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. noname

    listen to most of you so called christians judging the president like hes not welcome in what you think is just your faith why dont you guys actually practice what you preach? all you do is judge like your jesus or something . fact is Obama says hes christian so be it you should make like jesus and accept him. let he who is without sin cast the first stone how many of you can do that? see yall in hell!

    February 3, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  2. Glo

    Who are you to question his faith? I'm sure the only christians have blue eyes. What a crock. Some of you should become a Christian maybe then GOD will stop trying to get your attention with all of the turmoils. Soon and very soon.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  3. Luv2putt

    Well it's never to Early to improve your Image with Elections coming..NOW he is wearing the American Flag lapel pin !!!
    Even saying "Lord"..

    February 3, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  4. haha

    obama GOD will not take lightly to your lies, but I guess Ali will since you are a lieing muslim that is illegal in the country and a plant by the democrates to try to take over America as a false prophet, We The People shal prevail

    February 3, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  5. david massey

    Obama already admitted he is a Muslim born in Kenya and used to go to American flag burnings. The voters are too dumbed down to do their homework before voting. Wake up my friends...

    February 3, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  6. Branden

    Lost in the insanity of this whole issue is the fact that even if he were a Muslim, there is nothing wrong with that. People accuse him of being a Muslim as if it's the equivalent of being a rapist or murderer.

    ...and lost in that entire argument is the fact that religion is for the ignorant.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  7. Richard Cheese

    So sad that he has to actively put to ease the minds of the masses who 1) can't think for themselves and 2) can't accept and tolerate other beliefs besides their own. I wish he'd come out of the closet already and deny that he is a Christian. But then again, I can't blame him as that would surely paint a bulls-eye on himself for some fundamental gun-nut wacko to take him out.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  8. Dan

    This should be a non-issue. Religion needs to be kept out of public policy and whatever fictional deity President Obama chooses to converse with in his free time should be a personal issue and should not matter to the American people.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  9. jack

    I bet he sits on the White House basketball court (it replaced the bowling alley) "clinging to his Bible and his Gun"....oh wait he said that to his liberal brethern in San Francisco....

    February 3, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  10. Doug in Las Vegas

    First, following Christ is a personal Choice. A choice we can make because God gave us free will to follow Him or not. For all that want to boast that they are not Christian, or agnostic, or atheist, or any religion, you are wrong in your thinking. Last, for other believers, If President Obama says he is a believer, let us not question it, but let’s pray for him and his duties as the president. If you believe in Jesus Christ and made him your Savior, then we are ONE BODY. One body to pray for God’s will for our President, and for our Nation.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  11. Migz

    Tired of the absurdity exposed by the bible thumpers. You are not a expert on religion if you only read 1 book of faith. I respect persons who profess thieir faith without denigerating the faith/belief of others. Governance with respect of others is a great thing and I respect President Obama for that. There are evil and ignorant people of all faiths/beliefs. Train your mind to INDEPENDENTLY identify them and you would be amazed who they actually are.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  12. Mary

    Just another posturing polician who talks one way and acts another.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  13. semausmom

    Really? 22 million Americans out of a job and this is a topic of conversation. If he's a muslim, it's his business, if he's not it's his business. The ppl who thinks he's muslim is going to believe it regardless.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  14. deb0155

    My question is: Why does Obama have to work so hard at making the American people think he is a Christian? Whether he is a Christian or a Muslim – it doesn't matter. All this hype about prayer and his religious beliefs is nothing more than "I need to get re-elected again – so I'll push the Christianity button."

    February 3, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  15. Darron R. Brown, M.D.

    I don't care what religion he is. It is his business and no one else’s. He is a good president who cares deeply about this country and about all Americans, regardless of faith. I would like him just as much if he were Muslim, Buddist, Agnostic, etc. If many people "believe he's a Muslim", that may be because they dislike the president and also dislike/misunderstand/distrust Muslims.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  16. Tom donnelly

    A beautiful lie.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  17. Peter

    It is a disappointment to me that the President of the US feels the need to pander to religion. It seems to me that religion is causing far too many problems in the world today and I would vote for a RATIONALIST / ATHEIST / AGNOSTIC / ANTI-THEIST any day.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  18. Shalshem

    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 1:35 pm |
  19. kate

    I have never doubted Pres. Obamas faith. He is a true Christian. He doesn't brag about being a Christian but shows it by trying to help the least of us. Christianity shouldn't be defined by a party, but for so long the republicans have lived and talked like they are the only Christians. Just talk for most of them.

    February 3, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  20. tewrobert

    Now thats funny, I dont care who you are !!

    February 3, 2011 at 1:31 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.