Obama outs himself as ordinary liberal Christian

In what can only be called a stunning defeat for those who still considered him a Muslim, President Barack Obama yesterday confirmed that he is, in fact, a perfectly ordinary liberal Protestant Christian.

So far, the content of the media storm accompanying the president’s endorsement of the legalization of same-sex marriage has been very predictable. Those of us who subscribe to The New York Times must wait with fear and trembling to learn why he did not go far enough in this pronouncement. I predict the next wrinkle will have to do with that whole states vs. federal thing (that and, of course, whether this is the new and improved litmus test for U.S. Supreme Court nominees). Americans have Obama’s pledge that his views will be coupled with a defense of religious liberty, but I don’t expect that profession to settle much.

The key, however, is that the president chose to frame this as a highly personal religious conviction, one consistent with his approach to faith and, one must assume, his views on centuries of Christian doctrine. At some people, reporters in the mainstream press will need to unpack that a bit. The same, by the way, goes for Mitt Romney. If he brings it up, plunge in there with questions.

Thankfully, the editor in charge of the journalism side of the On Faith equation at The Washington Post put together an online news report that started this journalistic process. I plan to keep looking there for updates. Here’s the top of Elizabeth Tenety’s wrap-up:

President Obama threw his support behind same-sex marriage Wednesday after years of “evolution” on the issue, and invoked Christ and the Golden Rule in detailing how he has changed.

In an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts, the president painted his endorsement of same-sex marriage as an outgrowth of his Christian beliefs:

“ … [Michelle and I] are both practicing 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. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a dad and a husband and hopefully the better I’ll be as president.”

Obama also acknowledged the religious issues at play in his previous hesitance to embrace gay marriage:

“I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word ‘marriage’ was something that evokes very powerful traditions,
religious beliefs and so forth. …”

In terms of fallout, journalists will be focusing on how this decision affects a number of different groups, starting with active churchgoers in African-American denominations and, perhaps, spreading into charismatic and traditional Catholic parishes in heavily Latino zip codes. Once again, the “pew gap” will almost certainly be vindicated — the fact that the more people attend worship services, the more likely they are to vote for culturally conservative Republicans or Democrats.

We can expect more coverage of “emergent” evangelicals and how their approach to moral issues (which means biblical authority) differs with that of older evangelicals. As GetReligion has long stressed, the left side of the evangelical world deserves more coverage and not simply as a political phenomenon. Someone needs to focus on how an evangelical approach to faith — with its tension between personal experience and largely undefined concepts of biblical authority — allows a surprising amount of wiggle room on moral theology. Ask Bill Clinton about that.

(Speaking of needing to hear from voices on the left side of the Baptist world — as I requested yesterday — here’s an Associated Baptist Press report quoting Baptist leaders on both sides of the North Carolina Amendment 1 vote.)

In addition to the usual suspects on the right, the Associated Press (quoted by Tenety) talked to key figure in the middle of the evangelical world:

The Rev. Joel Hunter, who Obama calls his spiritual adviser, told the Associated Press that Obama called him before the announcement and that he told the president he disagreed with his interpretation of what the Bible says about marriage. Hunter, who leads the 15,000 member Northland church near Orlando, said it is now harder for him to support Obama, but that he would continue to do so. He said the president reassured him he would protect the religious freedom of churches that oppose gay marriage.

So far, nothing specific about this development on Twitter from the Rev. Rick Warren, other than the following — which I take as cryptic, timely advice to reporters.

Rick Warren ? @RickWarren

Generalizations are generally wrong — especially about churches, pastors, or members of a generation. Each is unique.

Amen. When in doubt, let believers provide the details of their own beliefs.

Meanwhile, please help your GetReligionistas look for serious coverage of this rather predictable development, by which I mean coverage that moves beyond the simple rounding up of reaction quotes. In particular, I will be interested in comments from — of course — the religious left, especially liberal Catholics, Baptists and others aligned with the world of liberal Protestantism. The goal is to find coverage that takes the president’s statement seriously as a faith statement, not as an act of political chess.

It goes without saying that, before punching “comment,” readers should ask if what they have to say is linked to journalism, as opposed to simply praising or attacking Obama, his supporters or his critics.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://chrisblackstone.com Chris Blackstone

    I always wonder why reporters so quickly flock to Joel Hunter. I doubt 1% of evangelicals in American could tell you who he is and he definitely holds no real sway in evangelicalism. Why is he so popular?

  • Kelly

    Warren’s comment sounds like it’s in response to the Al Mohler incident… he’s smarting from Mohler’s negative comments about megachurches. I don’t know if he’s responding to it here, but it’s in keeping with his reactions elsewhere.

  • http://markbyron.typepad.com/main/ Mark Byron

    Amen to both Chris and Kelly’s comment-

    Hunter is a go-to quote since he’s a pro-Obama evangelical.

    The Warren quote flows out of a Mohler dissing of Atlanta megachurch pastor Andy Stanley (that’s Charles Stanley’s son) not being sufficiently anti-homosexual in a sermon series and tarring megachurches in general for a drift away from orthodoxy. That overlaps same-sex marriage a little, but is from a different thread.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    The Rev. Joel Hunter, who Obama calls his spiritual adviser

    Really? The AP can’t be bothered to use “whom?”(I know, it’s a picky. But it’s enough to set my editorial teeth on edge.)

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Mitt Romney admits he “evolved” on the abortion issue starting when as governor of Ma. he was faced with signing an abortion law that he couldn’t stomach.
    Consequently, the mainstream mass media has used the words flip-flop probably 10,000 times to describe his “evolution” on issues.
    But now President Obama grandly “flip-flops,” on the gay marriage issue and the media slavishly, cravenly, and dutifully sticks to what they have been told to call it by their puppeteer in the White House: an “evolution.”
    I’ve been constantly looking to find the word “flip flop” to describe Obama’s machinations over the years on this issue and found only one place–and that on the internet.
    Politico-normally regarded as fairly liberal by some– gave a list of Obmama’s “flip-flops.”

  • http://authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    The goal is to find coverage that takes the president’s statement seriously as a faith statement, not as an act of political chess.

    …so… no on has found anything yet…?

  • Lee

    It seems to me that when liberal politicians, especially Black ones, invoke religious faith as a background or motivation for public policy, the press doesn’t blink an eye. Were a conservative Christian president, a White one, talk about Christ and his sacrifice and the Scriptures as a motivation for taking a position liberals don’t like, would there not be questions about separation of Church and State?

  • http://catherineguiles.com Cathy G.

    Chris – I think Joel Hunter is better-known than you suspect. For one thing, he spoke at the recent Q Conference in D.C. and seemed to get a positive reaction.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    I’m guessing Rick Warren might still be addressing this issue: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/mayweb-only/andy-stanley-homosexuality.html

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Deacon John has a good point. It will be interesting to see how this is framed in future coverage.

  • sari

    Were a conservative Christian president, a White one, talk about Christ and his sacrifice and the Scriptures as a motivation for taking a position liberals don’t like, would there not be questions about separation of Church and State?

    We had just such a President in GWB. Might be interesting to examine and contrast the press coverage

  • http://houstontheology.blogspot.com/ Jay Quine, Houston Texas

    President Barack Obama finds himself in the midst of another controversy. Apart from the issues presented to him by the economy and the war on terrorism, he now has to deal with an issue closer to home, that of the now notorious picture of Air Force One.