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. Peter E

    And what if he was a muslim? What difference should it make? The religion of public figures was not a major issue in the US for over the first century of its existence. Most of our presidents through history didn't go to church! They kept their faith private, whether it was Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, etc. They barely eluded to God in any of their speeches or writings. Eisenhower himself admitted he never was baptised! And while Kennedy's Catholicism was used against him by protestants, we had a number of presidents since whose faith or church going was not questioned. Where was all this criticism of Reagan when he was following astrology and mysticism?
    And I find it amusing that the right criticizes Obama for supposedly 'defending' Islam, even though their own savior, Bush Jr. was the one calling it a 'religion of peace.' THAT didn't draw criticism from the right.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Mony

      Thanks Peter E

      February 3, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  2. Bolaaj09

    "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,"

    Memo to the prez. Actually, Michelle's faith is not questioned. Only yours. Only for no other reason than the idiocy of the so-called Christians who're unable to take hints – including their ignored prayers for rain to disrupt your Oregon mega-rally in 08. My prayer for them – may they live long to witness the wonders our Lord will wrought through you.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  3. william

    I am a Christian and a conservative, i respect that Obama came out and said this. Much of his base is secular and it took courage to come out and speak about faith in this day and age which is probably why he hasn't been that vocal about it in the past. I live in the NYC area and when many people find out I'm a Christian they talk down to me and treat me negatively because of it. Bravo Mr President.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  4. calvin

    The presidents history and the last church he was a member of would prove that he has christian beliefs. I think the ongoing questioning of his faith is because of where he goes now. Does he and his family attend regular services now? We hear of his other functions, basketball, etc. But nothing of his faith attendance. The pastor who intructed Pres Obama to be more open about his faith was correct in doing so. God is our sustainer.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  5. marlin

    God is Light and in Him is no darkness at all /// read the prophecies if you don't believe// prove them wrong SORRY they Can't be proven wrong bcause they r right on to the dot of the eye to the cross of the t

    February 3, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  6. Jennq

    Then make Good Friday a federal holiday !

    February 3, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  7. TIRED

    I may be off base with this comment, but here goes...The correlation most are making with his political/religious views & the present state of the union are baseless & unfounded. Let's remember that the president can lobby, bribe(might be the same thing), and otherwise try to convince congress or the house to do something, but he can't force them. So when a campaign promise goes unfulfilled or a particular demographic begins feeling disenfranchised, he's all of a sudden inept. This is not about religion preference, or even his experience or lack thereof...Take a deep breath & be honest all you naysayers...OMG we have a non-anglo president! God bless everyone!

    February 3, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  8. Luke2343

    In the book of John, Jesus says he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. He is claiming the absolute Truth of the Universe, that there is one name under heaven whereby people are saved, and that is the Name of Jesus – the only way to relationship with God and the only way to experience eternity in heaven in God's presence. With that said, it would have made sense to see the Name of Jesus mentioned at least once in this article. I don't see it, do you?

    February 3, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  9. DeeP

    If you are a Christian, there would be no need for you to go out and explain that you are. Your actions will speak by themselves.

    This Nation was founded by believers who feared God and they did not have the need of going out and tell the people they were Christians, they lived it and modeled it for the Nation.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Peter E

      By your logic, Bush Jr. was secretly anti-Christian.

      February 3, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • Observer

      Reality: many key forefathers were NOT Christians. They were Deists. Please do research. Read how Thomas Jefferson felt that the Bible was so full of baloney that he edited it down to his own version.

      February 3, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  10. Casey

    How many people actually understand what the word Christian means? I think people use the word too loosely. I'm a Christian, which means I believe in Jesus Christ, and that he died for my sins on the cross. Obama is saved, meaning he acknowledged he was a sinner, believed that Jesus died and rose again from the grave, & accepted Christ into his heart. Check out Romans 10:13. My ancestors are from Africa, and quite possibly were Muslim. But I am a Christian from sun up to sun down, and so is Obama. Nobody questioned G.W. Bush when he said in an interview that he does not believe everything in the Bible. Why wasn"t his faith questioned? The Christians I know believe EVERYTHING in the Bible.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • grannymax

      The bottom line is President Obama is not White. No other president in the history of this country has had their religion questioned like this one - why? Because he is not White. Bottom line. Unfortunately some "Christians" still can't understand that Jesus died for all and God is no respecter of persons. In other words, these people think they can tell Jesus which race is better.

      February 3, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • R. Potter

      Actually this reply is to grannymax....the worst thing is that the racists here do not even acknowledge that President Obama is half white. Racists operate simply on appearance so they get their lynching mentality and their white sheets all up in a wad because he has predominately black features and they would hate him even if he was able to heal the blind, raise their dead relatives, spin straw into gold and gave it to them. The racists and I may be wrong but I think they are all old white rednecks who sit home and post anti-Obama posts all day long. It makes them feel so WHITE that they can attack him and in their defective, inbred minds they are attacking all "Ns" when they attack Obama! I would like to see the demographics of the anti-Obama crowd because in my town they are poor, unhygienic, white trailer trash.

      February 3, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  11. Gaunt

    It is so rare that a situation has a simple, black and white answer. This is one of those cases.

    let us be very clear. If you think Obama is a Muslim, then you are either a racist, or an ignoramus. There are no other options.

    Well, actually, there is one other option, you could be both.

    The level of stupidity required to actually think his 'Christianity' is all some massive conspiracy to 'trick' the American people is beyong comprehension.

    So to repeat: if you think Obama is Muslim, then you are either a Racist or an ignoramus. And if you are reading this and thinking to yourself 'hey, I'm not a racist!' then guess what...

    February 3, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  12. Mattias

    Make Good Friday a federal holiday !!!!!!!!

    February 3, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  13. Walter Graff

    No, food sustains you. And for those brought up Muslim such as you, Allah will save you. But your shift in speeches towards your attempt at re-election inspire the ignorant masses.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • grannymax

      Remember, he only lived in Indonesia for several years. He was raised by White Christians.

      February 3, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  14. Bob

    That's great. Our leaders continue to promote religion (also known as ignorance, arogance, and fear) even if they really aren't religious themselves. I give you two thumbs DOWN on this one, Obama. Doing the right thing is often unpopular but I wish he would have the courage to be HONEST about his views. There are no answers to the tough questions. There are no answers. We should all stop purporting to have them! We need to ACCEPT that we don't know why we're here or whether or not there's anything after death. Accept it! Just live your life and cut out all the B.S.!

    p.s. – Yes. Your religion/cult is pathetic. They all are!

    February 3, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  15. Limbaugh is a liberal

    Oh, the right does believe Obama is a Christian... but only in Reverend Wright stories. Then they tout that Obama has had a lifelong personal relationship with the pastor. Curious that such stories disappeared.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  16. Steve the real one


    from Romans 3 KJV
    1 What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circ-umcision?
    2 Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.
    3 For what if some did not believe ? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect ?
    4 God forbid : yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written , That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged ..

    in short God is true, and all who disagrees or opposes....

    February 3, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  17. Bush Loves Muslims...

    Bush loved muslims more than obama, he held hands with the saudi king numerous times. His father and the muslims have a special relationship.


    February 3, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • grannymax

      The difference is the the Bushes are WHITE. It doesn't matter what PRESIDENT Obama does, whether he's successful or not, there are too many people in our country who still cannot deal with the fact that there is a Black man in the White House. In their eyes, he will never be correct in anything he does. That would destroy their ideas of White supremacy.

      February 3, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  18. Unicorns_And_Leprechauns

    Pretty scary when the man with the nuclear launch codes proclaims his belief in an imaginary friend. And even if you are religious, you have to be afraid of the dangerous sectarian nonsense that arises when he is of one faith and not another.
    And before you get all angry and indignant at the atheist, consider this: Isis, Anubis, Zeus, Thor, Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, jupiter, Pluto, Bacchus, Loki.... We are all atheists with regard to most gods. Some of us just go one god farther.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • william

      I can't think of many great secular leaders, all have had some type of faith. People always point to people of faith as people who love violence. Lets look at leaders that had no religion, Hitler, Stallin, Mao Ze Dung, Saddam Huissein, Pol Pot. All genocidal, people who have no faith and believed some yahoos from the Enlightenment period had all the answers. These people were are all so dangerous because they only had to justify their actions with in their own eyes. They have no code of conduct other then what they created for themselves.

      February 3, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  19. The Truth

    Reality, It is great to see you reading the Bible. Keep up the good reading. I hope you find what it is you long for.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Reality


      An update on reading inside and outside the bible box:

      1. origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482
      New Torah For Modern Minds

      Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

      Such startling propositions – the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years – have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity – until now.

      The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine docu-ment.

      2. Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan se-cts.

      The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hit-ti-tes, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.

      For added "pizz-azz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "fil-icider".

      Current RCC problems:

      Pedo-ph-iliac priests, an all-male, mostly white hierarchy, atonement theology and original sin!!!!

      3. Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

      Current problems:

      Adu-lterous preachers, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology,

      February 3, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  20. rkm63

    HA HA! That's a good one Mr. Marxist, thanks for the laugh! LMAO Go back to guzzling that kool-aid, folks!!!

    February 3, 2011 at 10:43 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.