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. Sara

    This is the United States of America, You can be what you want, you can believe in your own God or none at all. What is the problem. I just don't get it.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • minasaywhat

      I agree, but unfortunately he would never stand a chance to get elected if he didn't try to prove his Christian faith. It's bananas.

      February 3, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  2. Abou Bakarr Jalloh

    I hate to comment on most of this crazy and ignorant comment about President Obama being a Muslim because of his name and family background....How can you determine someone's failth because of his name and all these crazy and ignorant reasons. My name is a muslim name and I am a very strong Christian....People wake up.....His stance on abortion....why would he be muslim because of his abortion stance? Why don't we question the religious faith of most Democrats? All this crap is driven by this guy's skin color....Accept this he is the President of the US and he made history. Most of you cannot stomach the fact that a Black Man with a muslim name that has strong ties to Africa can become a President of the US. Get over it...

    February 3, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • grannymax

      THE TRUTH!

      February 3, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  3. Observer

    This is all much ado about nothing. It is the job that the president does that matters and his religion is his business. Probably the most religious president we've had was Jimmy Carter. Do most Christians praise the job he did as president?

    People need to wake up and realize that there are many facets to everyone and we should recognize that they should be kept separate.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  4. nedu

    I humbly say you come across as passionately convinced of your opinion, but desperately ignorant of what actually happened in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I have a feeling you have not read the entire Christian Bible before. Since you like to quote the Bible, I find it highly pleasurable to give you one more to quote. Luke 24:1- 53 Enjoy!

    February 3, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  5. Jean

    Margo, your insistence that Obama is a Muslim is so incredibly ridiculous that I ask you to prove it. Go ahead! Astound the world with your special knowledge. Bet you can't!

    February 3, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  6. sue

    "The White House believes that some of the ignorance about the president's faith is the result of a misinformation campaign against him.". DUH!!!! Do you think????

    February 3, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  7. amy

    Too bad Obama didn't inform the prayer breakfast that the hard work of one accomplishes more than the prayer of millions.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  8. Silas Scarborough

    Give him a TV show and call him a televangelist. Send money. His kids need shoes.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  9. hanna

    What a religious man!!!! I hope leaders never talk religious..they might make ,many change their believes..most of what they saying....never do it...this a new example of a person with strong believes then proof completely opposite.. if people believes you now, history will say some else. watch your words...

    February 3, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  10. josh in florida

    Our Lady of Kibeho, Queen of Africa, Mother of the Word, Daughter of David Will indeed Pray for you if you request prayer ....so that we all may be worthy of the promises of her son Jesus Christ, the messiah. This is for muslims , christians & jews. Her message in Kibeho was for the world not just catholic christians either. People need to learn to forgive each other or we risk renailing her son to the cross again and again

    "If I come to you its because you needed it"
    Our Lady of Kibeho
    remember she also appeared in cairo recently albeit not recognized by the vatican, yet both muslims and christians were in agreement over the vision.
    Our Lady of Kibeho

    February 3, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  11. Harry Ball

    I'll be glad when presidents can stop pretending to believe in god to satisfy religious people. I don't think Obama believes in god one bit and I'm fine with that. I just wish he'd stop pretending.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:00 am |


    February 3, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Independant

      Well, once the Rebublicans take hold again, that's exactly what you will get. No one seems to remeber the price of gas, bread, meat and milk anytime the Republicans are in charge. It's their trickly way of taxing you when you think they're not.

      February 3, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  13. lee s

    religion has no place in politics. Religion is a personal interest that should be kept to ones self. NO ONE CARES that you believe in whatever you have lead yourself to believe is true.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  14. dave Richman

    There appears to be no limit to the things Obama will claim, in order to be re-elected. The very idea that someone with true faith would set in Reverend WhatsHisName's church for 20 years and listen to hate sermons, is on its face an affront to logic and common sense.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  15. Darth Cheney

    Quick! Call the idiot police!

    February 3, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  16. Joe

    Obama: Christian faith sustains me and I want to pretend I'm a christian because I need to hide my Muslim beliefs or I won't get elected in 2012...

    February 3, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • Independant

      Joe, You are an ignorant fool.

      February 3, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  17. j...

    I know for one that I am sick to death of this religious garbage being used by the government to blind the mindless masses... all of our most historical political figures all had the same in common.... They all said that religion had no place in government and the separation of church and state were best for a prosperous nation.... I am not opposed to religion but I do have a problem with using it as a tool of control and censorship.....

    February 3, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  18. annie s

    I'd be a lot happier if he'd keep religion out of this.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  19. Shutupobama

    Blah blah blah. He'll say anything to get his approval ratings up. He's not a Christian or a Muslim. He's a politician and a tool.

    February 3, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  20. TBates

    It's hard for many (including myself) to beleive that a person who supports partial birth abortion can be a Christain

    February 3, 2011 at 10:55 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.