Obama calls his Christian faith 'a sustaining force' in prayer breakfast speech

President Barack Obama says he prays regularly and that he and his wife, Michelle, aren't bothered when they "hear our faith questioned from time to time." (Feb. 3)
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 3, 2011; 12:37 PM

President Obama called his Christian faith "a sustaining force" in his life in an unusual speech Thursday at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, where he acknowledged persistent questions about his religion and offered perhaps his most detailed comments about his spiritual beliefs and practices.

Obama, who has faced a persistent number of Americans who mistakenly believe that he is a Muslim as well as questions about why he only occasionally attends church, described how he "came to know Jesus Christ for myself and embrace him as my Lord and savior."

He acknowledged questions about his faith.

"My Christian faith, then, has been a sustaining force for me over these last few years, all the more so when Michelle and I hear our faith questioned from time to time," he said to a crowd of about 4,000 at the Washington Hilton hotel. "We are reminded that ultimately what matters is not what other people say about us, but whether we're being true to our conscience and true to our God. 'Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you, as well.' "

NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), seriously injured during the Tucson shooting rampage last month, also spoke briefly at the breakfast and gave the closing prayer.

The National Prayer Breakfast is a decades-old Washington event attended by members of Congress who are in prayer groups, as well as faith activists and professionals from across the spectrum. Presidents have been addressing the largely evangelical group each year since 1953.

Obama spoke frequently of his Christianity as both a candidate and a senator, but since becoming president his lack of public worship service attendance has become a matter of some attention.

Some high-profile religious conservatives have raised the question, while some religious progressives have criticized Obama for not framing his policy priorities through a religious lens. The president's supporters have noted that President Bush did not attend church regularly while in office either.

It's unclear whether - or how - Obama's handling of the subject affects his political standing, as the last several elections have shown a strong divide on voting regardless of the candidates: people who attend church more frequently, particularly evangelical Christians, tend to back Republicans, while Democrats have more support among voters who rarely attend services.

Meanwhile, many other Americans have bristled at the idea that America's leader needs to have a religious faith, or a faith of a particular kind. They question why the president and Congress would gather at such a high-profile religious event. Obama made clear Thursday he's not in that camp.

"For almost 60 years, going back to President Eisenhower, this gathering has been attended by our president. It's a tradition that I'm proud to uphold, not only as a fellow believer, but as an elected leader whose entry into public service was actually through the church."

The president spoke Thursday about his prayers.

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