One of the most peculiar moments of the Republican National Convention — at least among those that did not involve an empty chair — was Mike Huckabee’s proclamation that Barack Obama was a “self-professed evangelical.” Mollie Hemingway at GetReligion (now housed at Patheos) registered puzzlement at that statement, a feeling I certainly share.
A couple months ago, the Anxious Bench’s John Turner asked “What Is Evangelicalism?”, generating an interesting discussion not only about the meaning of the term ‘evangelical,’ but about its uses in the media and pop Christian culture. But Huckabee’s use was a new one to me.
As Bob Smietana of The Tennessean pointed out in the GetReligion discussion, Huckabee may have based his statement on the fact that President Obama has a conversion testimony in which he walked an aisle to confirm his new faith. He even says he experienced a new birth.
But if he’s a “self-professed” evangelical, one would think the president might have described himself as an evangelical at some point, which he does not seem to have done. And in his revealing interview on faith with Cathleen Falsani in 2004 (again, hat tip to Smietana), Obama steered away from any claims of theological certainty:
I retain from my childhood and my experiences growing up a suspicion of dogma. And I’m not somebody who is always comfortable with language that implies I’ve got a monopoly on the truth, or that my faith is automatically transferable to others.
I’m a big believer in tolerance. I think that religion at it’s best comes with a big dose of doubt. I’m suspicious of too much certainty… there’s an enormous amount of damage done around the world in the name of religion and certainty.
Plenty of evangelicals express uncertainty about some biblical issues, but I don’t think any self-professed evangelical would reject theological certainty per se.
Huckabee was probably also recalling that Obama is the only self-professed Protestant in the race. Fair enough. But how strange that while some evangelicals still believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim, Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor, now says that Obama professes to be an evangelical.
It’s not that hard to find out what Obama himself has said about his own faith, from sources like the Falsani interview, and Obama’s books, including The Audacity of Hope. In a way, he’s been as talkative about the nature of his faith as George W. Bush was. And yet, as the end of his first term nears, there seems to be less clarity than ever in the public’s understanding of the president’s beliefs. How can we explain this?