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. Carol

    President Obama is a true Christian. Christanity is a personal relationship with God. Too many so called Christians have their own definition of Christanity and are stuck on stupid! The President has confessed with his mouth that Jesus is Lord, that's all that matters to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This nothing new, doutbting people who confess that they believe in God. Haters is nothing new either. People didn't believe Jesus Christ, they laughed at him they spat on him they beat him, kicked him pearced him in his side, made a crown out of thorns and slammed it on his head, they mocked him and teased him, they naild his hand and feet to the cross, he was crucified. Today's hypocrites are doing the same thing. You cannot crucify President Obama becaus he is covered with God's Grace and Mercy. God knowis his heart, nothing else matters. All you haters out there, God see and hear you. The wrath will always be upon you until you repent and acknowledge God.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  2. Mama

    Hmmm....Good timing for the speech, following the poll. The truth is Mr. President, there shouldn't be any doubt about your faith if you spoke of and exhibited it more. Christianity is a relationship that defines your lifestyle.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  3. PeterMac

    That is the most Christian thing I ever head a devout Muslim say.


    February 3, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  4. Mary from Edmonton, AB

    Look. I am a Christian, and it saddens me that people, particularly Christians, question someone else's relationship witH God, because of his or her background! By that same principle you should call every convert's faith into question, especially those from other religious backgrounds...how silly! If he says He is a Christian, who am I to question that? On another matter, does it matter what religion the President is, or whether or not He is a good President? Would you go to a doctor becuase he is a Christian doctor, or would you go to a doctor who is the best specialist for the issue you have? This all seems very silly to me. I believe that President Obama is what he says he is...a Christian. His faith is between God and himself. It's only when one uses the Christian faith as an example for decisions he makes or such that we plausably have a right to agree or disagree with what he or she says. Come on people, let's show some love and grace here.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  5. 2tired2care

    I love how Christians judge others about how religious they are or aren't. You're all a piece of work.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  6. Tom Treadway

    I notice Don Gilgoff of CNN writes "My Christian faith" about what Obama has to say. Listen to the tape, he never mentions Christianity, Jesus, the Christ, Messiah. Mentions Lord, God; I'm very surprised he didn't let slip "Allah".

    February 3, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  7. AT

    Very well put. The bible says that people will hate the gospel for no reason. It's amazing when you see it first-hand. I have a couple of very mild-mannered friends, neither of which had ever been hostile towards me or anyone else that I've witnessed. But with each friend, on separate occasions, when I witnessed to them; they became almost belligerant in response. I did not force anything on them. I didn't say they'd go to hell. I just brought it up casually and in normal tone of voice, trying to get into a spiritual discussion. The enemy works quickly in those situations, and before the person realizes it, they are acting completely out of character.
    The subject of evolution, however, does not invoke this tactic from the enemy (very understandably so!). So, you will probably never see someone belittled for their evolution beliefs.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  8. sean


    February 3, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  9. Brendan H., San Antonio, TX

    It could be worse. He could be sitting in a pew at the National Cathedral and his Bible is upside-down like someone we all know, right?!

    February 3, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  10. Analytical Thinker

    If Obama said that he prays everyday to God but isn't a member of any religion, I think it would be the greatest thing that ever happened. Religions are mindless cults. Islam and Christianity are one in the same.....

    February 3, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  11. Marklar

    I call Shenanigans on the Christian News Network. Obama talked about many thing including his nontheist upbringing. Not just Christian Rhetoric.


    February 3, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  12. Guest

    video on cnn

    February 3, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  13. Dee

    Well, we can tell our president is gearing up for his next campaign for re-election! He always comes out with what he thinks people want to hear when he needs us. Too bad it doesn't square with what he has demonstrated in his life and in his office. He has consistently acted arrogantly and deceptively, acted in the worst interests of our country, thumbed his nose at the public who elected him and at God... but when it is time to start the wheels rolling for re-election, he goes to church a couple of times and lays out more rhetoric, this time religious, and seems to assume everyone is stupid enough to believe him and vote for him next time around. Duh! Just goes to show how screwed up his values are and that he really believes it is all about outward appearances and not about what's really on the inside of a man. I'm not normally a cynical person, but I have become very cynical where Mr. Obama is concerned. Sadly, one cannot believe a thing he says.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  14. yobama

    Obama shares my European ancestry and my Christian faith.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  15. Guest

    A lot of Pharisees on here.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  16. james

    He used the National Prayer Breakfast as a campaign event to try to convince America he's a Christian. I didn't know this POS could stoop that low. Guess you learn something new every day.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  17. Linda

    Sorry, but I am not buying this "I am a Christian" show. Nothing about this man comes across to me as a Christian. He can proclaim whatever faith he wants, but the question is, "What is in his heart?"

    February 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Guest

      We can see what's in yours Pharisee.

      February 3, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  18. Terry

    Here we are, trusting the future of the free world to a guy who believes in a magical imaginary being up there somewhere. That is truly a text book definition of delusional behavior.

    Add to that the idea that the President "talks" to this imaginary being, and it becomes even scarier.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Mary from Edmonton, AB

      And I would trust someone who doesn't...why? Are you not espousing your own brand of faith?

      February 3, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  19. jason

    B. Hussain Obama is a political Christian (when it serves him) and a Muslim (when it serves him) His choice and ours."

    Exactly!!! Which itself is a sin, for "thou shalt not take the name of THE LORD thy GOd in vain.' Deceitful politics is digusting to GOD; how much more when one uses HIS HOLY NAME to advance themselves in it? "That which is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in The Sight of GOD."

    Obama is more in line with the spirit of antichrist than with CHRIST.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  20. Buster Bloodvessel

    "He is Irish." One of the O'Bamas from the Old Sod, and St. Paddy's day is coming right up!

    February 3, 2011 at 3:20 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.