Obama discusses his Christian faith, chides Republicans in backyard chat

Joe Biden's exhortation to Democrats to "stop whining" isn't the first time administration officials have criticized their own base.
By Anne E. Kornblut and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 28, 2010; 4:07 PM

ALBUQUERQUE - President Obama, speaking to middle-class Americans on Tuesday in his latest round of "backyard chats," opened up to a questioner about his Christian faith, as he touted his administration's record on education and the economy while warning that a Republican victory in upcoming elections would jeopardize progress in both areas.

Speaking to neighborhood residents in the yard of an Albuquerque family, Obama said the Nov. 2 elections "offer a choice on a whole range of different issues." But he said the Republicans' top priority is retaining $700 billion worth of tax breaks to the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, money that "we'd have to borrow . . . because we don't have it" - likely from countries such as China and Saudi Arabia.

He charged that Republicans "don't really have good answers" on how to pay for their economic plans. One of their proposals, he said, is to cut education spending by 20 percent, eliminating about 200,000 Head Start programs and reducing student aid for college for about 8 million students. He urged his listeners to think about "who's going to prioritize our young people" when they go to the polls in November.

In response to a woman who asked him why he is a Christian, Obama also offered some rare personal comments about his faith.

"I'm a Christian by choice," he said, noting that his mother "didn't raise me in the church" and that his family did not attend church every week.

"So I came to my Christian faith later in life," Obama said. "And it was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead - being my brothers' and sisters' keeper, treating others as they would treat me."

He said he also reached an "understanding that . . . Jesus Christ dying for my sins spoke to the humility we all have to have as human beings, that we're sinful and we're flawed and we make mistakes, and that, you know, we achieve salvation through the grace of God."

He continued: "But what we can do, as flawed as we are, is still see God in other people and do our best to help them find . . . their own grace. And so that's what I strive to do. That's what I pray to do every day. I think my public service is part of that effort to express my Christian faith."

Obama emphasized, however, that "as president of the United States, I'm also somebody who deeply believes that part of the bedrock strength of this country is that it embraces people of many faiths and of no faith." While the United States "is still predominantly Christian," he said, "we have Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, and . . . their own path to grace is one that we have to revere and respect as much as our own."

The comments came a month after the Pew Research Center released a poll showing that 18 percent of Americans believe Obama is a Muslim, up from 11 percent who held that view in March 2009. Only 34 percent of those surveyed said Obama is a Christian, down from 48 percent who said that last year. The largest proportion, 43 percent, said they did not know what Obama's religion was.

The White House has sought to counter those views, saying Obama is a Christian who prays every day. But Tuesday's event marked the first time that Obama has spoken publicly in such personal terms about his religion.

Although the gathering was not billed as a political event, Obama repeatedly took the opportunity to criticize the Republican agenda and urge people to back Democrats' priorities at the polls.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company