Obama says he became a Christian by choice

President Obama said Tuesday that he is a “Christian by choice” and that his decision was influenced by gospel teachings about salvation and the importance of loving one another.

His mother and the grandparents who helped raised him weren’t regular churchgoers, Obama told a group here. But he became a Christian later in life because of the religion’s basic principles, he said.

“It was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead,” Obama said. “Being my brother’s and sister’s keeper. Treating others as they would treat me.”

Obama also spoke of the doctrine of salvation and of Jesus Christ “dying for my sins,” a set of beliefs many Christians consider fundamental to the profession of faith.


The remarks came in response to a question from someone in the crowd who veered away from economics, the subject matter dominating the meeting.

The issue of Obama’s religious beliefs is a popular subject of debate on cable talk shows and the Internet. Recent polling data suggest that a growing number of Americans think Obama is Muslim.

A national survey by the Pew Research Center in August found that nearly 1 in 5 Americans (18%) said Obama is a Muslim, up from 11% in March 2009. Only about a third of adults (34%) said Obama is a Christian, down from 48% in 2009. Fully 43% said they do not know what Obama’s religion is.

Until recently, the president had kept the subject of religion almost entirely private since he took office. But he weighed in forcefully to defend the right of a Muslim group to build a mosque and community center near the World Trade Center site, and one recent Sunday attended church near the White House with his family.

Obama’s comments Tuesday constituted the most intimate personal accounting of his faith since he published a 1999 memoir.

“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, we make mistakes,” Obama said. “And that we achieve salvation through the grace of God.”

Although flawed, individuals can “still see God in other people” and help others to find “their own grace.”

“So that’s what I strive to do. That’s what I pray to do every day,” Obama said.

Meanwhile, Obama said in an interview released Tuesday that he’s chosen progress on key priorities over ideological battles that may have motivated his party’s base, and again urged Democrats to get off the sidelines in November.

In the interview with Rolling Stone, Obama lamented a “glass-half-empty” view he sees among fellow Democrats.

Defending his record as president, he said he’s ended one of two wars he inherited and passed “historic” healthcare and regulatory reforms, plus “a huge number of legislative victories that people don’t even notice.”

“I keep in my pocket a checklist of the promises I made during the campaign, and here I am, halfway through my first term, and we’ve probably accomplished 70%" of them, he said.

Michael A. Memoli of the Washington bureau contributed to this report.