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. Hischild

    ...Critisize Christian communication all you want. It doesn't matter how much intelligence you think you have, how many vain words you use...or how much you think you know about The Holy Bible or Christianity..you are a sinner, and as a servant of the enemy...you are beneath our feet anyways. We don't waste time trying to come across all intellectual or spend paragraph after paragraph trying to prove something..We have proof...look around...breathe into your hand..pinch your skin. That flesh will die...your spirit will live forever. Will be praying for everyone!

    February 3, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • Mike

      You do realize you need to be taught all of that, right?

      February 3, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  2. 32nd Degree

    This man has to make speeches about his faith due to the idiocy of the country over which he is president. He has to prove that he was born here and he has to prove that he is not a Muslim. But this is the hypocracy that a president that doesn't look like the majority of this country has to deal with. He even has to prove that he quit smoking...for the outcry from the Republican hypocrites was far and wide as they proclaimed that as a smoker he sets a bad example for this country. The new speaker of he house is a smoker...no one cares because apparently White, Republican, Christian Americans are allowed to smoke but our supposed Kenyan born, Muslim, African president cannot. Sad.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  3. Casey

    I think most people know it's rediculous that we are even still talking about this. There are many way more improtant issues that need our attention now. Honestly to me it does not even matter because I am not religious, but I believe he is a christian... it's nonsense to think he would proclaim to the world he was, if he was something else.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  4. some emo kid

    I bet you don't know that George W. Bush was originally named George Abdullah Bush. He won't show his birth certificate. Also, McCain was born in a taxi OUTSIDE the Panama Canal Zone, so he was never eligible to run.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  5. vegas01

    Ye shall know them by their fruits....where are the fruits of his beliefs?

    February 3, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  6. #1

    Single greatest nation in the history of the universe!

    February 3, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  7. maxipeter

    prez. Bojangles is quite pathetic at this time...Even I feel sorry for him trying to cover his AZZ from folks knowing that he is really Muzlim. He has always stuck up for muzzys...having CNN do long stints coving this crap in Egypt...his wanting that sheik terrorist to go ahead and build his mosque in NYC at ground ZERO...all that stuff adds up to a man literally crying in his beer. So there u have it...Bojangles and weeping suds...not a bad combination, eh?

    February 3, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • some emo kid

      Wow, you really have the love of jesus down in your heart, dick. Plain to see religion's done you a lot of good.

      February 3, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  8. Sarah R.

    There's plenty of things to criticize Obama on, but his religious beliefs are nobody's business but his own.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  9. aeiousometimesy

    If it walks like a Muslim and talks like a Muslim, it's a Muslim. And he was born in Kenya not Hawaii. That's why he cannot produce the long form birth certificate.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  10. Andrew for President 2012

    every LEGIT great president NEVER discussed or pushed their ideas of faith. just shut the f–k up and fix the tangible problems that Americans are facing instead of talking about your faith.... and this is coming from an obama supporter.... PS judaism is by far the best religion 🙂

    February 3, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  11. Matt

    I would bet my life on it that Mr. Obama's true religious beliefs lie within the "light church goer" to "whole-heartedly agnostic." I don't think a president's religion should have any impact on his ability to get elected (or serve for that matter), but I am not buying his "faith drives me" routine... and I am an avid supporter of him!

    February 3, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  12. Luposian

    I laugh when the unsaved use terms like "The Flying Spaghetti Monster", in reference to God and "Shrooms" when referencing Paul's Conversion on the Road to Damascus... because it conjures up such hilarious imagery. However, I laugh at it, because I also know that God laughs at the utter foolishness of man, thinking they are so wise (in their own eyes).

    February 3, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • Bubba

      Luposian, has no one ever explained to you that "Flying Spaghetti Monster" is what you use to test a law concerning religion? Say you want to make a law saying that religion should be taught to first graders, and being a Christian, you assume this will mean your own religion. The lawyer points out that since this is a free country without a State Religion, any religion will satisfy the language of your bill, meaning that your kids could be taught about Jesus OR about the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the FSM's twin brother Mohammed. Beginning to get it now? You really don't have to worry about a Pastafarian Church at Ground Zero, or Pastafarian terrorists, although Saul on 'shrooms is a pretty interesting idea. William Burroughs saw the white light over and over in mystic visions, but he didn't fall off his camel.

      February 3, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • QS

      That's what we're here for, to entertain the mindless and make them laugh...mainly to keep them distracted from their own religion-induced guilt and fear.

      February 3, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  13. david

    i dont know why he is trying to appeal to the masses. THey are going to find something to whine about. THats what americans do best. WHINE. chill out, let the man do his job and go from there.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  14. Buster Bloodvessel

    Oh, come on. NO ONE is really a Christian. Look at all the lies and hate posted here.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  15. Doubting Tomas

    Obama is today's Christian – he claims to be a believer but rarely attends church services or openly expresses and practices his beliefs.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • Peter

      Just like Ronald Reagan.

      February 3, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Kafir

      What? You mean they're both bad actors?

      February 4, 2011 at 4:00 am |
  16. nancy

    There are some very hateful comments on here from people claiming to be Christians and therefore experts on who else could be Christian.

    During a near death experience I realized that the way I felt in that light is the way I always wanted to feel. Complete acceptance, complete love, complete knowledge of who I was, but it wasn't just about me, I realized that God loved every soul on earth totally and completely and without reservation. God doesn't care what religion we are because God is love. The Bible says we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, we are to love one another. It never says if your neighbors are exactly like you. I think Christians have lost the message Jesus brought. Jesus was a man. Christ was the level of consciousness that he lived at. He said 'I am the way' because you have to be at that level of consciousness to stop the cycle of reincarnation. You can be born again into a higher state of consciousness no matter what religion you belong to, but it is unlikely to happen if every cell of your being is filled with hatred.

    I lived in Egypt and I think the Muslims I met were some of the kindest people I have ever meet. Wish I could feel that way about Christians.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  17. Jimbo

    I believe he is agnostic just like me and did exactly what I would have done if I was in his position. If he was speaking the truth I believe it would sound something like this, "I'm agnostic and don't really believe that there is a one god and I do not believe Jesus is the savoir but in order for the majority of the american people to vote for me I must make it appear as though I do believe in Jesus and God. Some of you may believe I'm muslim, this is also not true although I do act as though I am muslim when it helps my relations with the middle east, basically I'll tell you all what ever you want to here becuase that is what I believe."

    February 3, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
  18. Jim M

    The majority in America are bigoted, self centered, poorly educated, fools who rely on the media talking heads to create their belief systems for them because they are too lazy to get informed. They deny the truth when it isn't what they choose to believe.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  19. T Diddy

    I thought he was muslim? Or mexican? I know it began with an "M"

    February 3, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  20. Bruce

    Is this the new state church? I mean I have a Rosery. Am I going to have to turn this in? We need a more corherent direction, or mayby seperation of church and state would be better. I'm probably going to be call a seperatist for that remark.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:11 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.