February 2nd, 2012
02:25 PM ET

Obama reflects on faith in prayer breakfast speech

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Washington (CNN) -
President Barack Obama spoke of his personal faith Thursday as he delivered remarks for the third year in a row at the National Prayer Breakfast.

In addition, Obama used the platform in front of religious dignitaries and politicians to express his vision of how faith and government intersect and can work together.

After his remarks, the president received a standing ovation from the crowd at the Washington Hilton, the White House pool reporter said. Journalists are barred from attending the breakfast with the exception of the White House pool, which follows the president. CNN requested and was denied access to the event.

The breakfast has hosted every president since Eisenhower.

Obama, who, as one administration official said, identifies as a "committed Christian who spends a lot of time working on his Christian walk," noted in the speech that he prays daily.

"I wake up each morning and I say a brief prayer, and I spend a little time in scripture and devotion," he said.

CNN's Belief Blog – all the faith angles to the day's top stories

Since he has been in Washington, Obama has not formally joined a church. For nearly 20 years he was a member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. The president and his staff have noted the logistical difficulties of a sitting president attending services, but he has visited several churches in Washington and worshiped privately with his family at Camp David.

The president also spoke of praying with Billy Graham, and said, "I have fallen on my knees with great regularity since that moment."

In his speech Obama made specific mention of his calls, visits and prayers with Joel Hunter, a megachurch pastor from Florida, and with Bishop T.D. Jakes, a megachurch pastor from Texas.

"From time to time, friends of mine, some of who are here today, friends like Joel Hunter or T.D. Jakes, will come by the Oval Office or they'll call on the phone or they'll send me an e-mail, and we'll pray together, and they'll pray for me and my family, and for our country," he said.

Hunter, who was at the breakfast, said Obama hit the right notes with the crowd.

"The president made a positive and practical application of Jesus' command to love our neighbors," Hunter said. "He connected that moral mandate to the economic and political issues we face, and he let us know that, for him, that common good compassion is an extension of his personal Christian faith."

Jakes was not at the breakfast but, when reached by phone, said he had read a transcript of the speech.

"Anytime we can have an open dialogue about faith on the highest level it is a very good thing," he said.

Jakes said he had "the privilege to pray" with the past three U.S. presidents, and noted of his time praying with Obama, "It's no different from any other president. My plan was to provide prayerful support regardless of his policies, some of which I agree with and some of which I don't."

An administration official speaking on background said Obama viewed the speech as chance to explain his personal faith practices and to show "his desire to step in the gap for those who are vulnerable."

The president also highlighted faith efforts that are particularly of importance to young evangelicals, a voting block he courted heavily in 2008. The Passion Conference, a massive gathering of young Christians that this year took aim at human trafficking, got a nod from the podium, as did other groups with targeted antipoverty efforts.

CNN Money – Obama: Jesus would back my tax-the-rich policy

Others in the room recounted the ease with which the president presented his case for the integration of his faith and policy.

"Each time that I have listened to the president reflect on his Christian faith, I'm struck by the quiet poignancy of his words as he speaks from the heart," said Stephen Schneck, a professor from Catholic University who has advised the administration in the past.

"This morning we all felt this. Most moving for me was the way he spoke of his concern for the poor and marginalized and the personal responsibility he felt to serve these 'least among us,' a responsibility that the president grounded in his daily prayer life," Schneck told CNN. But he added, "Of course, that doesn't change that he made a serious mistake with the HHS mandate."

Is Obama losing the Catholic vote?

The administration was still doing damage control over a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services policy that forces religious schools and institutions that offer employee health insurance to cover FDA-approved contraceptives. The move has angered many Catholics in particular, who oppose the use of contraceptives on religious grounds, and view the policy as an intrusion on their religious liberty.

Hunter, who has been a strong vocal supporter of the president, noted that while there was no rancor in the room about the HHS decision, "there is real disappointment with that decision."

Obama did not directly address the issue in his speech but did allude to it when describing his guiding principles on coming to tough policy decisions.

"We know that part of living in a pluralistic society means that our personal religious beliefs alone can't dictate our response to every challenge we face," he said. He added later, "Our goal should not be to declare our policies as biblical. It is God who is infallible, not us. Michelle reminds me of this often."

White House stands firm on contraception policy

Not long after the president's speech, the White House sent a fact sheet to reporters from Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. It laid out a point-by-point articulation of the HHS policy, making specific mention that churches will be exempt from the policy and noting Catholic opposition by highlighting the work they have done together.

"The administration has provided substantial resources to Catholic organizations over the past three years, in addition to numerous non-financial partnerships to promote healthy communities and serve the common good," the statement from Munoz reads. "This work includes partnerships with Catholic social service agencies on local responsible fatherhood programs and international anti-hunger/food assistance programs. We look forward to continuing this important work."

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, also spoke at the prayer breakfast about the complexity of the balance between religion and governing.

"I think we all had two different experiences of what can happen when we bring faith into the world of government and business," he said. "Sometimes it creates conflict, and when we look at our planet's history, even wars. But in other times - more often, really - true faith can be a reconciling force of amazing power, a power that can make an entire society better."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Belief • Bible • Billy Graham • Christianity • Church and state • DC • Politics • United States

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soundoff (300 Responses)
  1. Descarado

    The only connection Obama might have to Jesus would be through Judas Iscariot. This fool is a delusional phony who will tell any lie to eek out a couple of votes. This evil sock puppet must laugh himself to sleep at night over all the fools who worship his putrid stink..

    February 2, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  2. santonin

    Atheism is like tasting freedom after being a slave. You just can't ever go back to some imbecility.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
    • truth

      Broken record

      February 2, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
  3. susanna king

    This idea wasnt inspired by Jesus rather Obama's need to be relected for a second term and his greed. Any money from soking the rich the poor in this country will never see

    February 2, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      Obama wants what is right you dolt!!! Why the hell should the rich not be taxed higher when they can afford it? Maybe you have slept through the recent fiasco but anyone who doesn't have their stuck up the churches ass or in their buybull knows that what is happening isn't due to him attempting to tax the rich but more so due to the republitards putting his back against a wall every step of the way...they are the ones screwing your country in to the ground, not Obama.

      February 3, 2012 at 4:56 am |
  4. Lucy

    Air don't make a sound or noise but me know it's there ... when a brave man takes a stand the spins of others are stiffened...intoxicated with unbroken success we have to come to self sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming a preserving grace, too proud to pray to the god that made us.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
  5. santonin

    Obama knows there's no god but, to be a politician and a president, you have to be a great actor. That's why Reagan did so well in politics. Religion it's not a belief, it's an inevitable, rational conclusion. It's just as strong a conclusion as saying that the earth is round, gravity acts down, the earth revolves around the sun, and the earth is billions of years old. If one claims otherwise, he's an uneducated fool.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
    • santonin

      OOOOPs! Scratch "religion, I meant "disbelief in god".

      February 2, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
    • John

      I think it's a little disingenuous when your guy makes it pretty clear over and over that he's a christian and believes in God and Jesus, to say he doesn't just because you'd have to admit that all the mocking you've done of republicans for their belief in God applies to your hero as well.

      February 3, 2012 at 12:50 am |
    • truefreedom

      My concern is not your political views, no man is capable of pleasing everyone all of the time. That is simply a fact. However, my concern is your evident desire to shame Obama as you shame yourself in a public forum. “Obama knows there's no god” if that is your view, keep it right there. Are you in his thoughts, in his room while he speaks, eats, prays? There is only one that is omnipresent. He is the One that allows everyone to be set free once they call on His name; JESUS. I pray that one day, like many other atheists, you will come to realize that you are the slave; satan dangles you like a puppeteer. You think you are in control of your life but you are not and until you accept the one that voluntarily shed blood for you, you will go through life without fulfilling your true purpose of anything, except what the enemy of man dictates to your heart. Well I take some of that back, God will use anyone to bless someone else whether you believe in Him or not. Your screen name alone tells me the enemy has control of your thinking. I would rather believe and live a life full of hope and faith then not because in the end, if I am wrong (and I’m not) and there is no eternity, then I have nothing to lose, but if I am right, I have much to gain, eternity; versus being on the other end realizing once it’s too late that the Holy Bible was true and I rejected it, and now I have been rejected by Christ who loved me even in my rejection of Him but I never believed it. It’s like going out to sea without life jackets on a boat. A serious gamble with harsh consequences if something out of your control happens.
      May every Christian on this board lift you in prayer as that is what we are called to do. I hope you find healing in whatever life experience(s) turned you away. Sadly I realize you could have been raised as an atheist, but many turn due to hurts and lack of answers….people hurt each other because God gives a free will to do, say, etc. what we want. He did not create us to be robots; there is no love in that. We are to help each other, love each other and be compassionate towards each other, we chose not to. We choose to rap, kill, lie, cheat and molest innocent children. Yes He can shut it down at any time, but by Grace, you have more time…to forgive, love more/better, heal, ACCEPT HIM to help you do all those things. You can’t heal by yourself; much is against you which is why there is so much turmoil. The enemy of God, which you are when you reject Him, despises us and does all he can to keep you near. Sadly Hollywood makes this all hard to believe, but it is reality.

      February 3, 2012 at 1:21 am |
    • house

      so if you were born during the time the world was flat–you would have believed it because science told you–sounds like draptomania syndrome...

      February 6, 2012 at 4:02 am |
  6. Osamas Pajamas

    By the way, I'm an atheist, so I have no dog in this fight - except that I don't like OhBummer - I think that he is anti-American.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • santonin

      Why? He got caught up in a bad business cycle, and he doesn't know what to do about it. I don't know anybody that would. But "anti-American"?

      February 2, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
  7. Osamas Pajamas

    Let's see. OhBummer's pastor for twenty-something years - the "Reverend" Jeremiah Wright - was an apostate ex-Muslim now claiming to be a Christian, whizzing poison all over America. Like Wright, OhBummer could be employing some fatwa-approved / doctrine-approved subterfuge -–

    Taqiyya - Saying something that isn't true

    Kitman - Lying by omission



    February 2, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  8. jgeddie

    I wholeheartedly believe Obama gets the message of Jesus and is a Christian. It appears that many people here want to believe that he is not because he does not ascribe to every tenet of their own belief system . As far as I am concerned , he has been a good example of a christian, but a lot of evangelicals are narrowminded and expect him to pander to the right wing dogma and rhetoric .

    His words indicate that he , like Lincoln, gets the essential message of Christianity . And he certainly lives by this principle : "with charity toward all and malice toward none " ( Lincoln ) as he does NOT EVER demonize those who disagree with him.

    Unfortunately , there are far too many evangelicals spewing nasty hate rhetoric they belive is righteous .

    God bless our President !

    February 2, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
    • santonin

      His step father was an atheist. It's like tasting freedom after being a slave. You just can't ever go back to some stupidity.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  9. Reality

    Obama rode to the Blood-Red House on the backs of 35+million aborted womb-babies!!! And he has the audacity to say he is a Christian!!!!

    February 2, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • santonin

      He knows that he's dealing with religious half-wits. They should be easy to fool.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
  10. Iqbal khan


    February 2, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • Reality

      Islam gives women almost no rights and treats them like fodder for the male species as so bluntly noted by Aya-an Hi-rsi Ali in her autobiography, In-fidel.

      "Thus begins the extraordinary story of a woman born into a family of desert nomads, circu-mcised as a child, educated by radical imams in Kenya and Saudi Arabia, taught to believe that if she uncovered her hair, terrible tragedies would ensue. It's a story that, with a few different twists, really could have led to a wretched life and a lonely death, as her grandmother warned. But instead, Hi-rsi Ali escaped – and transformed herself into an internationally renowned spokeswoman for the rights of Muslim women."
      ref: Washington Post book review.

      some excerpts:

      "Some of the Saudi women in our neighborhood were regularly be-aten by their husbands. You could hear them at night. Their scre-ams resounded across the courtyards. "No! Please! By Allah!"

      "The Pakistanis were Muslims but they too had cas-tes. The Untou-chable girls, both Indian and Pakistani were darker skin. The others would not play with them because they were unt-ouchable. We thought that was funny because of course they were tou-chable: we to-uched them see? but also hor-rifying to think of yourself as un-touchable, des-picable to the human race."

      "Between October 2004 and May 2005, eleven Muslim girls were ki-lled by their families in just two regions (there are 20 regions in Holland). After that, people stopped telling me I was exa-ggerating."

      "The kind on thinking I saw in Saudi Arabia and among the Brotherhood of Kenya and Som-alia, is incompatible with human rights and liberal values. It preserves the feu-dal mind-set based on tr-ibal concepts of honor and shame. It rests on self-deception, hypro-cricy, and double standards. It relies on the technologial advances of the West while pretending to ignore their origin in Western thinking. This mind-set makes the transition to modernity very painful for all who practice Islam".

      February 2, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
  11. darrell

    many say he hasn't been to church but at least he is in his bible hopefully developing his own relationship with, GOD.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • santonin

      It's impossible to go back to be religious if one is an atheist. It just can't be done.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
  12. santonin

    Obama is an atheist, but he plays a good game. He knows he's dealing with religious numbskulls. People need to grow up and stop giving in to religious hallucinations. You can't hide from reality, irregardless of what illusory nonsense you believe. Reality happens! To accept religion as something of value or deserving of any respect is to condone stupidity. It's like giving credence to someone who claims that the Earth is flat.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
  13. darrell

    he didn't say the verse correctly, "for unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required. if this is not a good thing i hope he is forgiven. may GOD bless you mr. president, may GOD bless America.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
  14. darrell

    he should've fought harder for the public option.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
    • RealityCheck

      That's hard to do when 100% of what he is doing is opposed by the American people.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
  15. streetsmt

    His mother was agnostic at worst if not totally athiest. His father wasn't around to have any influence.
    I still think he is a closet atheist putting up this ruse to keep himself electable.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • Manuel J.

      I agree 100%!!! If he was a person of faith, he would not advocate for abortion and would not have had symbols of Catholicism covered during his tour of Notre Dame University. No, he's not even Muslim. To be frank, he does not believe in God.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:02 pm |

    • At least his ruse is recognition that he represents a Christian nation.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
    • k19170

      @streetsmt Actually, he mentioned in this morning's speech that he was raised as an atheist. He explained his unexpected path toward Christ, which continues, however imperfectly (because as humans, we have all fallen short in the eyes of God).
      I thought the speech was heart-felt and poignant, full of sincere love. It was not a policy speech. And besides, we can disagree with a policy but STILL show our love for him, as a fellow child of God.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
  16. Tony

    Don't be mad at me, this is my maker speaking... As Jesus once said regarding false prophets:

    Matthew 7:15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

    Matt 24:11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many .

    Matt 24:24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.

    Muhammad was a false prophet, period... there is not one shred of prophecy in the Quran... just a way of life created by this dude in his own mind. The Muslims wanted so bad to believe because they felt dissed that God chose the Jews as his people.

    For those that are atheist... Have you ever taken the time to prove it wrong? Anyone can just say it's a made up story.... but when you examine the scriptures & how far back they were written and then the prophecy that takes place after 100's of years... How do you explain this?

    February 2, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
    • OrangeW3dge

      Jesus didn't say that, King James did

      February 2, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • The Phist

      And you forgot to mention that jesus told his followers of his time that he would return before they died. You know, that whole "second coming" thing that the entire cult of christianity hinges on? Yeah, that. If you haven't noticed yet, jesus never showed up. He isn't going to show up either. He's dead.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • Manuel J.

      @ Phist, Jesus said that we will not know when He will come. In short, He is not going to have billboards and TV ads saying, "I'll be in town next week at 3 p.m."!

      February 2, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • Tony

      Once again... those that cannot read or do not take the time to read, will have problems with the scripture... This is for "The Phist" ... The bible states when Israel becomes a country again in a single day... "This generation will not pass...." ... Well let me tell you... Israel became a country in a single day on 05/14/1948... I have read a generation in the Bible covers 70-80 years... SO, THE PHIST... we are still on schedule & the "sign of the times" is getting more vicious everyday... I will stop believing on 1/1/2040 when I am 68 years old.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
  17. cd

    Don't EVER use the Lord's name and 0bama in the same sentence,0bama has watch over and helped pay for 4.5 MILLION un-born Children which leaves him second ONLY to H!tler as the worst murder in the H!STORY of the World!

    February 2, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • The Phist

      You can type out hitler's name numbnuts. It's ok.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      4.5 billion children who might have died anyways due to neglect and the inability to be supported or due to parents who would rather pray for them then get them medical attention...of course Obama is wrong-NOT!!! You're just ignorant and think you have a say (when you don't) over what a woman does with her body!!! Go look in a mirror and see exactly what your republitards are doing to your country...you should be at a single 'a' credit rating by the time those dolts are done with you!

      February 3, 2012 at 6:46 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      btw: you forgot to mention your god who allows numerous miscarriages every year...not much different in the grand scheme of things...try reading Gregory Paul's article called Holocaust of the Children-it might actually wake you up or make you fall to your knee's crying in useless prayer

      February 3, 2012 at 6:48 am |
  18. larry5

    This guy has a lot of brass.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
  19. j harrison

    we are supposed to have a separation of church and state. can't believe that liberals are in favor of this guy. obviously he is catering to the evangelical christians. Mr. Obama have you no shame

    February 2, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
    • Observer

      He appears to be asleep.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
    • OrangeW3dge

      apparently you weren't listening four years ago. Obama has always included "God" in his campaign, and his personal life as well

      February 2, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
  20. OrangeW3dge

    Some 80% of Americans believe in some God-based religion. You're not going to change that, even if you want to. So saying that people who believe in God are insane would not be accurate by any means. They are considered to be the norm.
    The issue more about whether one man's God is good enough to be recognised by another, and that does seem to be the case in most instances. So, indeed, the majority of Americans agree on something. Stick around another 100 years, it may change, but in today's world it is something you will just have to deal with. You will never get anything done unless you are willing to talk about it (without the insults).

    February 2, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • The Phist

      Nothing gets done when you're praying for it to happen. Since, you know, it just means people are talking to themselves.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • OrangeW3dge

      Sometimes we need a good talking to, to get things right in our minds. Doesn't matter who it is so much as, like dreaming, that it helps. Call it God, call it Nature, what works is our human mind going through it's paces. In that way it does work. Telekinesis? I can't prove that does..

      February 2, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • Pinewalker

      riddle me this....if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it really make a sound?

      February 2, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
    • OrangeW3dge

      It, likely, does if there is a traffic cam in the area with a microphone on it...

      February 2, 2012 at 10:32 pm |

    • It makes a sound but no noise.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
    • The Phist

      I haven't climbed a tree in years.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
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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.