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In his own words: President Obama on faith

U.S. President Barack Obama bows his head in prayer as he attends the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington on Feb. 4, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (RNS) Over his two terms, President Obama addressed his personal faith in prayer breakfasts and holiday statements and cited people of faith — and of no faith — on other occasions. Here is a sampling:

2009: Inaugural address

“For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers. … To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.”

2010: National Prayer Breakfast

“Empowered by faith, consistently, prayerfully, we need to find our way back to civility. That begins with stepping out of our comfort zones in an effort to bridge divisions. We see that in many conservative pastors who are helping lead the way to fix our broken immigration system. … We see it in the increasing recognition among progressives that government can’t solve all of our problems, and that talking about values like responsible fatherhood and healthy marriage are integral to any anti-poverty agenda.”

2011: Easter Prayer Breakfast

“This magnificent grace, this expansive grace, this ‘Amazing Grace’ calls me to reflect. And it calls me to pray. It calls me to ask God for forgiveness for the times that I’ve not shown grace to others, those times that I’ve fallen short.”


RELATED: Obama at last prayer breakfast: ‘We heal hatred with love’


2012: On shift in his and the first lady’s views on same-sex marriage

“We are both practicing Christians, and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others, but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the golden rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.”

2013: After recent trip to the Holy Land, including a stop at the Church of the Nativity

“I was reminded that while our time on Earth is fleeting, he is eternal. His life, his lessons live on in our hearts and, most importantly, in our actions. When we tend to the sick, when we console those in pain, when we sacrifice for those in need, wherever and whenever we are there to give comfort and to guide and to love, then Christ is with us.”

2014: After the shooting deaths at two Jewish facilities in Kansas

“We have to keep coming together across faiths to combat the ignorance and intolerance, including anti-Semitism that can lead to hatred and to violence, because we’re all children of God. We’re all made in his image, all worthy of his love and dignity. And we see what happens around the world when this kind of religious-based or tinged violence can rear its ugly head. It’s got no place in our society.”

2015: Eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

“Our pain cuts that much deeper because it happened in a church. The church is and always has been the center of African-American life, a place to call our own in a too often hostile world, a sanctuary from so many hardships. … That’s what the black church means. Our beating heart. The place where our dignity as a people is inviolate.”


RELATED: Photo Gallery: Easter prayer breakfast at the White House


2016: Final Easter Prayer Breakfast

“(O)ur faith changes us. I know it’s changed me,” he said. “It renews in us a sense of possibility. It allows us to believe that although we are all sinners, and that at times we will falter, there’s always the possibility of redemption. Every once in a while, we might get something right, we might do some good.”

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

18 Comments

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  • “We are both practicing Christians, and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others, but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the golden rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.”

    Barack Obama will forever be remembered as the president whose own fanatical crusade led to the unprecedented national evil of legalized gay marriage, coast-to-coast. The blame is not all on him, no no, but he WAS the guy who openly promised in 2012 that he would successfully push this one specific national curse all the way to the Supreme Court. Indeed, he totally kept his promise.

    Our nation sits in clear danger of divine judgment. The kind you can’t vote your way out of, the kind you can’t spin your way out of, the kind you can’t even “Trump” your way out of. We’re in trouble.

    Which brings us to Obama’s words. Notice that they do NOT answer the questions at hand.
    Why did Obama, a “professing Christian”, do such a toxic, anti-Biblical shift regarding God and marriage? Why did he and Michelle embrace such a corrosive anti-God sin as legalized gay marriage? Why did Obama abandon the great Bible promises of 1 Cor.10:13 and 1 Cor. 6:9-11? Think it over.

  • Anti-Biblical?

    It was against the Bible when Western Civilisation declined to slaughter witches, in flagrant opposition to Exodus 22:18.

    It was against the Bible when Western Civilisation banned slavery, in clear opposition to Ephesians 6:5, which commands slaves to obey their masters.

    It was arguably against the Bible when Western Civilisation allowed remarriage after divorce. Mark 10:2-12 condemns marriage after divorce.

    These are only a few examples of when Western Civilisation rejected Biblical texts or teachings.

  • Yes, anti-Biblical. What Obama did was clearly anti-Biblical.

    Absolutely nowhere — not one text, not even slightly — can you find any Biblical support for legalized homosexual/lesbian marriage. The Bible totally opposes it.

  • I think it would be more accurate to say that the Bible doesn’t say anything about same sex marriage. There are texts that explicitly condemn remarriage after divorce. There is a text that commands the slaughter of witches. There are multiple texts that condone or accept slavery. And there are certainly texts that condemn sexual contact between males. However, when it comes to same sex marriage, that would have been unimaginable to the biblical authors.

  • I think it’s clear now that the Bible is not silent. The Bible is totally opposed to gay marriage. In fact, the Bible makes clear that marriage itself, God’s invention, is exclusively gender-complementarian (strictly just a man and a woman). Even Jesus said so in Matt. 19:4-6, and He directly quoted Genesis on it.

    So marriage was never designed or created or defined for ANY homosexual stuff, (marriage can exist only between a man and a woman). And the Bible also condemns homosexual and lesbian behavior, period. No exceptions, no excuses, no mitigating circumstances at all. Surely Obama must be aware of this.

    The relevant Bible texts (any Bible text with any bearing on the gay marriage issue), are found all over the Old & New Testament

    Gen. 1:26-27, Gen. 2:18, Gen. 2:24, Gen 19:1-23, Lev 18:22, Lev 20:13, Matt. 19:4-5, Mark 10:6-9, Rom. 1:26-27, 1 Cor 6:9-11, 1 Tim 1:10-11, Jude 7.

  • Of course a number of verses in the Bible condemn sexual relations between men. We both know that. However, as I wrote above, the Bible does not mention same sex marriage because such an idea would have been quite unimaginable to the Biblical writers, or, for that matter, almost all English-speaking people until quite recently.

    Many Christians accept this new way of thinking about same sex relationships, but others resist it strongly. It was always thus with new ideas. Even Charles Wesley, who was firmly anti-slavery, resisted giving up the anti-witchcraft text.

  • In the end our government is secular. By tradition and majority Christians have had nearly unlimited control of our government.This led to slavery, racism and all sorts of nonsense being codified by law. Now Americans are taking positions in opposition to conservative Christianity and are finding support in our constitution. The eroding of their grasp on our government is being called persecution when it is actually a restoration of the secular government. Christians have a voice in our government that should be no louder than atheists, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, etc. In their wisdom, the framers of our constitution insured that no religious majority can oppress the minorities. This is what is happening today. I am proud to be an American.

  • I think you’re just repeating your same claim without refuting the specific points and texts that were just offered. The Bible is clearly and fully against same-sex marriage at any time, and that includes lesbian marriage too (Rom. 1:26-27).

    Meanwhile, it’s clear that the bottom has really dropped out of Obama’s 2008 faith on the specific issue of homosexual marriage (although his advisor David Axelrod has pointed out in his book that Obama was just faking it anyway, on Axelrod’s orders, to avoid losing those yummy black church votes).

    And now? Nobody really knows where Obama stands now, other than he very intensely opposes Christ and the Bible on the issue of gay marriage, and he has successfully enshrined his intense personal opposition into the law of the land.
    Tough times, seriously so, are coming for America.

    But Christians really DON’T need the support of government to agree with, explain, support, and defend their own Bibles in the public marketplace of ideas. In general, that’s where we should go from here.

  • Americans said screw the Bible, gays are entitled to the same rights as everyone else. Since marriage in the US is a secular matter, it can be defined by the government. Americans already said screw the Bible by declaring unconstitutional the laws against homosexual acts.

  • Sorry, Americans didn’t say “screw the Bible.” American (the citizens) didn’t declare unconstitutional laws against homosexual acts. This was done by the courts, and by the way not Constitutionally. It was not an act of democracy. Even in California when put to the vote homosexual marriage was rejected. Marriage has always been a act between a man and a woman. The government hasn’t always been involve. For the most parr in Western Civilization marriage was regulated by the Church not the government. Henry VIII broke from Rome because the pope wouldn’t annul his marriage to Kathrine of Aragon. Even then the regulation of marriage was handed over to the Church in England. Just a few facts to keep you from being too confused.

  • Slavery was not practiced in England when England began settling America. The Church of Rome tried to prevent slavery, it was the government that pushed slavery for profit. In Virginia, the Virginia Assembly established in 1619 tried to end the importation of Africans. This was profitable to the King of England in taxes and he vetoes all of Virginia’s efforts. This was not the doing of the Church of England as you would suppose. Virginia outlawed the importation of slaves in 1777 after declaring independence from England. Unfortunately existing slavery continued until 1866 when the 13th Amendment was ratified.

  • Floydlee, I agree that there are anti-homosexual texts in the Bible, so we’re in agreement on that point.

    You deduce from this that the Bible authors would also oppose same sex marriage. However, the Bible does not explicitly state any opposition to same sex marriage, probably because the thought of such an arrangement wouldn’t even have crossed their minds. That’s not such a great difference.

    There are other texts that present the same kind of challenge to modern readers. Take the story recounted in Mark 9:14-29 that reads as a description of epilepsy. See this heading in one mid-twentieth century translation: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+9:14-29&version=PHILLIPS Yet the text presents this as a case of demon possession.

    Psalm 96:10 was a trap for literalists because it said that the world could not be moved. How was consistent with the Copernican theory that the earth goes round the sun?

    Proverbs 13:24, the spare the rod and spoil the child verse, argues one way. Modern psychology suggests other approaches.

    Deuteronomy 21: 18-21 prescribes the killing of a stubborn and rebellious son. I think most people would find that beyond the pale.

    Deuteronomy 22:11 would, if taken literally, forbid the wearing of a polyester-cotton shirt.

    Matthew 19:12 says, “…there are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. He that can take, let him take it. http://biblehub.com/drb/matthew/19.htm However, the Douay Bible warns us, in a footnote, not to take this text literally.

    Time and again, Christians and Jews have set aside great swathes of scripture. President Obama differs from you only because he has set aside more Bible verses than you do.

  • The southern Baptist sect was created in America specifically to provide religious reasons to justify slavery. The Catholic Church encouraged or at best condoned slavery of non Christian people from the moment the Americas were discovered.

    Religious justification for racism and many other forms bigotry exist today within majority Christian faith.

  • “…does not explicitly state”, you wrote.

    But what about “implicitly” state? Wouldn’t that be true?

  • It would fall under how one’s mileage would vary. An interpretation in the absence of support. But then again the great thing about religious belief is that it never has to make sense, be rational, internally consistent or logical.

  • I note that you imply that the Bible does not explicitly oppose same sex marriage in your comment immediately above. I also agree with you that the anti-homosexual texts in Bible would imply an opposition to same sex marriage.

    However, it is quite plain that both Christians and Jews pick and choose which Bible texts they follow and which Bible texts they ignore.

    *Oaths. In Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus opposes the practice of swearing oaths. This opposition to oath-taking is reiterated in James 5:12. Despite this, the only people I know who follow this teaching of Jesus and the New Testament are the Quakers.

    *Slaughtering witches. Despite the command in Exodus 22:18, we have stopped slaughtering witches.

    *Keeping slaves. Despite the clear support for slave-owning in both the Old and the New Testaments, Slavery has been banned.

    Remarriage after divorce. Despite Luke 16:18, most Protestant Christians accept remarriage after divorce.

    Animal sacrifices. One third of the Jewish law is about animal sacrifices. This has been a dead letter for more than two thousand years.

    In view of the fact that Christians and Jews both pick and choose which Bible texts to follow and which Bible texts to ignore, there is no reason to get het up about Christians doing the same with the anti-homosexual texts.

  • You’re wrong Floyd, but you’re relying on an inaccurate translation that doesn’t acknowledge new information about the ancient Hebrew language. Just think, you’re diminishing whole classes of people based on the mistakes of well-intentioned translators a couple thousand years ago. I hope that gives you pause enough to reconsider.

  • it was a given that homosexual things were hidden and done in the dark, because any references to it show that. Of course they would oppose same sex marriage, the US opposed it until those that wanted it, got mean and ugly with those that wanetd to keep traditional marriage intact. Pres obama the big phony said he endorsed traditional marriage and was against abortion, neither were true.

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