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. Shieed

    God dammit people he is Christian

    February 3, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  2. Res_Ipsa

    It's amazing that a lot of the atheists are sitting here wishing Obama were atheist and claiming how religious people are "wrong," "stupid," and how religion should be wiped off the Earth. Isn't this one of the exact reasons they excoriate religious people? That religious people are intolerant and dogmatic? Amazing. Personally, I couldn't give a frick what religion or non-religion or belief system or non-belief system the President follows, as long as he or she is not personally commanding me to believe or not believe in some value system.

    February 3, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  3. atheistforjesus

    I have faith that there is no god.

    February 3, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      And I have faith there is a God.

      February 3, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  4. Jeff

    Obama did not invoke the name of Jesus Christ once in his declaration of his "Christian" faith. You can't be a Christian without the Christ!

    February 3, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "...I came to know Jesus Christ for myself and embrace Him as my lord and savior." Pres. Obama

      February 3, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  5. John

    God exists. Proof – Israel exist after 3500 years, still worshipping the same God that still blesses them. No other country in the world comes close to this.

    February 3, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "God exists. Proof – Israel exist after 3500 years, still worshipping the same God that still blesses them. No other country in the world comes close to this."
      Egypt 5000 yrs
      Korea 4000+ yrs
      China 4000+ yrs
      India 2500-5000 yrs

      February 3, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Siyajkak

      well...some of your dates are off, for instance Korea has not been a state for that long, Buddhism is only 2300 years old i think, which is the religion in Korea and China, and in India Vedic Hinduism is only about 1800 years old and was introduced around then by Indo-Aryan tribes after the collapse of the Harrappan Civilization (which i think is what you are referencing). And Egyptian polytheism gave way to Christianity in the 4th century, and then that in turn to Islam in the 8th century. But I see your point. While i hold theistic beliefs and identify myself as a Christian, I do not believe that any mere man can speak for God and identify exactly what religious beliefs are right, and so all faiths must be accepted as being, in their core beliefs, similar and true. If that was your point.

      February 3, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Perhaps you are correct, but I thought the oldest Vedas dated to ~1500 BCE, which is ~3500 ya, and 'folk' Hinduism even before that. Also, doesn't India trace it's roots back to the Hara.ppan civilization with dates even earlier?

      I'm not an historian or archeologist, but doesn't Korea trace it's origins back to the Gojoseon kingdom in 2333 BCE? And, one of it's religions, Taoism (also in China), with a somewhat va.gue definition and history dates to at least, 300 BCE, with Lao Tzu, but also comes from folk religions even older.

      Although if you are looking for continuous statehood and religious ident.ity, then I don't think Israel qualifies either, since it didn't exist before 1948. And, probably wouldn't exist now if it wasn't for self-fulfilling prophecies of the return of the state of Israel and the horrors of the holocaust.

      And these are just the well-know countries/religions. What about the aboriginies(sp?) of Austrailia or the Cherokee Nation (along with the other 591 federally recognized tribes) in the US which, I think, are technically still sovereign states with ident.ities and religious practices that strech back into prehistory.

      Not to take anything from Judaism, it does appear to be the oldest surviving organized monotheistic religion, but that doesn't make it some sort of miracle and it's definitely not proof that God exists, as John claimed.

      February 4, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  6. Jimmy G

    Jesus said,you will know them by their fruit.(Meaning by their actions.)Jesus also said,My True Disciples will hold to my Word.(Meaning will listen,and act on God's word.)Obama,sorry man,but your actions say you are not Christian..and to all my atheist,this is said with Love,there are no atheist in Hell.They are all believers.Seek Jesus,Time is short..love yall

    February 3, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  7. Cherokee

    I think it is interesting that so many people are saying that President Obama is a Muslim, when he very obviously quotes from the 'Holy Bible'. Supposing this 'deductive reasoning', if you will, (example: Democrats sing Eminem. John is a Democrat, so he sings Eminem) is to be considered true, then the next conclusion we come to is: President Obama quotes the bible. President obama is muslim. Therefore the bible is muslim. Im very sure that a no self proclaimed Christian would agree to that now, hmm?

    February 3, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  8. ELH

    I'd be a lot happier if he said his innate toughness and ability to KAATN was what sustained him. I am leery of anyone who hides behind their faith.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  9. Tania

    FYI: If Pres. Obama was a Muslim, he'd go to hell because HE TELLS EVERYONE HE'S A CHRISTIAN! Let's use our brains here... And let's not act like every president was all religious or anything. I believe that both President Bushes were the most religious out of the whole lot. And why does the man's religious views matter?? As long as he's not dictating what we have to believe in, we're fine.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  10. MNBluess

    @Angie France you say that he can't be a Christian and believe in Pro-choice but I challenge you to dig deeper into what people who claim to be Christian believe. Do you feed the poor. Do you take care of the motherless/fatherless children? Or do you complain when someone else tries to care for them?

    You claim to be a Christian and do other sins, like judge. All have sinned and fall short. Do you really think everyone of your beliefs lines up to what is right....You would be the only perfect one.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  11. Carol

    Amen President Obama for confessing that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior. May God continue to Bless you, your family and your entire staff who support you. Sham on your staff/administration who spite you/those who are back stabbing you. Remember God knows and he cares, and that's all that matters. Stay Blessed Mr. President.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  12. Heather

    When are we going to hear him explain why we keep giving money to other countries for their natural disasters and other problems putting us further in debt instead of putting it into our own country and helping our own people. Fix Us First. I hope God can influence him to do that.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  13. Dona

    For those on here saying the Quran is not a Holy book – that is ridiculous – it is a Holy book as much as the Bible is – because people believe in it.

    To another Point – WHO CARES IF HE IS A MUSLIM!!!

    there is nothing wrong with muslims just as there is nothing wrong with christians, catholics, buddhists- athiests, jews etc.

    people need to stop focusing on something that is a personal belief and realize that he is a good man working hard to be a good president and get us out of this funk that was caused by 8 years of bush hell

    February 3, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  14. Brian

    "Nearly 1 in 5 Americans believes Obama is a Muslim"..........

    And 1 in 2 Americans don't know anything about anything.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  15. MNBluess

    The Pharisees (I mean GOP) are going to be all over this. They are the only ones who are able to claim to be Christians (so they think).

    February 3, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  16. Ron

    I don't believe a word that comes out of his mouth. 2012 can't come soon enough

    February 3, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  17. Kent

    George Carlin once said, "It's all B.S. folks, and it's bad for ya."

    February 3, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  18. Muneef

    Tell you what, Obama is nor Muslim nor Christian nor Jew. Obama is on the faith of apostle Abraham PBUH which is fair enough after all it is "Submission", Kindly read;

    Al-Baqara sura 02:
    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
    And when Abraham and Ishmael were raising the foundations of the House, (Abraham prayed): Our Lord! Accept from us (this duty). Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Hearer, the Knower. (127) Our Lord! And make us submissive unto Thee and of our seed a nation submissive unto Thee, and show us our ways of worship, and relent toward us. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Relenting, the Merciful. (128) Our Lord! And raise up in their midst a messenger from among them who shall recite unto them Thy revelations, and shall instruct them in the Scripture and in wisdom and shall make them grow. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Mighty, Wise. (129) And who forsaketh the religion of Abraham save him who befooleth himself? Verily We chose him in the world, and lo! in the Hereafter he is among the righteous. (130) When his Lord said unto him: Surrender! he said: I have surrendered to the Lord of the Worlds. (131) The same did Abraham enjoin upon his sons, and also Jacob, (saying): O my sons! Lo! Allah hath chosen for you the (true) religion; therefore die not save as men who have surrendered (unto Him). (132) Or were ye present when death came to Jacob, when he said unto his sons: What will ye worship after me? They said: We shall worship thy God, the God of thy fathers, Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac, One God, and unto Him we have surrendered. (133) Those are a people who have passed away. Theirs is that which they earned, and yours is that which ye earn. And ye will not be asked of what they used to do. (134) And they say: Be Jews or Christians, then ye will be rightly guided. Say (unto them, O Muhammad): Nay, but (we follow) the religion of Abraham, the upright, and he was not of the idolaters. (135) Say (O Muslims): We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered. (136) And if they believe in the like of that which ye believe, then are they rightly guided. But if they turn away, then are they in schism, and Allah will suffice thee (for defence) against them. He is the Hearer, the Knower. (137) (We take our) colour from Allah, and who is better than Allah at colouring. We are His worshippers. (138) Say (unto the People of the Scripture): Dispute ye with us concerning Allah when He is our Lord and your Lord? Ours are our works and yours your works. We look to Him alone. (139) Or say ye that Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes were Jews or Christians? Say: Do ye know best, or doth Allah? And who is more unjust than he who hideth a testimony which he hath received from Allah? Allah is not unaware of what ye do. (140) Those are a people who have passed away; theirs is that which they earned and yours that which ye earn. And ye will not be asked of what they used to do. (141).

    February 3, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  19. kreider

    re-election must be on his mind... time to start pandering to the religious lunatics that make up the bulk of this country.

    February 3, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  20. MNBluess

    President Obama can claim to be a Christian and someone will ask, "What kind of Christian?' OR "Let me hear you say Jesus' name." And when Obama does another speech and mentions Jesus name some will say/ask "You forgot to mention the Holy Spirit" OR "Why did your voice crack?" GESH>>>PEOPLE...If he cannot claim to be a Christian, then who can??? WHAT MAKES YOU THE CHRISTIAN DETECTIVE???? SMH=)

    February 3, 2011 at 4:37 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.