Barack Obama and Religion





This page provides "just the facts" (direct quotes, linked references) on Barack Obama's religious faith, religious beliefs and views on some major moral issues. This guide is not intended to be comprehensive, but to provide a convenient summary and starting point for further reading. Click on the links in the table below to jump to quotes and resources on that topic.

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Fast Facts on Barack Obama


Age: 46
Education: Harvard Law School, J.D., 1991; Columbia University, B.A., 1983
Political Party: Democrat
Website: www.barackobama.com
Religion: United Church of Christ. Personal Religion and Beliefs
On Abortion: Pro-choice. Views on Abortion
On Church and State: Emphasizes separation but advocates "a sense of proportion." Supports faith-based initiatives. Views on Church and State
On the Death Penalty: Supports only for most heinous crimes. Cosponsored death penalty reforms. Views on the Death Penalty
On Homosexuality: Opposes gay marriage. Supports civil unions. Supports gays in military service. First avoided the question, then clarified he does not believe homosexuality is immoral. Views on Homosexuality
On Medical Ethics: Supports stem cell research. Views on Medical Ethics




Barack Obama on His Personal Religion and Beliefs

"I was not raised in a particularly religious household, as undoubtedly many in the audience were. My father, who returned to Kenya when I was just two, was born Muslim but as an adult became an atheist. My mother, whose parents were non-practicing Baptists and Methodists, was probably one of the most spiritual and kindest people I've ever known, but grew up with a healthy skepticism of organized religion herself. As a consequence, so did I. It wasn't until after college, when I went to Chicago to work as a community organizer for a group of Christian churches, that I confronted my own spiritual dilemma." [6/28/06]

"Faith doesn't mean that you don't have doubts. You need to come to church in the first place precisely because you are first of this world, not apart from it. You need to embrace Christ precisely because you have sins to wash away - because you are human and need an ally in this difficult journey." [6/28/06]

"It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street in the Southside of Chicago one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. I didn't fall out in church. The questions I had didn't magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt that I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.

"That's a path that has been shared by millions upon millions of Americans - evangelicals, Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims alike; some since birth, others at certain turning points in their lives. It is not something they set apart from the rest of their beliefs and values. In fact, it is often what drives their beliefs and their values. And that is why that, if we truly hope to speak to people where they're at - to communicate our hopes and values in a way that's relevant to their own - then as progressives, we cannot abandon the field of religious discourse." [6/28/06]

“We should never forget that God granted us the power to reason so that we would do His work here on Earth - so that we would use science to cure disease, and heal the sick, and save lives.” [12/1/06]

"Like no other illness, AIDS tests our ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes - to empathize with the plight of our fellow man. While most would agree that the AIDS orphan or the transfusion victim or the wronged wife contracted the disease through no fault of their own, it has too often been easy for some to point to the unfaithful husband or the promiscuous youth or the gay man and say 'This is your fault. You have sinned.' I don't think that's a satisfactory response. My faith reminds me that we all are sinners.

"My faith also tells me that - as Pastor Rick [Warren] has said - it is not a sin to be sick. My Bible tells me that when God sent his only Son to Earth, it was to heal the sick and comfort the weary; to feed the hungry and clothe the naked; to befriend the outcast and redeem those who strayed from righteousness. Living His example is the hardest kind of faith - but it is surely the most rewarding. It is a way of life that can not only light our way as people of faith, but guide us to a new and better politics as Americans." [12/1/06]

"Senator Obama was raised in a secular household in Indonesia by his stepfather and mother. Obama’s stepfather worked for a U.S. oil company, and sent his stepson to two years of Catholic school, as well as two years of public school. As Obama described it, 'Without the money to go to the international school that most expatriate children attended, I went to local Indonesian schools and ran the streets with the children of farmers, servants, tailors, and clerks' (The Audacity of Hope, p. 274). To be clear, Senator Obama has never been a Muslim, was not raised a Muslim, and is a committed Christian who attends the United Church of Christ in Chicago. Furthermore, the Indonesian school Obama attended in Jakarta is a public school that is not and never has been a Madrassa." [1/23/07]

"I've always said that my faith informs my values, and in that sense it helps shape my worldview, and I don't think anyone should be required to leave their religious sensibilities at the door. But we have to translate those concerns into a universal language that can be subject to argument and doesn't turn into a contest of any one of us thinking that God is somehow on our side." [1/4/08]

"There are some things I agree with my pastor [at Trinity United Church of Christ] about, some things I disagree with him about. I come from a complex racial background with a lot of different strains in me: white, black, I grew up in Hawaii. I tend to have a strong streak of universalism, not just in my religious beliefs, but in my ethical and moral beliefs." [1/4/08]

Video: Barack Obama on Faith and Politics

References and Further Reading

2012 Presidential Candidates Comparion Chart

  1. Barack Obama, "Call to Renewal Keynote Address." June 28, 2006.
  2. Barack Obama, "World AIDS Day Speech: Race Against Time." December 1, 2006.
  3. "Debunked Insight Magazine and Fox News Smear Campaign." Official statement, January 23, 2007.
  4. "CNN debunks false report about Obama." CNN, January 23, 2007.
  5. Shira Schoenberg, "Speaking of faith, Obama does." Concord Monitor, January 4, 2008.

Barack Obama on Abortion

"I also think that we should give [young boys and girls] the information about contraception that can prevent unwanted pregnancies, lower abortion rates, and help assure that that every child is loved and cherished. But, you know, my Bible tells me that if we train a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not turn from it. So I think faith and guidance can help fortify a young woman's sense of self, a young man's sense of responsibility, and a sense of reverence that all young people should have for the act of sexual intimacy." [6/28/06]

"Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all." [6/28/06]

[Q: What us your view on the decision on partial-birth abortion and your reaction to most of the public agreeing with the court's holding?] "I think that most Americans recognize that this is a profoundly difficult issue for the women and families who make these decisions. They don't make them casually. And I trust women to make these decisions in conjunction with their doctors and their families and their clergy. And I think that's where most Americans are. Now, when you describe a specific procedure that accounts for less than 1% of the abortions that take place, then naturally, people get concerned, and I think legitimately so. But the broader issue here is: Do women have the right to make these profoundly difficult decisions? And I trust them to do it. Now, there is a broader issue, though. And that is can we move past some of the debates around which we disagree and can we start talking about the things we do agree on? Reducing teen pregnancy; making it less likely for women to find themselves in the circumstances where they've got to anguish over these decisions. Those are areas where I think we can all start mobilizing and move forward rather than look backwards." [4/27/07]

References and Further Reading

  1. Barack Obama, "Call to Renewal Keynote Address." June 28, 2006.
  2. "Transcript: Democratic presidential debate in S.C." MSNBC, Apr 27, 2007.

Barack Obama on Church and State

"I think we make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in people's lives -- in the lives of the American people -- and I think it's time that we join a serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy. And if we're going to do that then we first need to understand that Americans are a religious people. 90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion, 38 percent call themselves committed Christians, and substantially more people in America believe in angels than they do in evolution. This religious tendency is not simply the result of successful marketing by skilled preachers or the draw of popular mega-churches. In fact, it speaks to a hunger that's deeper than that - a hunger that goes beyond any particular issue or cause." [6/28/06]

"If we scrub language of all religious content, we forfeit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice.." [6/28/06]

"After all, the problems of poverty and racism, the uninsured and the unemployed, are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect ten point plan. They are rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness - in the imperfections of man. Solving these problems will require changes in government policy, but it will also require changes in hearts and a change in minds. I believe in keeping guns out of our inner cities, and that our leaders must say so in the face of the gun manufacturers' lobby - but I also believe that when a gang-banger shoots indiscriminately into a crowd because he feels somebody disrespected him, we've got a moral problem. There's a hole in that young man's heart - a hole that the government alone cannot fix." [6/28/06]

"In fact, because I do not believe that religious people have a monopoly on morality, I would rather have someone who is grounded in morality and ethics, and who is also secular, affirm their morality and ethics and values without pretending that they're something they're not. They don't need to do that. None of us need to do that. But what I am suggesting is this - secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King - indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history - were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their "personal morality" into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition." [6/28/06]

"The question is, how do we build on these still-tentative partnerships between religious and secular people of good will? It's going to take more work, a lot more work than we've done so far. The tensions and the suspicions on each side of the religious divide will have to be squarely addressed. And each side will need to accept some ground rules for collaboration." [6/28/06]

"I want to talk a little bit about what conservative leaders need to do -- some truths they need to acknowledge. For one, they need to understand the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy, but the robustness of our religious practice. Folks tend to forget that during our founding, it wasn't the atheists or the civil libertarians who were the most effective champions of the First Amendment. It was the persecuted minorities, it was Baptists like John Leland who didn't want the established churches to impose their views on folks who were getting happy out in the fields and teaching the scripture to slaves. It was the forbearers of the evangelicals who were the most adamant about not mingling government with religious, because they did not want state-sponsored religion hindering their ability to practice their faith as they understood it." [6/28/06]

"Given the increasing diversity of America's population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers." [6/28/06]

"Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all." [6/28/06]

"Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of what's possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It's the art of the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God's edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one's life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing." [6/28/06]

"But a sense of proportion should also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state. Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation - context matters. It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase 'under God.' I didn't. Having voluntary student prayer groups use school property to meet should not be a threat, any more than its use by the High School Republicans should threaten Democrats. And one can envision certain faith-based programs - targeting ex-offenders or substance abusers - that offer a uniquely powerful way of solving problems." [6/28/06]

“We think of faith as a source of comfort and understanding but find our expressions of faith sowing division; we believe ourselves to be a tolerant people even as racial, religious, and cultural tensions roil the landscape. And instead of resolving these tensions or mediating these conflicts, our politics fans them, exploits them, and drives us further apart.” [10/17/06]

"When you go to places like Africa and you see this problem [AIDS] up close, you realize that it's not a question of either treatment or prevention - or even what kind of prevention - it is all of the above. It is not an issue of either science or values - it is both. Yes, there must be more money spent on this disease. But there must also be a change in hearts and minds; in cultures and attitudes. Neither philanthropist nor scientist; neither government nor church, can solve this problem on their own - AIDS must be an all-hands-on-deck effort." [12/1/06]

Video: Barack Obama at United Church of Christ Convention (Fox News)

References and Further Reading

  1. Barack Obama, "Call to Renewal Keynote Address." June 28, 2006.
  2. Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (Crown Publishers, October 17, 2006).
  3. Barack Obama, "World AIDS Day Speech: Race Against Time." December 1, 2006.

Barack Obama on the Death Penalty

"While the evidence tells me that the death penalty does little to deter crime, I believe there are some crimes--mass murder, the rape and murder of a child--so heinous that the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage by meting out the ultimate punishment. On the other hand, the way capital cases were tried in Illinois at the time was so rife with error, questionable police tactics, racial bias, and shoddy lawyering, that 13 death row inmates had been exonerated." [10/17/06]

"In the Illinois Senate, I sponsored a bill to require videotaping of interrogations and confessions in capital cases [after the] governor had instituted a moratorium on al executions. In negotiating the bill, I talked about the common value that I believed everyone shared--that no innocent person should end up on death row, abd that no person guilty of a capital offense should go free. At the end of the process, the bill had the support of all the parties involved, and it passed unanimously." [10/17/06]

Obama was the chief co-sponsor and voted for bill creating the Capital Punishment Reform Study Committee Act. The proposal was approved nearly unanimously. The bill would let judges rule out a death sentence for someone convicted solely on the testimony of a jailhouse informant, accomplice or single witness; let the state Supreme Court overturn a death sentence that was "fundamentally unjust.; Reduce the crimes eligible for the death penalty by focusing on "inherently violent" offenses; Expand defendants' access to genetic evidence used against them; Ban police officers from the police force if they committed perjury in a murder case; and Require juries to consider a defendant's history of abuse or mental illness when deciding whether to impose the death sentence. [93rd GA, SB 0472; 4/3/03, 3R P; 57-1-0; 5/29/03, HA1 SC; 56-3-0; 11/5/03, OAV P; 58-0-0; P.A. 93-0605, 11/25/03; Pantagraph, 4/4/03; Associated Press, 4/24/03] [1/14/08]

Crafted from one of the findings of the Death Penalty Moratorium Commission of former Gov. Ryan, Obama was the chief sponsor and voted for a bill requiring the electronic recording of all homicide interrogations, conducts a police officer training program, and provides grants to local law enforcement agencies for the purchase of necessary equipment. A Chicago Tribune Editorial said, "Never underestimate the power of a good idea. Around the country, an impressive number of police chiefs and political leaders are warming to proposals to require the videotaping of police interrogations – a measure almost guaranteed to reduce the number of false confessions... Making a record that proves the confession was not coerced would go far toward reducing this shameful roster...The sponsor, Sen. Barack Obama, has made serious efforts in recent weeks to meet with the state's major law enforcement groups and accommodate most of their concerns... This isn't really about money, though. It's about old, entrenched institutions resisting change. Let's hope the Illinois Senate does not turn out to be one of them." Obama said, "I think the videotaping of interrogations and confessions is both a tool for protecting the innocent as well as a tool for convicting the guilty." [93rd GA, SB 0015, 4/3/03, 3R P; 58-0-0; P.A. 93-0517, 8/12/03; 93rd GA, HB 0223, 5/15/03, 3R P; 58-0-0; P.A. 93-0206, 7/18/03; Chicago Tribune, 3/4/03; Chicago Tribune, 7/18/03] [1/14/08]

References and Further Reading

  1. Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (Crown Publishers, October 17, 2006).
  2. "Know the Facts: Highlights of Obama's Strong Record of Accomplishment in the U.S. and Illinois Senate." Candidate website, January 14, 2008.

Barack Obama on Homosexuality and Gay Marriage

"The Senate voted 49 to 48 to stop a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. This was a vote to end debate on the measure and have a direct vote on the amendment, so 60 votes were needed.... Democrats against (40): ...Obama (Ill.)..." [6/8/06]

"This debate [on a proposed constitutional ban] is a thinly-veiled attempt to break a consensus that is quietly being forged in this country. A consensus between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, Red States and Blue States, that it's time for new leadership in this country - leadership that will stop dividing us, stop disappointing us, and start addressing the problems facing most Americans. I personally believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. But I also agree with most Americans, including Vice President Cheney and over 2,000 religious leaders of all different beliefs, that decisions about marriage should be left to the states as they always have been." [6/7/06]

[I remain] "open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided ... I may have been infected with society's prejudices and predilections and attributed them to God." [10/17/06]

"As Obama left a firefighters convention last week, a Newsday reporter asked him whether he thought homosexuality was immoral. Obama's first answer was: 'I think traditionally the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman [General Pace] has restricted his public comments to military matters. That's probably a good tradition to follow.' Asked a second time, he said: 'I think the question here is whether somebody is willing to sacrifice for their country.' When asked a third time, the senator ignored the question... according to a report by Newsday." [3/22/07]

[In response to question: Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace caused a furor last week. He said homosexuality is immoral. He said he was speaking personally and not on behalf of the Army. First, do you think it's immoral?] "You know, I don't think that homosexuals are immoral any more than I think heterosexuals are immoral. I think that people are people and to categorize one group of folks based on their sexual orientation that way I think is wrong. I disagreed with General Pace. More importantly, I think, traditionally, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff tries to stick to military issues precisely because of the kind of hot water that he got himself into this time out. And hopefully he's learned his lesson. I hope, more broadly, that we take up the call of previous commanders in the field who have said that it's time for us to examine the policy right now that is very costly and excludes gays and lesbians who have been serving ably in the military from service." [3/19/07]

References and Further Reading

  1. Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (Crown Publishers, October 17, 2006).
  2. "Obama Statement on Vote Against Constitutional Amendment to Ban Gay Marriage." Press release, June 7, 2006.
  3. "Senate Roll Call." Washington Post, June 8, 2006.
  4. John McCormick and Manya A. Brachear, "Stumble over gay issue dogs Obama." Chicago Tribune Web Edition, March 22, 2007.
  5. "Transcript: Interview with Barack Obama." Larry King Live, CNN, March 19, 2007.

Barack Obama on Issues in Medical Ethics

Voted "yes" the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007 (S.5 & H.R.3)., which allows federal funding for research that utilizes human embryonic stem cells, regardless of the date on which the stem cells were derived from a human embryo, provided such embryos: 1. have been donated from in vitro fertilization clinics; 2. were created for the purposes of fertility treatment; 3. were in excess of the needs of the individuals seeking such treatment and would otherwise be discarded; and 4. were donated by such individuals with written informed consent and without any financial or other inducements. [4/11/07]

"By vetoing funding for stem cell research once again, the President is deferring the hopes of millions of Americans who do not have the time to keep waiting for the cure that may save or extend their lives. The promise that stem cells hold does not come from any particular ideology, it is the judgment of science, and we deserve a President who will put that judgment first and make this promise real for the American people." [6/20/07]

References and Further Reading

2012 Presidential Candidates Comparion Chart

  1. "U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 110th Congress - 1st Session." U.S. Senate, April 11, 2007.
  2. "Obama Statement on Bush Veto of Stem Cell Bill." June 20, 2007.