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. Amy613

    They're here!! The two witnesses spoken of in revelation chapter 11!! Please call 800 613 9494 or visit Facebook.com/wefoundthem 
    Don't delay,call today!!!

    February 3, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  2. Karloff

    What a load of baloney.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  3. Bill Expat

    Well, I've read enough. The American Christian Taliban is alive and well. So when will their terrorism be revealed?

    February 3, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  4. Andrew J

    You cannot prove god (for sake of argument God signifies any belief in a great creator) exist. Logic states that you can't prove something based upon the lack of proof. SO if there is no CONCRETE evidence that their is a "god", you cannot prove that there is a god based upon the fact that you can't disprove that god exists. So claiming that God exists based on the fact that you cant disprove god is illogical. Yet you can't say that god does not exist based upon the same lack of evidence because that doesn't necessarily mean we have found it. For example, before other planets were discovered there wasn't any evidence there was any (at the time we could not perceive these planets cause we didn't have the tools to do so). Society has fallen into preconceived notions that there has to be evidence for it to exist, this is understandable because we have no historical basis to say otherwise. You can't say there is basis for god in the Bible because the bible leaves much room for personal perception. God's and angels could be extra-terrestrials for all we know. If this sounds blasphemous or impossible it isn't, whatsoever. The very fact that there is no concrete evidence of god and yet millions of people blindly follow a creator and religions based upon them should in turn give equal possibility or fallacy to the existence of extra-terrestrials. Their is a higher possibility that encounters with "god" or any other "divine" being is truly humans coming into contact with extra-terrestrials. During the time that the bible describes, human society and our perception of the physical world and knowledge of the cosmos where so infantile that it makes sense that we would perceive these outer space visitors as divine gods because we had no other perception of them and the vast knowledge they would have bestowed upon us.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  5. weallgotone

    Is he Christian? Is he Muslim? Is he black? Is he American? One thing is for certain. He is a politician. And that's what really matters.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  6. Sharon

    Note to self: "Judge not lest ye be judged..." As a person, my knee jerk reaction is to make some kind of snide remark... as a Christian, I pass...

    February 3, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  7. James

    Why does it matter. This is so dumb, what happened to religious freedom, separation of church and state, key "American" ideals that we tout. Ridiculous, we've moved backwards in time.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  8. Rico Laaaaa

    It's crazy how so many athiests/agnostics come here to run their mouths about faiths they don't even follow. There's a difference between respecting a person and his/her faith and compromising one's own beliefs. Calling the Quran "holy" as a Christian is not OK. "Woe to the man who calls evil good, and good evil." As Christians, we are to live under the law of the New Testament and simply live as closely to how Jesus did as possible, and I am quite sure that an actual Christian would NOT stand for abortion, so I wouldn't be so hasty to believe what Obama spouts in front of the media. Actions speak much louder than even the most eloquently crafted speech.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  9. ed

    If Obama is a true Christian, then why hasn't he openly admitted his Christian believe? That Christ died for our sins and that only through him are we forgiven of our sins and Christ is the only way to God. Obama says he prays to God, but even muslims believe in God, and that Mohomad is his prophet. Which God is Obama praying to? The God of Abraham or a muslim God? If Obama is so strong in his faith then why not ome out with it all? Why do so many Americans believe he is a muslim? Actions speak louder then words! Show your are of Christ Mr. President.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  10. Ken

    Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  11. Dennis Pence

    Folks, many of you are, in my himble opinion, way off base. The Bible tells us that many will say to Him "Lord, Lord, we did (these things) in your name – His reply, "Depart from me, I never knew you". Many call themselves Christians, but do not do what Jesus asks "Do the will of My Father" He also tells us "You will know them by their fruits" and that "we will love one another". Too many religions espew hate and many "leaders" in religious faiths indocrinate their flock with things that Jesus Christ would never condone. Murdering people of a religious faith in the name of God, Allah or anyone else is not the answer. Obama has said, "We are not a Christian nation" – but the fact is, we are. Christ would tell Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions that don't "do the wiill of His Father" that they are lost in their sins. Many Muslims would simply behead you for that statement. Christ says "pray for your enemies" not behead them. Sure, if you are attacked, you will fight back. The Bible speaks about "the sword" and government ruling people in a civil, humane manor. If you think the floods, earthquakes, famines and other things happening in the world today are not part of God's judgement on man – Well, He tells us, "The fool has said in his heart- there is no God". There is a "shaking" taking place and hopefully, some of you will wake up and see the Light. No other person in history ever claimed to be the Son of God – Not Mohammed, not John Smith, not Buddah. Jesus Christ came here for the salvation of all men willing to accept the gift. He came as a "servant – a real servant" to man and was cruicified for our souls. We are no doubt, in the last days, but one day is as a thousand years to Him – time is not relevant to God – but rest assured, we will all be judged at the end of time as we know it – and, unlike they way we are living today – their will be accountability for our actions. Just because you don't believe it doesn't mean it isn't so.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  12. Mitch Dworkin - Dallas, Texas

    If Obama is still having to explain his faith where it makes a big news headline like this, then I think that he is still losing the messaging war to his political opponents.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  13. Jean

    Where is the proof that he is a Muslim?

    February 3, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  14. Ishmael Mohamud

    allah akbar.. He's is a good leader, But we got lots of "chickens" out there who don't wanna face the reality,.. The U.S will be in chaos after he's done

    February 3, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  15. redisgreat

    I will not vote for him now!! He is supposed to be a Muslim. At least that is what the GOP and their shills at Fox News have been telling us for 2 years. I want a Muslim for President. Now what do I do? Vote for the Al-Qaeda candidate in my neighborhood?? Geez what the f***.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  16. Derrick Hayes

    Honorable statements that are filled with humble wisdom deserving of a president may God bless you Mr. PRESIDENT, AND MAY GOD BLESS AMERICA!

    February 3, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  17. Ron from Jersey

    True Christian believers use "Christ" and "Jesus" in thier sentences about their faith.
    Jews and MUSLIMS do not. I didn't hear Christ or Jesus mentioned one time?

    February 3, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • Pretzel Logic

      Ron, true Christians don't bear false witness against their neighbor so where does that leave you?

      February 3, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  18. Vito

    If I choose to believe in God, thats my prerogaive. I don't have to prove to anyone He exists anymore than anyone has to prove to me that He doesn't. It's between me and God. Period.

    Also. God is the name we use when referring to the one we feel is the Supreme Being. Any Christian uses the name God when referring to Him. Although the word god is used for describing an exhalted one, Christians always use the word God with a capitol G. When arguing the non-existence of my God, why do athiests and non-pbelievers spell His name with a small g. It's like saying I don't believe in the politics of Bill O'Reilly, so I will spell his name bill o'reilly. Kind of dumb, don't you think?

    February 3, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • QS

      In an attempt to not be as condescending about it as you were, I'll try to offer an explanation to your inquiry:

      Speaking as an Atheist, but also speaking only for myself, I realized at a young age that regardless of what "religion" somebody claims to be nobody actually represents their religion to the letter. Therefore, to me, all people who consider themselves to be "believers" in one god or another are simply all agnostics.

      And as every religion claims their god is the only true god, to me this illustrates that they are either all correct and there are actually many "gods", or they are all wrong and there actually is no god at all. Either way, as a non-believer, to me one person's capital "G" is another person's lower-case "g".

      And as I don't believe in either, the fact that one particular religion believes that the word "god" is actually somebody's name and therefore must be capitalized means absolutely nothing to me. It is nothing more than a word to describe a thing; it is a noun, not a proper noun.

      February 3, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  19. Sed

    Why do people lose it when folks express religion? For some religion is something that brings internal peace. If you dont believe in religion then dont read the article. Nobody owes you and explanation of the bible or trying to convert you. We in America tend to think we are so much better than others in this world but reading some of the comments you will see some of the most barbaric and ignorant things. I admit that CNN sometimes airs some irrelavent news at times but folks find a different subject and relax.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • QS

      In regards to religion, I used to try to take the "to each his own" approach. But eventually, if you really pay attention, you start to see the dangers and pitfalls that arise from the religious lifestyle: hypocrisy, discrimination, prejudice, bias, self-righteousness, arrogance, etc...

      If you're a rational and compassionate person you must conclude that religion is detrimental to society as a whole.

      February 3, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  20. rhandi

    but he continues to fund planned parenthood and abortions... hmmmm... ill believe him when my crap turns purple and smells like rainbow sherbet...lol!!!! quote from super troopers...lmbo!!! more explicit words on the movie!!!

    February 3, 2011 at 1:11 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.