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. Ryan

    How sad it is when a political figure must give in to the ignorant American public who thinks that faith – belief with out evidence, is a virtue. Whether or not he is religious, it's sad that he must try and prove to when the majority's approval, that is – their vote is highly concentrated on whether or not he is a believer.

    February 3, 2011 at 5:46 am |
  2. haha

    tell me we already know that if it looks like an egg and taste like an egg, its an egg, so we all know that obama is a muslim and has made deals to sell america to the muslims and put sheria law into effect, but obama hasnt expected that We THe People will stop him and his administration cold in 2012, time is short husseni and We The People will take back America.

    February 3, 2011 at 5:43 am |
    • MH

      huh? There's a clinical diagnosis for this - it's called delusional paranoia. You should seek medical attention immediately.

      February 3, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • Intriguing

      Time to take off the tin foil hat my friend.

      February 3, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • barbarian_horde

      You're an idiot. Why would President Obama rescue the economy and get the job-creation engine going like he has for the past year if he was trying to destroy the country? Why would he sign nuclear treaties with the Russians, negotiate with the Chinese, and compromise on taxes if he was trying to implement sharia law? You need to ask yourself why you hate America so much.

      February 3, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  3. TJ

    He can "say" anything. He's also saying that he admired President Reagan, and no one with a brain believes that. This is purely a political show for him. This administration is just trying get Obama's approval ratings up by making him out to be something he is not. No one will be fooled by this.

    February 3, 2011 at 5:35 am |
  4. There are no gods!

    So much trouble over such a silly issue. If and I say if god existed do you really think all this nonsense about which god is correct would matter or even exist? This blog should be taken down as it is as relevant as a blog about santa or the easter bunny would be. Same idea with grown up appeal, there are no gods and the story of jesus is a lie. Time to grow up people, the bible is a fable and there are no gods!

    February 3, 2011 at 5:02 am |

      You are CORRECT even if you don't intend it that way: There are no gods indeed, there's just GOD.

      Religions, faiths, call them what you like, are but systems devised from the followers of humans like you and me who have had the experience of that GOD and become established in that state.

      Raise your level of thinking, stop buying into childish "Zeus on a Cloud" visions of the bearded father in the sky imagery and just maybe you'll open yourself up to knowing that when awake people speak of GOD, they don't mean some old man who formed clay into Adam & Eve or whatever beautiful crafted story has been used to put sense to the immensity of our physical universe.

      Look at your world – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – to me that's ALL GOD! Neither all Love & Eden nor all Fire & Brimstone, as seen from the binary standpoint.

      Try it, maybe you'll like it and relax a bit.

      In any case, thanks for expressing your opinion, it's divine!

      February 3, 2011 at 8:10 am |
  5. Water to Whine

    Just a scheme to gain support. This is how so many politicians, Republicans and Democrats, fool Christians into voting for them.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:58 am |
    • gonzo

      so what do you think he really is?

      February 3, 2011 at 5:03 am |
    • Janine B

      Exactly. Politicians start spouting about God when they are trying to grab more support. I'm not buying it. He's know for years now that some people think he's not a christian, and just NOW he wants to discuss it? I don't care what religion he is or isn't. The shameless grab for support is what bugs me. Hogwash.

      February 3, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  6. maxipeter

    the president is only a black figurehead and gaseous speech blower. Joe Biden is the real pres. of the US!

    February 3, 2011 at 4:46 am |
    • Frank

      what planet are you from?

      February 3, 2011 at 5:04 am |
    • Muneef

      Actully you should be proud for having a well blended President ! Blended meaning ,having two race colors in One,having lived in Africa and in Asia before USA, having lived both faiths as Islam and Christianity..
      This all make him double geared and see with many eyes the sides of the story of truth, while others were single geared and know nothing but a one side of the story !
      Any way I felt that the appearance of this gentelman promising Change at the time when the USA was falling apart due to financial crises and when the whole world and Islamic world was against USA's all wrong movements dragging the whole world into endless wars...or have you already forgot those moments when you were at the edge of the Mountain Cliff?? Now that things have cooled down and world anger was absorbed already judgments and racism being thrown on our faces? We the world accept this man to be at the peak of the mountain for being what he is what ever he is and we reject any sign of racism from the country that was supposed to be the capital of the world? Otherwise the whole world will go against it upon the slightest sign of racism, there and then no new world order nor peace would be found among nations...so kindly Wakeup and Stop Dreaming as no one is better than another we are all same no difference only the better are those God Fearing when it comes to their Acts and Deeds...

      February 3, 2011 at 6:45 am |
  7. Ricky

    Thank you to God for making me an Atheist

    February 3, 2011 at 4:43 am |
    • B(iraq) Hussein Osama

      You are Welcome. See you in hell.

      February 3, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'You are Welcome. See you in hell.'
      Well if it exists then im sure we will indeed see you there too.

      February 3, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  8. Ivanna

    I can't believe it has come down to this. A free nation where the freedom of religion, ANY RELIGION OR NO RELIGION, should be respected, where church and state claim to be separate, the president has to stand in front of the nation and "prove" his religious beliefs. Eff all of you who claim yourselves to be "proud" Americans and either find yourselves doubting or demanding Christianity out of Obama. Hypocrites. If you expect him to care about America and be an American first and foremost, you better believe he needs to separate his faith from that.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:40 am |
    • rker321

      I guess that you are not seeing what I begun to see during the Clinton Administration, the resurgence of the Religious Right. I consider it the most traumatic incidence that has happened in this country.
      Religion or rather Christian Fundamentalists have permeated our Politics, and the Lord save us, if, we are ever in the hands of any of them.

      February 3, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  9. WeThePeopleofVirginia

    I could care less what his religious views are. I disagree with his political views on social engineering and the direction he is taking our country.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:38 am |
    • Frank

      you COULD care less??? damn, i hate that stupid ass mistake. Don't you mean "I COULDN'T care less", cause I sure as hell can't. I have lots of other stuff to worry about.... like the education system that failed you

      February 3, 2011 at 5:06 am |
  10. DewB

    I think it is absolutely inappropriate for the President to hold a personal national address with religion as its main subject. Separation of church and state. I am a true atheist, and while I do not disparage anyone their right to believe, I believe it is a PERSONAL matter and does not belong in a speech made by the President. How about if an atheist were president, and asked the nation to listen to his/her speech about that? Wouldn't exactly thrill you believers, would it? This is a mistake. I think Obama is a good president but this is pushing the envelope.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:26 am |
    • Jimmy

      It's not a national address.

      February 3, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Catie

      I have a news flash for you. You are free to worship or not worship. However, this Country was founded on Faith. Separation of Church and State does not mean Elimination of Church from State. You need to understand that clearly. The Government cannot pose a State religion. However, it can and should recognize all religions in particular the one that inspired the inception of this great nation. Which by the way is going to Hades because God is being taken out of everything due to the intimidation of Atheists. Atheists are the biggest hypocrits in this country, you are fine with an America to have no God, but not fine with an America to have a God.

      February 3, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  11. Selfish Gene Simmons

    How can President Obama push SCIENCE and MATH and then push SCRIPTURES and faith and all that... stuff?

    Somethings amiss. I mean believe and pray all you want but... if you want scientists for our future... I dunnooooo...

    February 3, 2011 at 4:26 am |
    • Why?

      I am a Christian scientist. They are not mutually exclusive things.

      Just because one is educated on worldly things doesn't mean they automatically reject things they cannot measure. If anything the more I learn, the more I realize just how little we know.

      February 3, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • Mark

      Actually Christianity and science are mutually exclusive – depending on what set of beliefs you hold. As a scientist with an independent mind of my own and an understanding of evolution, paleontology, cosmology, and a few other areas of historical significance it is plainly clear that religion is a cultural artifact. Prior to the advent of human symbolic modes of inheritance there was no mention nor any evidence of a God like creature. It is an imagined thing like Zeus or Peter Pan. If you believe in God as a real thing, then you are rejecting the core principals of our scientific understanding of the universe and what governs its operation. Saying you are a Christian scientist is like saying you are an astrological astronomer – the two don't mix, there are contradictions. If you want to claim that there is a God, but all the things we see are a product of His work – fine then – but then you don't even need a God to explain the events, it is just an extra bit of nonsense – and ad hoc non-scientific ingredient.

      I for one and quite offended that to be a president of the US you must be a Christian. DOWN with the THEOCRACY!!! DOWN with the THEOCRACY!!! DOWN with the THEOCRACY!!! DOWN with the THEOCRACY!!! DOWN with the THEOCRACY!!! DOWN with the THEOCRACY!!! DOWN with the THEOCRACY!!! DOWN with the THEOCRACY!!! DOWN with the THEOCRACY!!! DOWN with the THEOCRACY!!! DOWN with the THEOCRACY!!!

      February 3, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  12. Tiffini S.

    Dear Mr. President, I am thrilled that you are a Christian, really. Kudos. I am an Atheist, just so you know. And isn't it awesome that we live in a country where there is room for us both? And by the way, I'm not one of these Fickle Franks who voted for you then immediately changed my mind when the economy went to crud. I realize you were kind of riding the tide on the previous 10 years there. But, hey. How about you not waste time on stuff like this speech and FIX THE DANG COUNTRY? Thank you, A Voter.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:19 am |
    • DewB

      Tiffini: You nailed it. Thanks.

      February 3, 2011 at 4:28 am |
    • B(iraq) Hussein Osama

      Dear Atheist Voter. The only way I can FIX THIS DANG COUNTRY is if people like you grow up, take your head out of your anu s and become religious. Get some morals, stop being selfish greedy Godless beings. Worshipping money instead of God. Thnx.

      February 3, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'Get some morals, stop being selfish greedy Godless beings. Worshipping money instead of God'
      Ah you are talking about the conservative right here correct?

      February 3, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • B(iraq) Hussein Osama

      No, i am talking about the atheist bankers and military industrial complex who don t believe in humanity and moderation. Conservatives are just the political front men they hire in washington.

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

      Wow, B(iraq), that's quite a set if ignorant assumptions you got there.

      1) that atheists are greedy

      2) that atheists worship anything, least of all money.

      3) that subscribing to fairy tales is a necessary condition for growing up.

      I suppose this notion of worship is so embedded in your world view that you can't imagine that some of us don't feel the need to replace worship of one thing with worship of something else. Life can be lived without worship.

      February 3, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  13. MaeQueen

    Obama will use every speaking opportunity – from now until November, 2012 – to run for re-election.

    It's much easier to play the perpetual political candidate than actually governing a country as a competent leader.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:39 am |
    • Bill


      February 3, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  14. Charlie

    I would have far more trust in an Agnostic president than I would a religious or Atheist one.

    The principles that guide your morality should not come from religion. True moral and compassionate behavior comes out of respect for your fellow man, from a deep understanding of human freedom. Too often people equate being religious with being a good person, or being compassionate, when in reality it leads to a destructive group mentality where people come together and agree on what is right or what is best, and have little hesitation when it comes to imposing that on others, disregarding liberty. Individualism, not collectivism, should be the ideal in any free society.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:32 am |
  15. Dystopiax

    I'm getting the dry heaves. The religion of Barack Obama is the equivalent of theological =paint by numbers=. His association with Trinity Church in Chicago was crassly political – Obama did not then know Black Liberation Theology from Taoism. The worst mistake Rev. Desmond Tutu ever made was to compose, in 2008, a book about the =religion= of this wafer-shallow person. Presently, both new and used copies of this Tutu book are selling on the Internet for One Cent plus shipping.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:28 am |
    • MH

      Many, many disagree. Countless serious people have described this president as one of the most theologically literate and sophisticated in modern times. Maybe since Lincoln. David Brooks, for one, has written on many occasions about how well read Obama is in theology, and especially the theology of Reinhold Niebuhr. If you know Niebuhr, you see echoes of his thinking all over Obama's most important speeches - the Nobel Prize acceptance speech and the Tucson memorial speech come especially to mind.

      Obviously, this detailed discussion about the details of Obama's theological influences - his Protestant Christian theological influences, make the whole larger discussion, about whether he is really a Christian, absurd. It's racist nonsense, nothing more.

      February 3, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  16. Jeff

    People of different races or religion don't scare me but the people who think that they can pray and things will go away or change scare me the most. I have faith in myself and my actions not something or someone that has never been heard or seen.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:24 am |
    • B(iraq) Hussein Osama

      God listens to the prayers of the helpless. Those who think they do not need God's help, and can manage on their own, God does not listen to their prayers. As a result, they are a victim of their own arrogance.

      February 3, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'Those who think they do not need God's help, and can manage on their own, God does not listen to their prayers'
      Well for starters, they would not pray in the first place so thats a silly statement.
      Second, I thought god's 'love' was unconditional, you telling me now that he would withhold help out of spite?

      February 3, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • B(iraq) Hussein Osama

      Indeed, God does not help those who reject the idea that God's help exists. There is nothing spiteful about that. God is not spiteful, God is just.

      February 3, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'God is not spiteful, God is just.'
      oh please, the god of the old testament is a bloodthirsty evil deity that wipes out people for not worshipping him.

      February 3, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  17. Joe Public

    YAWN, another canned teleprompter event. When will he every do his job and address the Jobs situation, the Economy, Illegal Immigration, REPEAL of health care bill. All he does is play golf, take vacations and spend what we do not have. This is just a campaign step for him, show the African americans he has religion.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:24 am |
    • HS

      Yeah, and no other president ever used a TelePrompTer. Hey, Lincoln read the Gettysburg address from a piece of paper – that must have been a yawn too. Obama listened and compromised with the GOP on big parts of the health care reform act. The GOP's response? Let's repeal! That's called deception ... a worse offense than using a TelePrompTer. The GOP relies on people forgetting the details.

      February 3, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  18. Mazz

    Do we really wanna hear this Commie SOB!!!!!

    February 3, 2011 at 3:22 am |
    • thomas

      you are the SOB

      February 3, 2011 at 6:22 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'Do we really wanna hear this Commie SOB!!!!!'
      commie huh? lol, too funny.

      February 3, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • rker321

      There are many Commies that are Christians, also there were many Nazi's that where Christians, there were many Facists that were Christians, Musolini was Catholic. and a fascist.

      February 3, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  19. Mike

    I love you Obama. You are a good man.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:20 am |
  20. Jeff

    It's a sad day when the President of the United States brings religion into play in politics. I voted for him but it's looking more and more like he is another crooked politician from my home State. When religion is used in politics it does nothing constructive. Name one positive event that has changed because of it? You can't! in fact, it will just bring more segregation to this Country. Religion should be kept out of politics and if people want to pray to any so called Gods do it in the privacy of your home and family.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:18 am |
    • Siyajkak

      FDR was motivated by his wife's plea that Christian sentiment should drive him to care for all those suffering from the depression
      Abraham Lincoln believed that slavery was an unholy thing and that we should honor the wishes of Christ that we live in harmony.
      It isn't the fact that religion is being used, but simply how its being used. If one adheres to the TRUE words of Christ, who NEVER said to harm those of different faiths and in fact said to love even your enemies, to love even those that persecute YOU for YOUR religion, than they would likely be a good leader, though a war might necessitate deviation from such teachings since Christ's teachings were largely pacifist.

      February 3, 2011 at 6:10 am |
    • Mike

      You seem to not grasp the context in which today's remarks were made: the National Prayer Breakfast. Or perhaps, you also don't realize that they have been held annually for almost 60 years and that every president since Eisenhower has spoken at them. Seems to me the ideal venue for the President to clearly and honestly profess his personal beliefs as he did today.

      February 3, 2011 at 11:37 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.