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. Truth

    True HOPE and CHANGE comes through Jesus Christ.

    Go Obama!

    February 3, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  2. timber

    Buster – since when was Paul the first Pope? Catholics believe that it was Peter who was the first pope, not Paul.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Buster Bloodvessel

      Yeah, but I don't care. It's all made up stuff. We can't agree on what happened in Viet Nam or the last election, and you think some story from two thousand years ago is real?

      February 3, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  3. Oliver

    Yes Obama's faith declaeration is in conjunction with christian believe. It will also claer Americans from the state of ambiguity on who is their president.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  4. Buster Cherry

    well, if ya aks me, Bojangles is the wurst prez we have ever had minus that last idiot...Shrub or some name like that!

    February 3, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  5. Buddha

    Amazing how many "Christians" are eager to post what they know are lies about someone they openly hate. Did you ever read the Bible? You aren't allowed to lie, and you aren't allowed to hate, and if you deceive just one person with this hateful gossip, you will never enter Heaven. Feel like retracting your statements, anyone? Of COURSE not. I don't believe in god either.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  6. Liz

    Sean, you are indeed right that the Bible says, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me," But you are wrong to say that, "Those who dont believe are his enemies." Satan believes but is God's enemy. Many don't know Christ for a variety of reasons – remember the Spanish conquistadores who entered into Indian cities and demanded everyone profess Christ or be killed. If we rightly view that as an abomination, why would God, whose ethical standards are so much higher than a human's, do in essence the same thing? Those who don't profess Christ are just as much children of God and worthy of our unquestioned love and devotion. For God commands us not to hate our enemies, but to give them everything we have, to turn the other cheek, and to love them. When speaking ill of anyone, remember those words from the Bible, particularly when claiming to be speaking on behalf of Christianity. Only kind words should be flowing from our mouths, even when speaking about our enemies.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • Buddha

      Liz, this is why the Muslims keep telling us that we will be better off once we are all converted. Americans are devout haters, ready to stab and bite at any time. They are natural Muslims, ready to kill, and they do not believe the silly christian notions like "Love your Enemy," "turn the other cheek," and "play fair." Who would ever do those things? You'd have to be crazy. They aren't required of the Muslims, and so they don't feel guilty when they trick you or cheat you, or kill you. Convert today and save time.

      February 3, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  7. Bog & Bam

    God is getting tired of all this. He gave us the gift of life and the power to create heaven on earth so stop arguing about it and get a single payer health system going. The Pursuit Of Happiness demands it!

    February 3, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  8. Nate

    I've never been more disappointed in the President, I think.

    If I wanted Jesus in the white house, I'd have fought for Huckabee.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Luposian

      I voted for Huckabee in the primary, but he wasn't on the ballot in the General election. I wasn't won over by McCain and wasn't EVER going to vote for a Democrat, nor "waste my vote" by voting for a 3rd party, so... I voted "Jesus Christ of Nazareth"... seriously!

      February 3, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  9. bill

    The National Prayer Breakfast is a travesty to intelligent people. It is disappointing that Obama kowtows to the religious nuts in this country when he is clearly too intelligent to be among them. Look – Australia's prime minister had no problem winning election in spite of her atheism. When will this country grow up?

    To be religious in any sense similar to what passes for religion in this country is not an attribute that will help the country. In the case of GW Bush, his religious convictions clearly made all our lives much worse.

    Obama should proudly admit that the religious stuff is just posturing that elected officials have traditionally been subjected to by the stupid majority.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  10. aeiousometimesy

    Lt. Col. Allen West for President in 2012!

    February 3, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • Kafir


      February 4, 2011 at 3:52 am |
  11. Tom

    seems pretty evident to me he was a Christian.........during the elections when they had the forum on faith it was. Anyone that claims he isn't and also claims to be a Christian should be ashamed of themselves. Only God can judge a man's heart. And if someone has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, who are you to say otherwise? Are there sins this man holds? Of course. But there are sins you hold. So while you a Christian is evident based on their fruits don't say "well this man isn't Christian b/c he doesn't believe A, B, C, or D or doesn't do certain things" b/c I guarantee that you do your share of wrong things and someone from looking at you could question how you can call yourself a Christian.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  12. Lee

    Always good to know that God has a place in the White House. When we wait on the Lord, and seek His face for guidance, He never fails. I thank God for a President who prays.



    February 3, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  13. Peter

    First, right-wingnuts were bent out of shape that Obama was a member of the Trinity United Baptist Church for 20 years. Now, they claim that he is a Muslim. Which is it?

    February 3, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Kafir


      February 4, 2011 at 3:54 am |
  14. Ian Jay Germaine

    This statement by Obama is very self-serving. By taking a single line item either his speech writer felt would be apropos or perhaps he knew it himself the thought that religion and politics is the same time is erroneous. His Socialistic strain is no different that a convict saying he was saved and is a born again Christian just in time to make his parole hearing. I can look the other way when an error has been made, but you can't make a leopard change it's spots.

    He doesn't believe in a capitolistic system, nor a democracy. He doesn't believe in a nation of laws unless he define their validity. He doesn't believe he can make errors, but it's trhose that he trust to make judgement that make errors. His personal ego is large than the Whashington monument. And a part funny characature he has big ears but the aren't used for listening. Perhaps they are used for ballist.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  15. Dave

    Who cares whether he is Muslim, Christian or an Atheist. He is doing the right things to get this country back on the tracks!

    If he was a Jewish Zionist Israeli or a Right Wingnut Westbury Baptist member, then I would be concerned.

    Obama has a brain and he is using it! Yeah! Someone with intelligence is in the Whitehouse!!!

    After years of an intelligence vacuum due to GWB!

    Keep on trucking Obama!!! .... I'm sure glad I voted for you and not the Repugnants a couple of years ago!

    February 3, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • Kafir

      Happy Happy, Joy Joy – Rainbows and puppy dogs. Nit.

      February 4, 2011 at 3:57 am |
  16. Reality

    Some suggested reading materials for BO and any others who want to venture outside the bible box:

    1. Historical Jesus Theories, earlychristianwritings.com/theories.htm – the names of many of the contemporary historical Jesus scholars and the ti-tles of their over 100 books on the subject.

    2. Early Christian Writings, earlychristianwritings.com/

    – a list of early Christian doc-uments to include the year of publication–

    30-60 CE Passion Narrative

    40-80 Lost Sayings Gospel Q

    50-60 1 Thessalonians

    50-60 Philippians
    50-60 Galatians
    50-60 1 Corinthians
    50-60 2 Corinthians
    50-60 Romans
    50-60 Philemon
    50-80 Colossians
    50-90 Signs Gospel
    50-95 Book of Hebrews
    50-120 Didache
    50-140 Gospel of Thomas
    50-140 Oxyrhynchus 1224 Gospel
    50-200 Sophia of Jesus Christ
    65-80 Gospel of Mark
    70-100 Epistle of James
    70-120 Egerton Gospel
    70-160 Gospel of Peter
    70-160 Secret Mark
    70-200 Fayyum Fragment
    70-200 Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
    73-200 Mara Bar Serapion
    80-100 2 Thessalonians
    80-100 Ephesians
    80-100 Gospel of Matthew
    80-110 1 Peter
    80-120 Epistle of Barnabas
    80-130 Gospel of Luke
    80-130 Acts of the Apostles
    80-140 1 Clement
    80-150 Gospel of the Egyptians
    80-150 Gospel of the Hebrews
    80-250 Christian Sibyllines
    90-95 Apocalypse of John
    90-120 Gospel of John
    90-120 1 John
    90-120 2 John
    90-120 3 John
    90-120 Epistle of Jude
    93 Flavius Josephus
    100-150 1 Timothy
    100-150 2 Timothy
    100-150 T-itus
    100-150 Apocalypse of Peter
    100-150 Secret Book of James
    100-150 Preaching of Peter
    100-160 Gospel of the Ebionites
    100-160 Gospel of the Nazoreans
    100-160 Shepherd of Hermas
    100-160 2 Peter
    100-200 Odes of Solomon

    101-220 Book of Elchasai

    105-115 Ignatius of Antioch

    110-140 Polycarp to the Philippians

    110-140 Papias

    110-160 Oxyrhynchus 840 Gospel

    110-160 Traditions of Matthias

    111-112 Pliny the Younger

    115 Suetonius

    115 Tacitus

    120-130 Quadratus of Athens

    120-130 Apology of Aristides

    120-140 Basilides

    120-140 Naassene Fragment

    120-160 Valentinus

    120-180 Apocryphon of John

    120-180 Gospel of Mary

    120-180 Dialogue of the Savior

    120-180 Gospel of the Savior

    120-180 2nd Apocalypse of James

    120-180 Trimorphic Protennoia

    130-140 Marcion

    130-150 Aristo of Pella

    130-160 Epiphanes On Righteousness

    130-160 Ophite Diagrams

    130-160 2 Clement

    130-170 Gospel of Judas

    130-200 Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus

    140-150 Epistula Apostolorum

    140-160 Ptolemy

    140-160 Isidore

    140-170 Fronto

    140-170 Infancy Gospel of James

    140-170 Infancy Gospel of Thomas

    140-180 Gospel of Truth

    150-160 Martyrdom of Polycarp

    150-160 Justin Martyr

    150-180 Excerpts of Theodotus

    150-180 Heracleon

    150-200 Ascension of Isaiah

    150-200 Acts of Peter

    150-200 Acts of John

    150-200 Acts of Paul

    150-200 Acts of Andrew

    150-225 Acts of Peter and the Twelve

    150-225 Book of Thomas the Contender

    150-250 Fifth and Sixth Books of Esra

    150-300 Authoritative Teaching

    150-300 Coptic Apocalypse of Paul

    150-300 Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth

    150-300 Melchizedek

    150-400 Acts of Pilate

    150-400 Anti-Marcionite Prologues

    160-170 Tatian's Address to the Greeks

    160-180 Claudius Apollinaris

    160-180 Apelles

    160-180 Julius Cassianus

    160-250 Octavius of Minucius Felix

    161-180 Acts of Carpus

    165-175 Melito of Sardis

    165-175 Hegesippus

    165-175 Dionysius of Corinth

    165-175 Lucian of Samosata

    167 Marcus Aurelius

    170-175 Diatessaron

    170-200 Dura-Europos Gospel Harmony

    170-200 Muratorian Canon

    170-200 Treatise on the Resurrection

    170-220 Letter of Peter to Philip

    175-180 Athenagoras of Athens

    175-185 Irenaeus of Lyons

    175-185 Rhodon

    175-185 Theophilus of Caesarea

    175-190 Galen

    178 Celsus

    178 Letter from Vienna and Lyons

    180 Passion of the Scillitan Martyrs

    180-185 Theophilus of Antioch

    180-185 Acts of Apollonius

    180-220 Bardesanes

    180-220 Kerygmata Petrou

    180-230 Hippolytus of Rome

    180-250 1st Apocalypse of James

    180-250 Gospel of Philip

    182-202 Clement of Alexandria

    185-195 Maximus of Jerusalem

    185-195 Polycrates of Ephesus

    188-217 Talmud

    189-199 Victor I

    190-210 Pantaenus

    193 Anonymous Anti-Montanist

    193-216 Inscription of Abercius

    197-220 Tertullian

    200-210 Serapion of Antioch

    200-210 Apollonius

    200-220 Caius

    200-220 Philostratus

    200-225 Acts of Thomas

    200-250 Didascalia

    200-250 Books of Jeu

    200-300 Pistis Sophia

    200-300 Coptic Apocalypse of Peter

    203 Acts of Perpetua and Felicitas

    203-250 Origen

    3. Historical Jesus Studies, faithfutures.org/HJstudies.html,
    – "an extensive and constantly expanding literature on historical research into the person and cultural context of Jesus of Nazareth"

    4. Jesus Database, faithfutures.org/JDB/intro.html–"The JESUS DATABASE is an online annotated inventory of the traditions concerning the life and teachings of Jesus that have survived from the first three centuries of the Common Era. It includes both canonical and extra-canonical materials, and is not limited to the traditions found within the Christian New Testament."

    5. Josephus on Jesus mtio.co

    6. The Jesus Seminar, mystae.com/restricted/reflections/messiah/seminar.html#Criteria

    7. Writing the New Testament- mystae.com/restricted/reflections/messiah/testament.html
    8. Health and Healing in the Land of Israel By Joe Zias
    9. Economics in First Century Palestine, K.C. Hanson and D. E. Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus, Fortress Press, 1998.
    10. 7. The Gnostic Jesus
    (Part One in a Two-Part Series on Ancient and Modern Gnosticism)
    by Douglas Groothuis: equip.org/free/DG040-1.htm
    11. The interpretation of the Bible in the Church, Pontifical Biblical Commission
    Presented on March 18, 1994
    12. The Jesus Database- newer site:
    13. Jesus Database with the example of Supper and Eucharist:
    14. Josephus on Jesus by Paul Maier:
    15. The Journal of Higher Criticism with links to articles on the Historical Jesus:
    16. The Greek New Testament: laparola.net/greco/
    17. Diseases in the Bible:
    18. Religion on Line (6000 articles on the history of religion, churches, theologies,
    theologians, ethics, etc.
    19. The Jesus Seminarians and their search for NT authenticity:
    20. The New Testament Gateway – Internet NT ntgateway.com/
    21. Writing the New Testament- existing copies, oral tradition etc.
    22. The Search for the Historic Jesus by the Jesus Seminarians:
    23. Jesus Decoded by Msgr. Francis J. Maniscalco (Da Vinci Code review)jesusdecoded.com/introduction.php
    24. JD Crossan's scriptural references for his book the Historical Jesus separated into time periods: faithfutures.org/Jesus/Crossan1.rtf
    25. JD Crossan's conclusions about the authencity of most of the NT based on the above plus the conclusions of other NT exegetes in the last 200 years:
    26. Common Sayings from Thomas's Gospel and the Q Gospel: faithfutures.org/Jesus/Crossan3.rtf
    27. Early Jewish Writings- Josephus and his books by t-itle with the complete translated work in English :earlyjewishwritings.com/josephus.html
    28. Luke and Josephus- was there a connection?
    29. NT and beyond time line:
    30. St. Paul's Time line with discussion of important events:
    31. See http://www.amazon.com for a list of JD Crossan's books and those of the other Jesus Seminarians: Reviews of said books are included and selected pages can now be viewed on Amazon. Some books can be found on-line at Google Books.
    32. Father Edward Schillebeeckx's words of wisdom as found in his books.
    33. The books of the following : Professors Marcus Borg, Paula Fredriksen, Elaine Pagels, Karen Armstrong and Bishop NT Wright.
    34. Father Raymond Brown's An Introduction to the New Testament, Doubleday, NY, 1977, 878 pages, with Nihil obstat and Imprimatur.
    35. Luke Timothy Johnson's book The Real Jesus

    February 3, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  17. reolu

    @fleagle1 you need speak without prejudice, in the youtube posted the video indicated that the video is based on evidences not that Obama admitted. You dont have to run people down because you dont like them.

    February 3, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  18. Dr. Kiljoy

    well, Bojangles is about a lame example of a presidential putz as I have ever seen. he has dictator status in the US and he will be defeated in the next pres. election...any Repub. can win...seems to be a lot of this "we can't wait for the next idiot to run so we can replace the present or last one with the next". Such a recipe shows that the US is on borrowed time!

    February 3, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  19. drew

    I could be wrong here but nothing in this article states that Obama says he is a Christi@n????? My faith in my God could be said for any religion that has a superior being. I think this article and the presidents words only show that he believes in a superior being and thats it. Think about it and read his exact words. Im not trying to single out the president here but he is the most powerful and influential person on the planet. He is loved and revered by almost all on the planet for his message of peace... He also admits that there is a God and believes in him strongly. The parallels here are very scary to someone the bible mentions but.......

    February 3, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  20. Debbiedoo


    February 3, 2011 at 2:33 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.