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. amanda

    The general populous is dumb. No doubt about it. I still think Obama is a closet atheist. Say what you want, but you can't have your own truths. Jesus is dead if he ever lived at all. Get over it.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  2. Steve the real one

    My personal opinion is the President cause much of this himself. With the all the bowing and such. One question and one answer will clear all of this up! Christians will understand, atheists will not. That is just how it goes! The question is found in 1 John 4: 2-3. While the subject is whether a spirit is of God or not, I think that can apply to us humans as well! My opinion. If the answer is yes, the issue about him being a Christian is done! I would like another Christian's opinion on this!!

    February 3, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  3. Bobbob

    People believe what they want to believe. If it fits into their pre-conceived notions that the President is not like them, more the better.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  4. LooneyBin

    Forget having a black man in office. When we can have an Atheist or an Agnostic become the President, that's when we know we've finally evolved.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  5. Linda

    Mr. Obama is a great president. I don't care if he is black or white, muslim or christian, he is a great PERSON and is doing a great job. I am proud to have him represent us across the globe. I am equally proud of his wife Michelle. I choose not to throw stones at anyone. Our politicians need to do the same, stand up for what you believe in but don't knock other people down to make yourself look better. I am a white, chritian girl – does that change this statement that i just made?

    February 3, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  6. Ben

    PJ, from your writting, it is obvious that you are not a Christian, if you are, then you know little or notting about your faith. In order to be a Christian, it does not matter what religion your parents subscribe to, or where you come from. Their is only one requirement-that you accept Christ as your personnel savior. Ones you plied the blood of Christ, then you are a Christian. The president as far as we know have done that.

    PJ, for you to question that, is to tell those who are non-christians that the blood of Christ is not strong enough to wash away whatever life the presidents parent subcribe to prior to him pleading the blood of Christ. This my friend shows that you are a Christian by name, not by faith.
    As far as I am concern, the blood of Christ cleans all. Lets not forget, Christ came to die for all. If that is true, all includes muslims also and their decendants. Let the blood of Christ dual in you so that you will be capable of reflecting is love. Right now, you are an instrument of the devil because you are condeming those who seek Christ- telling them that the blood of Christ is not strong enough to overcome the past life of their father.
    If you don't learn any thing, remember always that Christ died for all human, irrespective of your past-he said come to me.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • grannymax

      Amen, someone who truly understands what Christianity really is. Too many people are judging and the Bible says "judge not, lest ye be judged" If he says he accepts Jesus as his savior, the rest is between him and Jesus. Some of these so-called Christians need to find out what Christianity really is.

      February 3, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  7. RJb

    – how bout we get back on track and stop this economic train from derailing.
    Christain or Muslim? What a distracting question. Ones faith is private when in office. Then again we like to know all about our celberties.
    Let me know when we get a president. We are still 14 trillion in the hole so, I hope he does pray to Jesus Christ and not his politicaly and socialy acceptable "lord," to get us out of this mess.
    If you really want to know what he believes ask him who Jesus Christ is. Then ask him who Muhammad is. -on international streaming network. Too much trouble? -I thought so. Back to work people!!! No more talking!

    February 3, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  8. Sara

    The President's speech made me proud to be an American, a person of faith, and to be in a vocation of service. He subtly hit on the head several key issues and defended accusations against him with grace and a clear voice.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  9. PMaxin

    I found it interesting that CNN and MSNBC covered Mr. Obama's speech live at the prayer breakfast, but the great mouthpiece of the religious right fanatical republicans FOX did not. Do you suppose FOX doesn't want any of its moronic followers to even suspect that the prez is not a terrorist Muslim? More hypocrisy from the right.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • FOX News = America's Cancer

      well said Sir!!!

      February 3, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  10. jes3

    Obama has stated that people "cling to their God and their guns". The fact that he does not understand the most important part of his proclaimed faith, that you should cling to God and put him before everything else, demonstrates that he is a Christain only in words, and does not really understand the faith he proclaims to follow. Another reason people doubt the strength of his faith is he dumped his pastor of 20 years, for political reasons, and claimed he never heard any of anti american or anti white or anti Jewish sermons. The Bible warns of people who claim faith but do not act based on it. I do not doubt that Obama thinks he is somehow a Christain, I doubt that he understands what takes to be good one and not use it for politcal gain. But I will not judge him, I will just ask God to help him. Actions speak louder than words. He plays to a liberal base that seems to hate Christains. Good thing only 20% of the country indentify with liberals. Have a blessed day.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Doesnt the bible also warn of those that claim the faith the loudest?

      February 3, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  11. Russ

    I long for the day that our Government rules by reality and public need. Eliminate all reference of the Bible and religion from the governmental process. Our country needs to be run on reality, not the historical and fictious writing of the bible or other books of faith. Believing in a false god and unprovable teachings of the bible have done nothing for the world except create chaos, war and mayhem. It's time to govern based on the needs of the people and not "because the bible says so" because it's a bunch of hypocrisy. I find it hard to understand how a leader can lead with respect and fairness to all if they have their head up the rear of religion.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  12. Hummm!

    In at least some sense if you say you are "Christian" (and mean it) then you are a "Christian." Obama says that he is a "Christian." So, he is at least in some sense "Christian."

    What may be important is not how many American believe that he is insincere about his proclamation of "Christianity" but the number of Muslims in the "Arab World" that believe he is insincere and really Muslim. How about an article on those numbers.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • Joe

      I wonder if he was white, would we still question his religion? After all we the white race never hide the truth..
      First of all no one is born Muslim, my best friend father was a muslim & his mother a Jew & he is Jew. actually if you really knew about koran, it not only covers Judaism & Christianity, but it asks you as an adult to study other religions, as it says they are all gods religions. " The true Muslim is the one that choices to be a muslim, not the one that feels he has to"
      By the way I am not a muslim.

      February 3, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  13. lakeshia moon

    whatever religion he was born doesn't mean that he HAS to keep that religion! How many Americans have renounsed their birth faiths to convert????? Countless! He has the right as anyone else to acknowledge whaterve faith he so chooses. Period! Americans do so everyday butbecause they aren't preisdents, they don't get bashed. IGNORANT PEOPLE WILL ALWAYS BE IGNORANT AND INFANTILE. Therefore, continuing to fill this country will seperation and discension!

    February 3, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  14. Aezel

    Hey Obama is a pretty decent president but yeah, he's still wrong about religion. The thing I like about him is, he may believe insane things about an invisible man being in the sky, but at least he doesn't use that religion to try and run the country. Meanwhile the right wing would turn this country into a theocracy if they could.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  15. The Jackdaw

    I would trust an athiest leader.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • Religious Sects

      I'm with ya there. I just wish he would admit he's Atheist instead of going for votes.

      February 3, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  16. makom8

    The World is seeing Obama for what he is. The only way to beat obama is to Deny him. obama, His words describe him, He is a False Hope, If you listen to him you will love him. He carries a Bow without an Arrow. He will conquer all through his speech, his false hoods will capture all who sit and listen to him. The False one. Obama is without a doubt the Anti-Christ. The end is near if you keep following the lawless one. Deny Obama and you will Destroy him. He is who he Is.
    2 Thessalonians 2:11-12
    11And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Yeah, my money is that when his time as president is over that there will in fact be....another president! and the world will carry on.

      By the way, you know the false one, great beast, and anti-christ are in fact all different things right?

      February 3, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  17. apotropoxy

    Riddle us this, wingnuts:
    Today you claim that Obama is not a Christian but two years ago you were vomiting on his shoes because he had attended his Trinity United Church Of Christ for 20 years.
    Was he a secret Muslim then?

    February 3, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  18. Prince

    Thank you President Obama.
    I read your books and I knew all along that you were a Christian...I'm glad you've cleared this especially for those that use your religious affiliation to take a cheap political shot at you and the office.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  19. Robert

    Obama does not seem to be a Christian. He does not seem to have the values that the Bible says Christians are to have. For instance he says he does not know if an unborn baby is alive though the Bible says the unborn is a person known by God.

    Of course a fetus has multiplying cells and unique human DNA and so is in fact a unique living human being. Sadly Obama thinks it is ok to snuff out that innocent human life.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  20. leciat


    February 3, 2011 at 10:13 am |
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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.