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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. Bob Smith

    Obama is only as Christian as his voters.

    February 3, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  2. Reality

    Romney believes that the horn-blowing angel Moroni appeared to the con artist Joseph Smith. Not good for someone who wants to be president of any group !!!

    Obama "mouths" that he is Christian i.e. believes in gay Gabriel and war-mongering Michael the Archangel and Satan. BO's support of abortion however vitiates has Christianity as he is the leader of the Immoral Majority who are now the largest voting block in the country. Immoral Majority you ask??

    The 78 million voting "mothers and fathers" of aborted womb babies !!! (2012 -1973 Rowe vs. Wade = 39 years

    39 x 2 million/yr = 78 million. Abortion rate in the USA as per the CDC is one million/yr.

    And the presidential popular vote in 2008? 69,456,897 for pro-abortion/choice BO, 59,934,814 for "pro-life" JM. The population of the Immoral Majority in 2008? ~ 70 million !!!!!!

    February 3, 2012 at 7:01 am |
  3. VIOREL PAMFILE

    I am a 50 years old Romanian and I am sure that we – the Christians – have to go back to the roots of our nature.
    That is the only way!

    February 3, 2012 at 5:49 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      The only way to continue to hold civilization back!! Stop the delusions!!!

      February 3, 2012 at 6:49 am |
    • Mirosal

      Apparently Viorel wants us ALL to revert back to the Dark Ages .. living in crude huts, illiterate, no medicine, no industry, suppressing any and all science that contradic'ts what their moldy 'holy' book says and living in total fear of what men of 'god' tell us what we can or cannot do with eternal suffering hanging over our heads. Welcome to your roots, kid!!

      February 3, 2012 at 6:59 am |
    • Nonimus

      I thought the roots of Christian, i.e. religious, nature was animism.

      February 3, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  4. Bill

    Odd that Obama gets all religious here and not on abortion or sodomy... typical political hypocrisy.

    February 3, 2012 at 4:27 am |
    • Mirosal

      He's guilty of sodomy, but won't admit it ... been married that long, you know he's had to at least TRY to tap that booty once, maybe twice!! lol

      February 3, 2012 at 7:01 am |
    • Lisa C

      This is where religion turns uber-nutty. To be a person of faith means you hold certain values that are true to you and God; your own personal value system. How does that translates into leadership? You lead holding those same values without unduly imposing them on others. Obama believes that marriage is between a man and a woman. But because he's the president of the United States, he's aware that not everyone will hold those same values. He can't force anyone to believe like him, for it does them no good to mimic your faith without being faithful. Have I lost you yet? Christians repent, confess their faith with their mouths, are baptized, and filled with the spirit; as a part of being saved. From that point they 'themselves' are taught to mimic Christ's love for 'all' (come as you are, right?). How can a man who hasn't accepted this faith, be forced to live by it? No one forced Christians to become Christians, right? Mimicking another one's faith does 'save' them, therefore they're not bound by it. But if you're the president, you have to respect an array of different faiths and beliefs; but not necessarily taking part in the actions that are against your beliefs.

      February 3, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  5. erussell

    Bright's !!!!!!!!!! Seriously you Athiest's call yourselves Brights now. More like Brights disease. You guys would call yourself something that causes testicular pain. That's the laimest, Nerdiest thing ive ever heard. So if your Agnostic are you a light bright? HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 3, 2012 at 3:12 am |
    • Hear This

      erussell,

      You do not even know what The Brights are... and you do not know how to spell, nor do you write very well.

      February 3, 2012 at 4:41 am |
    • erussell

      Well I guess i'm not a bright then am I you pantie waste monkey boy.

      February 3, 2012 at 6:00 am |
  6. JC Copeland

    It is extremely hard for our President to run a country of such diversity and yet play the violin for each and every special interest group that steps upon his welcome mat. As Obama continues to rely upon Jesus' teachings for who to tax, who not to tax, who to support and who not to support, he dilutes his power as President and instead becomes a figurehead for special interest groups.....Jesus, according to scripture, taught there was no difference between Jew or Gentile, freeman or slave, etc. That is what our country was formed upon. One could say that Obama should treat the liberal press just as Jesus did the moneychangers and throw them out of the temple (country) as they really do less to support our nation thsan they do to try and reduce it to items of curiosity. If Obama is to take on the persona of Jesus, he needs to divorce himself from providing extra services to those who his administration enables and instead empower those groups to stand on their own two feet.

    February 3, 2012 at 2:55 am |
  7. Peace2All

    @BUCKY BALL

    Sent you 2 emails, dude... Didn't you get them...?

    Peace...

    February 3, 2012 at 2:43 am |
  8. 4commonsensenow

    It's hard when you realize that maybe people just won't come together on an issue through plan old, down fashioned spirtual connection to God, mother earth and man/woman. It's hard when you realize that maybe the next place you are going won't be so much better than what you have or have not now materially. It breaks my heart, when I see two people part, that have love and live in love. It crushes my soul to watch basic needs of every human not being met. In reality, if for just a moment, I could get everyone on the same page, I could change the world.

    February 3, 2012 at 2:36 am |
  9. Josh

    This cable TV channel is racist...

    February 3, 2012 at 1:50 am |
  10. Zeke

    Wow, what a snide and snarky article. It amounts to a handful of cheap shots. Seems more befitting some goofy blog rather than a supposedly professional news organization.

    February 3, 2012 at 1:47 am |
  11. ron

    When he finds his approval rating under 50%, he amazingly find Jesus.

    Won't be long til he finds the door...beyond which there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth...

    February 3, 2012 at 1:36 am |
  12. Peggy

    I'm an Evangelical who has always liked Obama, and I have intended to vote for him all along, and this confirms it. To me, it seems clear that at this point in history, Jesus would be a Democrat, as it's a no-brainer that the Kingdom of Heaven doesn't run like the present-day USA. Fairness has always been God's forte.

    February 3, 2012 at 1:14 am |
    • Patriarchae

      Fairness has always been god's forte? I'm not even going to bother explaining what a stupid and disgusting statement that is, considering the situation of most in the world.

      February 3, 2012 at 2:49 am |
    • jgeddie

      I am also another evangelical who believes Obama is a christian – he shows charity toward all and malice toward none – like Lincoln. What is sad is the hateful people who trash him as they claim they are followers of christ .
      I was a republican until five years and think Jesus would not go for their economics , war mongering , or hatemongering .
      The endless attacks on Obama are vicious , but he remains a gentleman and does not retaliate . I believe he demonstrates
      faith.

      February 3, 2012 at 9:16 am |
  13. Andy

    Why is he all of a sudden coming up with all this Jesus holier than thou stuff? It seems so fake. Bad move!

    February 3, 2012 at 12:53 am |
    • Aaron

      You know, you have a point. The Bible says not to use Jesus to profit themselves. They are called "false teachers"

      February 3, 2012 at 1:32 am |
    • veggiedude

      Actually, I don't see him expressing his faith so much as explaining the truth. We all know Jesus cared for the poor. Show us where Jesus was concerned for the rich. Show me or shut up.

      February 3, 2012 at 1:37 am |
    • truthspeaks

      Andy, who are you to judge another man's walk? Just because he doesn't wear it on his sleeve like Michelle Bachman, Rick Perry, or Ted Haggard doesn't make his faith any less real. More often than not, a person's faith is evident more in the spirit they exude. As Ralph Emerson once said, "Who you are speaks so loudly, I can't hear what you're saying."

      Neither President Obama nor myself believe that God would endorse specific pieces of legislation. Nevertheless, there exist biblical principles that align with some legislation more than others. Among these biblical principles is to serve those most in need:

      "We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up." Romans 15:1-2

      Obama/Biden 2012

      February 3, 2012 at 3:21 am |
  14. Descarado

    Read these posts! Even the Obamatron zombies are belly-laughing because of Obama's transparent political B.S.

    February 3, 2012 at 12:48 am |
    • Dave

      Descarado: Check this out: I support our president on most issues.. Im not a zombi and YOU should avoid
      labeling people you don't know.. Notice, Im not calling all the conservatives a bunch of "sheep" Would you like that??

      February 3, 2012 at 1:12 am |
    • jgeddie

      Obama's faith seems real to me and I think he understands the message of Jesus- maybe not "your particular hateful brand".

      February 3, 2012 at 9:20 am |
    • StuckInTX

      Dave: – you should read some of his other posts on other topics. Bashes the POTUS at any opportunity. No issues here with reasonable discussion on any topic, but this smacks of TROLL !

      February 3, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  15. finergilr

    Reps are such hypocrites, when a REAL

    February 3, 2012 at 12:47 am |
  16. Ron Lane

    This is exactly why our forefathers took great pains to ensure separation of Church and State. There is no room in government for religion Christian, Muslim, Buddhist... The mere survival of our great nation depends on this; separation of church and state.

    February 3, 2012 at 12:45 am |
    • A Universe 4 Free....1+(-1) = 0

      The fact that we are even talking about this crap, is a measure of how far we have fallen. Do ANY of the best of the Western Democracies in Northern Europe EVER talk about ANY of this nonsense in their national debates ?

      February 3, 2012 at 1:35 am |
    • veggiedude

      Let me start out by saying I'm an atheist, so I agree with your sentiment. However, having read the article, its all about loving your neighbour and caring for the poor – these are values found not only in many religions, but is part of secular humanism too. As an atheist, I applaud the message.

      February 3, 2012 at 1:45 am |
  17. Barrie

    Where in Obama's Muslim faith does it say that it's OK to rob the rich for everything you want?

    February 3, 2012 at 12:37 am |
    • veggiedude

      He's a christian, not a muslim. If you do't know this by now, then I guess you were home schooled by a white trash mother.

      February 3, 2012 at 1:38 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      Apparently Barrie believes in conspiracy theories...I'm not sure how much more proof people like this require...the president is indeed christian and just because he doesn't wear it on his sleeve and bring it in to politics the republitards and their supporters alike use the no true scotsman fallacy against. Ignorant fools!

      February 3, 2012 at 4:52 am |
    • Mirosal

      Barrie probably thinks that the CIA killed Kennedy, the moon landing is a hoax, and the movie "Men in Black" is really a docu'mentary lol

      February 3, 2012 at 4:57 am |
    • jgeddie

      Your remark displays your ignorance . There is no intent to rob anyone, and when wealthy people have tax loopholes that they have rigged in the system – they rob even fools like you !

      February 3, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • house

      It's actually about christian faith were it states let Cesar/Nero have it the $$$–Obama 2012

      February 6, 2012 at 4:10 am |
  18. Debbie

    I don't want government in my religion and I don't want religion in my government.

    February 3, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  19. Bob

    It's bad enough when religious politicians use religion to justify their political decisions. But it's even worse when unreligious politicians use religion to try to manipulate public opinion.

    February 3, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  20. santonin

    If Obama actually belived the religious nonsense, we would really be in trouble then!

    February 2, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
    • George Garrett

      II agree, you can't believe a thing he says.

      February 3, 2012 at 1:03 am |
    • A Universe 4 Free....1+(-1) = 0

      GG,
      like you can believe anything Romney or Newt G say.

      February 3, 2012 at 1:37 am |
    • veggiedude

      I'm an atheist, so I agree with your sentiment. However, having read the article, its all about loving your neighbour and caring for the poor – these are values found not only in many religions, but is part of secular humanism too. As an atheist, I applaud the message.

      February 3, 2012 at 1:42 am |
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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.