Obama, seen here at a campaign stop in Albuquerque, said he became a Christian… (Larry Downing / Reuters )
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — 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 of voters 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 met with the voters group as part of a nationwide political swing as he tries to rally Democratic voters in advance of the Nov. 2 congressional elections. Later Tuesday, Obama traveled to Madison, Wis., to speak to a large gathering of students and others at the University of Wisconsin.
His remarks in Albuquerque came in response to a question from the crowd about his religious faith, allowing the president to veer away from economics, the subject matter dominating the meeting.
The issue of Obama's beliefs is a popular subject of debate on cable talk shows and the Internet. Recent polling data suggests that a growing number of Americans think Obama is a Muslim.
But Obama on Tuesday gave a personal accounting of his faith more intimate than any since he published a 1999 memoir of his life.
"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 Tuesday. "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. "I think my public service is part of that effort to express my Christian faith."
Despite his personal beliefs, Obama said, he believes that the "bedrock strength" of the country is its embrace of many faiths, and also of no faith.
Although the country is predominantly Christian, "we have Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists," he said. Their own "path to grace is one that we have to revere and respect as much as our own."
Parsons reported from Washington and Nicholas from Albuquerque