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. ron

    Im sure Obumer listens to his buddy Rev. Wright to get his head together when he needs to.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  2. IamGOD

    I don't exist... no go on..

    February 3, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  3. GK

    BOOOOOOOOOOO. I thought he was smarter.. another fool who believes in myths...

    February 3, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  4. Joshua Ludd

    I'll start taking professions of faith as an indication of values and ethics just as soon as the largest religion in the prison population isn't the same as the general populace.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  5. VCooper

    Look this is how I see it. He is a Christan and only fools think he is a Muslim and i have nothing against Muslims and in fact i would vote for one if he was a democrat it is just that some racist group *cough*republicans*cough* want back in power so they can turn the usa from a Democracy into a totalitarian Fundamentalist one party state.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  6. Tim

    Amazing that even when someone talks about their faith and wanting to be a better person, which seems to be the one beautiful and honest thing that is left in our society, people still can bring all these negative comments here and try to knock it down. Look at your own individual lives, and think about what's really important, and what is REALLY going to make this world better.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  7. Pinewalker

    I'm a Republican who supports Obama. He is our President and I want to see him succeed. But this sudden push about his Christian faith seems a little politically self serving. But who am I to judge? If it isn't genuine, its on his conscience, not mine.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  8. Craig

    Obama will say whatever he has to to stay in office. Where was this speech the past two years ago? He's just trying to make people like him again... Too late!

    February 3, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  9. Sagebrush Shorty

    Separation of Church and State applies only if re-election is not involved.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  10. Howard

    Barack Obama: "Islamic call to prayer is one of the prettiest sounds on earth" ... and, for TWENTY YEARS, Jeremiah Wright's radical, anti-American sermons were the prettiest sound on earth. Obama ... I trust this guy about as far as I can spit !!!

    February 3, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  11. PDstone

    If Obama claims to be Christian, like he did before he was elected, why did he write a book talking about himself being raised by two fathers as muslim? And why was that book pulled off the shelves shortly before he ran for President? Why didn't he recognize national prayer day shortly after he was elected? Why didn't he put his hand over his heart when the star-spangled banner was being played? Him claiming to be Christian again just before election? Sounds awfully familiar like the lie he told before he was elected.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  12. okikooffice

    We are all sinners and Obama know the only way to find forgiveness is by the Blood of Christ. It is in Christ you can find inner peace that superses and be strengthen in times of trials and challenges. You never find peace in Muslim religion.
    Christianity has given us the freedom to choose. You can seek and follow Christ if you want to.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  13. Eric

    This is a response to Lee who said he is not an " inorant fool. the first sign of what u are is denile..think about it.. if u were offered 2 things in life.... if u love ur self believe in the lord and u will live for ever after death, or not believe and suffer after death. would it be ignorant not to, we are all going to die one day why not invest into the truth after death?

    February 3, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  14. majackmom

    Reading further in this thread, I find it unbelievable at all these so called Christians who have some sort of acid test for those who claim to be Christians. Who are you to decide what who is a "real" Christian? Can you see into the heart and mind of any other person. I do not pass your silly acid test, but I remain confident that I will enter heaven. Try acting like Christ and "judge not lest ye be judged."

    February 3, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  15. Monique

    Really!!! Obama said he is a Christian....Well he is a Christian. Why would he lie. Remeber all the drama over Trinity United Church of Christ. He Loves the Chirst and hates whites. Well he dont hate them all but look at what some are doing to him bacaues he is black. Wlilly Lench did not work on all of us!

    February 3, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  16. Archie

    Does this mean he will now be bowing to Christians like he does with Muslims?

    February 3, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  17. jellylee2020

    The Republicans need to choose their next candidate carefully. I'm Democratic leaning and has almost always voted for Democratic candidates but so far Obama has done nothing but disappoint. I tried to stand behind him as much as I can after all I did vote for him but now promoting Christian faith? In the next election unless Republicans come up with someone I truly despise (as Republicans almost always chose someone of that stature), I will either not vote at all or regretfully vote for the other side.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • Pinewalker

      Not voting is half the reason we have the heartless, self serving people we have in office now. There are other candidates besides Rep's & Dem's!

      February 3, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
  18. joe

    Everyone needs to pray 24/7 to God for him to help our politicians.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  19. Petras

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

    Why do his own supporters doubt his faith ?

    Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh have written that they believe Obama is a liberal atheist based on his BEHAVIOR not what he says. Think Golf on Sundays, rare Church attendance, support for abortion... even the most disgusting partial birth kind.. common attributes of liberal atheists NOT Christians !

    The President needs to take the advice recently offered in the Washington Post – play less golf on Sunday mornings ! Go to Church !

    February 3, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • LBC 2011

      A truly good person would understand that one can communicate with God in multiple ways, such as being amidst the beauty of His creation with good friends, athletic/meditative state. You do not have to be in a stuffy building filled with the self-righteous to be at one with God.

      February 3, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
  20. Tara

    Who cares what his religion is. We specifically do not have a religious test that politicians must past to get into office. Religion is a personal matter that our founding fathers wanted to stay as such. People making this an issue believe that it's wrong to be anything but Chrisitan. That's their own though prejuice the rest of us need to get past that.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:28 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.