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. wowlfie

    Obama should be ashamed of himself and stay in the 'sins box' and confess his sins which he is destroying the fabric of this country by trying to turn it into 'Pottersville, USA'. In the movie 'It's a Wonderful Life' George Bailey got to see a vision of the world if he had never been born. Well, I wish Obama had never been born. He is destroying this country and the future for our children. His steadfast refusal to give support to the homeowners directly instead of stupid dependence on banks to do that (they won't, their too greedy) is a death wish for the industry and for America.

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

    I had heard that Obama only became a so called christian in 2006 whe he started running for president and was told that as a muslim there was not way he could be elected as president so he started calling himself a christian.

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

      You heard wrong. If you recall, part of the criticism of him during the election was his long-time membership in a CHRISTIAN church run by a man with extreme views.

      February 3, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  3. Jeff

    I would still vote for him even if he were Muslim. He seems like a nice, honest man and I think he is doing a good job as President.

    February 3, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  4. Mark

    As an atheist I'm torn because I strongly support separation of church and state, and I feel religious beliefs should have no place in government. But I also feel Obama is unfairly smeared and accused of being a Muslim in an attempt by his opponents to steal votes – this has nothing to do with Obama's personal beliefs, this is a power play by political opponents. He shouldn't HAVE to stand on a podium and try to convince everyone. And even if he was Muslim, who cares? I'd still support him as president.

    I patiently wait for the day where we have an atheist presidential candidate, just to see the media storm around it.

    February 3, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Newyorker

      I completely agree. The smear tactics used by Christian fundamentalists who accuse Obama of being a Muslim are utterly vile. On the other hand, what business is it of the country what President Obama believes in? Presidents should be expected to have good moral characters and personal values that 'transcend' their arbitrary interpretations of any particular faith. Otherwise, he can never unite the country, but only divide. The President should be the President of the whole nation, not of any single group, be they Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or atheist.

      February 3, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  5. Athena

    JUDGES 4.........
    Dr. Cindy Trimm......The Atomic power of prayer!

    February 3, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  6. Athena

    ‎2011.....SHIFT!!!....Do your thing President Obama!

    Dr. Cindy Trimm......The Atomic power of prayer!

    February 3, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  7. bailoutsos

    Faith? Why can't he just do the right thing? Treat others as you want to be treated.

    February 3, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  8. Greg

    I find that most of you are silly.

    February 3, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  9. Kyler

    He's trying so hard to stay politically correct that im not even sure who this "LORD" is. If he is a christian then he should speak in the name of JESUS CHRIST.

    February 3, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Kyler, who are you to judge this man? He has professed that Christianity is what helps him going. You know very well that Christianity represents Christ.

      February 3, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  10. pennrandall

    Doesn't he mean his Islamic faith sustains him?!? Barry tries to hide as a Christian when convenient, but his heart is Islamic. That is why he is pushing out the strong American ally, Hosni Mubarak, in Egypt so his muslim fundamentalist friends can take over and make Egypt another theocracy that hates the USA. Why we elected this black muslim as president is beyond me, but we all see now it was a disaster as he crashed the economy, exploded the deficit, raised taxes, let terrorists out scott free from Gitmo and is now turning Egypt against us. Fortunately we have the opportunity to fix this grievous error in less than two years by electing a TRUE Christian and the first female president, MICHELLE BACHMANN! She also has the benefit of actually being a legal American citizen actually BORN in the USA as the election laws require. Dump the Muslim, Get a True Christian President, MICHELLE BACHMANN IN 2012!!!! TEA PARTY FOREVER!

    February 3, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  11. barry

    please someone help me understand why no one in this nation never has question if any previous president was a christian despite all the wrongdoing that occurred under their adminstrations. i think we already know the answer to that. my job as a christian is to pray for him regardless according to romans 13 and 1 timothy 4

    February 3, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  12. aranas

    What about being Christ-like? It's a shame. GOD, is merciful, but there's a limit. Judge not. Out of the abundance of the heart/ mind, the mouth speaks. By our words and actions, we'll be justified or condemned. The servant is not greater than his MASTER, if they rejected or accepted Him, they'll reject or accept us. In the world we'll have tribulations,but be of good cheer,He,Jesus,has overcome the world. Faith is the victory,that overcomes the world. Praise GOD,for His patient endurance. Signs of the times are everywhere. Grow in the grace of Jesus,our LORD and SAVIOR.

    February 3, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  13. greenbird321

    As a Conservative Independent who did not vote for Obama, and who disagrees with many of the things he has done and is trying to do, this gives me hope. From the moment he was elected, I've prayed for God's guidance for him, and for the safety of Obama and his family. I may not have voted for him, and he may be doing things that are not good for this country, but he IS my president.

    February 3, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  14. ChurchOfCHRISTgirl

    Ok so the word "Christian" is totally abused. A "Christian" is a person who follows Jesus Christ in all of his words, actions and teachings. And he teaches that to be a "follower" and enter into the Kingdom of God you MUST, (and I say must as in it is commanded of you to do. I have Bible verses to back all of this up) You must 1. BELIEVE that Jesus is the Christ, son of the living God. 2. You must REPENT, asking God to forgive you for all of the sins. 3. You must CONFESS that Jesus is the Christ son the living God. 4. (This is the biggie) You must be BAPTIZED for the remission of your sins to receive the gift of the HOLY SPIRIT. If President Obama has taken all of these steps, and is actively participating in a CHURCH OF CHRIST (Rom. 16:16) and takes his communion every Sunday as directed by Jesus. Then yes, he is a Christian. If EVER SINGLE ONE OF THESE STEPS HAS BEEN FOLLOWED, other than that, no. He isn't he is lost.

    February 3, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  15. Reality

    CW et al,

    You noted : "Let me ask....What do you believe? Your always trying to discredt it the Bibe so have you created your own Bible or sorts?

    A synopsis one more time:

    The Apostles' Creed 2010: (updated based on the studies of historians and theologians during the past 200 years)

    I might believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven.

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say however that he was a mamzer)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.


    February 3, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  16. Lawrence

    Repent,and be baptized everyone of you,in the name of Jesus Christ,for the remission of sins,and ye shall recieve the gift of the Holy Ghost.Acts 2:38 -Plan of salvation

    February 3, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • ChurchOfCHRISTgirl


      February 3, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  17. LAH

    I think it's extremely sad that our President has to keep defending his personal faith. Are we under some kind of McCarthy-istic witch hunt in our country, sniffing out card-carrying closet muslims for religious persecution? Does this belief make Americans distrust or dislike him regardless of his action in office? We, as a nation, should be ashamed of ourselves.

    February 3, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  18. BostonBill

    Enough of this crap. The economy is slowing turning around. The republican/tea party group have taken over the house. so far they've done nothing but make "symbolic gestures". President Obama is doing the job and some of you are still looking for any reason to insult him. Okay. There's a person of color in the White house and his name isn't Johnny Jones. Now go ahead and let your head explode. I agree, I'm also uneasy about him saying his Christian Faith sustains him. I prefer intellect. He really should have said,My religion is my business Now Kiss MY BUTT.

    February 3, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  19. John - Altanta

    God save us from your christians. WHat a bunch of ignorant, self centered, spiteful, anger and hatefilled group. YOur comments exose you.

    February 3, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • Jacob Good

      "God save us from your christians. WHat a bunch of ignorant, self centered, spiteful, anger and hatefilled group. YOur comments exose you."

      Ignorance (adj.): lack of knowledge, stupidity

      I would say that you are the ignorant. Firstly, you said "from your Christians" what does that mean, that's not correct, that's "ignorance". In fact, I have already exposed you (not exose, like you wrote) but I will HUMOR you.

      You said Christians are selfish. Jesus said: "'Love your neighbor as yourself."

      He also said: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

      Also, "Anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment."

      Search it up, and your falsehood is exposed.

      The Truth has come and the Falsehood will vanish, and the Falsehood is even quick to vanish.

      We throw Truth at Falsehood and Falsehood is swallowed up!

      February 3, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  20. liza

    " Next entry »
    Pakistani teen jailed for blasphemy, group says "

    Someday we will have an atheist/agnostic president, and the world will be a better place for it. I like Obama, but if he's really this religious my opinion of him is seriously damaged by it. (If he's faking it for PR purposes, that's more understandable).

    February 3, 2011 at 5:11 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.