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. kara.kramer

    By the way, the bible doesn't count abortion as murder, and foetal loss of life is mentioned only once and to be met with a fine. It isn't counted as on a par with independent life in the bible, so being pro life for religious reasons doesn't actually prove your christian credentials. If anything, it proves you haven't read your bible.

    February 3, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  2. Ana

    you americans, the ones that cannot seperate Religion and State, are all fools. Don't you understand that your "need " to be right and your non acceptance of other cultures and religions makes half of world hate you?
    who cares if Obama is a Christian or not? does it make him a better person or president if he is?
    the ones of you who claim to be Christians and better than everyone else, start following Jesus Christ teachings – love and accept every human being because we are all sons and daughters of God.
    wake up america!!!

    February 3, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
  3. kara.kramer

    Matt, respect other people's choices, so that they can respect yours.

    February 3, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
  4. kara.kramer

    Judge not lest ye be judged yourself.
    Every person on this blog who questions the president's faith, puts forward their own standard of chrisitianity as the only acceptable one and sneers at other faiths has already failed in THEIR duty as a christian, so you need to ask yourself what your faith is, and concern yourself a little less with Barack Obama's.
    Jesus Christ asked that we love our neighbour as ourselves, and I've seen nothing of that from the conservative christian movement at all towards this president.
    He has shown far more respect and kindness towards conservative christians in america than most of them have shown to him.
    To all you self righteous conservatives out there, I don't question his faith, but I do wonder about yours.
    But still, I TRY not to judge.

    February 3, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
  5. Dave

    If he wants people to believe he is a Christian, perhaps he needs to act like one...and not just when he's speaking at an annual prayer breakfast.

    February 3, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
  6. Desert Willow

    HotAirAce, I totally agree.

    February 3, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  7. postedbygeorge

    The Christian and Muslim religions are middle eastern. Both have an objective to rule the countries in which they are allowed to practice. We in American are endowed by a secular Creator not a religious god.

    February 3, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  8. Tom

    If Obama is a Christian, then why is he in favor of the mass killings of unborn children?!

    February 3, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  9. you have to be kidding

    He is certainly not the type of Christian I want to be. I don't change churches because of politics, I don't like about my beginnings, I don't cater to the whims of politics or money and I live my faith as best I can. He probably does too but it's not the Christian faith.

    February 3, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  10. Dizzyd

    @Dizzyd – from: all us judgmental 'Christians' – shut up! We do SO have the right to judge everyone else 'cuz Daddy said we could! Meh! So there! Nya nya nya nya nya

    February 3, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  11. postedbygeorge

    Does " awaiting for moderation ie... "Your comment is awaiting moderation." mean I am on a watch list? I have posted twice , no curse words.

    February 3, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
  12. Veritas

    I wouldn't be surprised if Obama is a closet atheist that just pretends to be a christian since he knows that is an absolute requirement in this "soft theocracy" nation we call the USA. it's sad... I hope one day we'll be free of organized religions and all be free thinkers.

    February 3, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  13. God Is Dead

    Well....Obama believes in the aloof sky demon thing that screws us on a daily basis yet wants us to seig heil him on a regular basis and tell him how awesome he is...so the prez has lost my vote.

    February 3, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  14. Robjk

    Easier to say then to be! He's for gay lifestyle and murder of babies, those two things alone would be unchristlike.

    February 3, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  15. Govt Bums

    The reason why people believe hes a Muslim is because he and his wife keep running around telling people they are Muslims.

    February 3, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  16. Crysee

    Where was the 'I don't care' button on the Quick Poll about this article? I don't give a shi* that his religion is. Of course, he would be a much better president if he were an atheist!!

    February 3, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
  17. Searching for another planet with oxygen...

    I lost respect for this country. It used to be a good country...until Israel came along.

    February 3, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  18. chriannah

    It is always interesting to me when I hear comments about our president being a Muslim. Muslims do not drink alcohol but I do remember seeing photos of the president gavin a beer. Muslims also do not eat pork. And despite these things I question why people seem to care so much about whether he is a Muslim or not. Hypothetically speaking if he were a Muslim, would it be so terrible to have a president that answered the call to prayer a minimum of 5 times a day? Would it also be so bad for our president to practice a faith that does not ask Christians or Jews to change their beliefs. Would it be so bad that our president believe he is obligated to help those less fortunate than he is? Would it also be so awful for him to believe in not only the modesty of appearance but also believes all thins should be done with God in mind for every aspect of life. What we have is a society that lacks knowledge of the Islamic faith and makes statements based purely out of ignorance for that which is different from them. We need to rise above this issue and realize that when we tear down the walls of bias and discrimination we as a nation can grow.

    February 3, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  19. j0eschm0e

    This man anything but a christian. he doesnt salute the flag, until recently, yet he can take his shoes off and bow to the kuran with the muslins.(I have the picture of him doing so)

    February 3, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  20. Future Peaceful Leader

    Hey everyone including muslims(Aslam u Alikum) and non-muslims (Hello). I think at this point we all need to clear our mind that no matter what religion you have you are still a human being and as human being according to any religion in the world it is our our responsibility to take care of others.
    I am very amazed that you all have a time to debate or criticize on each other but not a second for someone who need you. Everyone can talk look at me i can talk but the point is not that. The point is are we just going to talk or or we actually going to do something that could compromise with all religion. Think about what you have done for other as a being a religious person. Just think!!!!

    February 3, 2011 at 7:35 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.