The faith of President Obama - in six quotes and one hymn


The idea that President Barack Obama is a passionate and committed follower of Jesus Christ is a controversial subject in the US. Opponents point to the President's change of heart over gay marriage, and other policy decisions, as evidence that his claims of faith are hollow, yet Obama repeatedly affirms his belief in Jesus. In interviews throughout the past decade, the world's most powerful man has spoken openly of 'my Christian faith and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ'; claimed he has 'absolutely' read the Bible, and has 'an ongoing conversation with God.' Here are just a few of the many comments he's made about his beliefs over that time.

On becoming a Christian...

[In responding the question: "Did you actually go up for an altar call?"] "Yes. Absolutely. It was during a daytime service. And it was a powerful moment. It was powerful for me because it not only confirmed my faith, it not only gave shape to my faith, but I think, also, allowed me to connect the work I had been pursuing with my faith."

- From an interview with Cathleen Falsani, March 2004

On the heart of Christianity...

"We are both practising 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."

- From an interview with ABC News, May 2012

On his personal devotional life...

"I do have a few favourite [passages of Scripture]. Isaiah 40:31 has been a great source of encouragement in my life, and I quote from it often. Psalm 46 is also important to me; I chose to read it on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Niebuhr's serenity prayer is a good one as well. I've also been blessed to receive a daily devotional from my faith advisor, Joshua DuBois, who will send me Scripture or thoughts from people such as CS Lewis or Howard Thurman every morning."

- From an interview with Cathedral Age, August 2012

On his admiration for Pope Francis...

"I have been really impressed so far with the way he's communicated what I think is the essence of the Christian faith, and that is a true sense of brotherhood and sisterhood, and a regard for those who are less fortunate. My suspicion, based on what I've seen of him so far, is that he's a pretty steady guy. I don't think he needs any advice from me about staying humble."

- From an interview with CNN, January 2014

On discernment as he listens to preachers...

"That's something you learn watching ministers, quite a bit. What they call the Holy Spirit. They want the Holy Spirit to come down before they're preaching, right? Not to try to intellectualize it but what I see is there are moments that happen within a sermon where the minister gets out of his ego and is speaking from a deeper source. And it's powerful. There are also times when you can see the ego getting in the way. Where the minister is performing and clearly straining for applause or an Amen. And those are distinct moments. I think those former moments are sacred."

- From an interview with Cathleen Falsani, March 2004


On how his faith has grown since becoming President...

"My faith is a great source of comfort to me. I've said before that my faith has grown as President. This office tends to make a person pray more; and as President Lincoln once said, 'I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.'"

- From an interview with Cathedral Age, August 2012

Perhaps the most extraordinary moment of Obama's Presidency from a faith perspective came earlier this summer, in the form of a hymn. In his eulogy for Rev Clementa Pinckney, the pastor who died in June's tragic Charleston church shooting, President Obama said, "The Bible calls us to hope. To persevere and have faith in things not seen", before going on to give a remarkable mini-sermon about the extraordinary grace of God. As he concluded, listing the names of those who'd died in the shooting and "found that grace," he began to sing the famous hymn to the surprise and delight of the 5,000 strong congregation. It was a moment that not only gave hope to that grieving church, but suggested again that despite the critiques of those who oppose him, Barack Obama has a real and living faith in God.


Martin Saunders is a Contributing Editor for Christian Today and the Deputy CEO of Youthscape. You can follow him on Twitter: @martinsaunders