Christian religion, overshadows his unbelievable words.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  2. Newyorker

    This blog is totally retarded, and full of retarded religious nutjobs.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  3. Motsy

    It's nice that Pres Obama found something he can believe in through tough times and to base his personal morals on BUT one-sided, personal religous beliefs and politics should never be mixed... NEVER! After watching this, he'll make a great Baptist Preacher post Washington.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  4. Dave Harris

    What is he trying to accomplish by this? His supporters don't care about his religion and his enemies will continue to believe that he's a Muslim no matter what he says. We had plenty of this nonsense with George W. Bush, whose God apparently told him that we were threatened by weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a mistake which cost $4 trillion. Enough about your God already, just do your job.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  5. rob

    i hate when politics is mixed with religion. even if there is a god (which science has proven there almost certainly isnt), why would she bless america?

    February 3, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  6. Lisa

    I have enormous respect for someone who hears the call to serve others. The enormity and complexity of the presidency at this point in time is quite an undertaking. It seems as though he is sharing HOW he handles the pressure and responsibility by using his faith. I agree that much of the disrespect targeted at him is racially motivated.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  7. majackmom

    The level of stupidity in this country is astonding! The loons in America continue to perpetuate the lie that President Obama ia a Muslim and nothing he does or says is going to convince them otherwise because they don't want to believe otherwise. They keep shouting their lies about Obama and because so many of our citizens haven't a clue about what is true and what is not, the lie just keeps going on. When you only get your information for such unreliable sources as Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, you are hopeless.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  8. Miller Barber

    How can this man lie with a straight face

    February 3, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  9. believeyoume

    What does it matter what faith he is?

    That is why I don't understand. Why the heck does it matter?

    February 3, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • Howard

      Would it matter if the Islamic Brotherhood began turning countries into theocracies, with Sharia law dominating the globe? You sir, are a naive blind fool.

      February 3, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Independant


      And you are just a fool.

      February 3, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  10. Ben

    So we Americans are so stupid that a Muslim individual not born in US becomes our president....:-(

    February 3, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • TrueBlue42

      America hasn't.

      February 3, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  11. Liz H

    I do beleive President Obama is a christian. And although he has had exposre to muslim teachings and culture does not mean he is muslim or otherwise.

    In this day and age it should not matter if he is Christian,muslim,Jewish or prays to poka dots....as olong as a person has a good fiber in morals,values and good character,which Obama has, that should be what we want...yes/

    February 3, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Jacob Good

      Liz H:

      You said "Obama has good morals."

      I know, that's why he's supporting Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood which has a branch in Palestine called Hamas which states:

      "the Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to the realisation of Allah's promise, no matter how long that should take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: "The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews." (related by al-Bukhari and Muslim).

      It's good that a "moral" person supports an organization who's sistergroup wants to mass-murder 15 million people.

      Oh morals.

      Good luck having that on your concious.

      "If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are Unbelievers." [5:44]

      February 3, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  12. justme

    I have a really hard time beileving in him, he did make fun of what was in the Bible, check it out on Youtube, In his 1st two years I don't think I ever heard him say "God", The Wolf in Sheep clothing, He has not told the truth in my eyes, He knows nothing about American History, the American culter much less what the American people or saying. He is bring American down. No in 2012

    February 3, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  13. MiamiHurricaneSLS

    What does it matter if he's a Muslim or not ? Religion is personal and should not determine a persons ability to be a just president . The problem with this country is that half the population is concerned with conforming and being politically correct yet rarely takes the initiative to put aside differences . I would rather live in a place where people are free to be themselves (without causing harm to others) than in a giant arian Christian melting pot .

    February 3, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  14. chks

    go to you tube and search : obama makes fun of the Bible

    February 3, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  15. Tom R

    Bible =
    made up of 66 books/letters
    historically accurate (proven by over 20,000 archeological digs)
    written by eye-witnesses
    in the presence of other eye-witnesses
    by 40 authors
    over a 1500 year period
    in 3 languages
    on 3 continents
    for which original transcriptions are as close as 3 decades from original writings

    My vote is to agree with the writings of the Bible and to believe the only way it could have come together is to be inspired by God. According to the Word, it is! "all Scripture is God breathed", 2Tim 3:16.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'historically accurate (proven by over 20,000 archeological digs)'
      oh please, evidence of the existance of a town or leader is hardly 'proof' of divinty.

      February 3, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • John ad

      Take the time and read the bible, old and New Testament, cover to cover with an open mind, and, with the understanding that you can’t ‘cherry pick’ the parts to believe. If you accept some of it you should have to believe all of it. Take the test, and see if you can swallow it goats and all.

      February 3, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  16. David Clark

    If he was Presbyterian or Episcopal would he make a better president? He is our president like it or not what ever he is. We have a lot more important things to deal with in this country .

    February 3, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  17. helenecha

    Um, what I'd like to do is to get it 'too big to fail' in the right place.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  18. Krystal

    What difference does it make? Instead of critisizing or confirming President Obama's faith we should be praying for him or ANYONE in that position; we should be uplifting them. The beauty of being a Christian is that my God would love a Christian president AND a Muslim one.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  19. Leonard

    Why should we think everyone will believe Obama is a Christian. When God came down and Pronounced "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, hear yea him.", not everyone believed. If God can't get it done, why should we expect everyone to believe what Obama says, he's only a mortal human? I think what most people think about Obama's beliefs are much-a-do about nothing, it's what he does that counts – and so far I think he has been doing fairly well.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  20. bill

    Why are we as tax payers paying for a religious function? I thought there was something called separation of church and state. Or don't our laws apply to Christians.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:17 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.