On Obama’s Faith

From John Blake, at CNN.com:

Anyone who doubts that a president’s faith remains important to the American people has only to look at the experiences of Obama.

Obama has declared his Christianity in his biography, and in many speeches. He evoked it recently when he came out in support of same-sex marriages. But arguably no president has had his faith so aggressively questioned. Many Americans still believe he is a Muslim.

Stephen Mansfield, author of “The Faith of Barack Obama,” is a political conservative who has written about the evangelical faith of President George W. Bush. He became curious about Obama and spent time talking to Obama’s spiritual cabinet, a collection of ministers who counsel Obama.

Mansfield says he has no doubt that Obama is a devout Christian. His belief has angered some fellow conservatives so much that he says he has had speeches canceled and received angry e-mails.

“I take him seriously as a Christian,” Mansfield says. “He’s a politically liberal Christian man who is making a deeper journey of faith all the time.”

Mansfield says Obama’s health care law is an expression of faith: his belief that Christians are obligated to look out for the most vulnerable.

“Barack Obama believes that the mechanism of the state ought to be used in service of the biblical idea of saving the needy and the poor and the oppressed,” says Mansfield.

For some, though, Obama’s faith will always be associated with the angry sermons of Jeremiah Wright, his former pastor. Yet Mansfield says Obama has embraced a more traditional form of Christianity since becoming president.

In his book, Mansfield tells a story about Obama ministering to a pastor who had experienced a death in the family. Mansfield says he was stunned that Obama could draw so easily from a deep well of scripture to minister to a minister.

“He is serious about his faith,” says Mansfield, also author of  “The Mormonizing of America.”   “He’s absolutely not a Muslim.”

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • RobS

    http://blog.beliefnet.com/stevenwaldman/2008/11/obamas-interview-with-cathleen.html

    An old interview with then Senator Obama gives a few interesting thoughts that might be worth reading. I think the questions are sincere enough to help bring out answers that might help discern his thoughts, feelings, beliefs and positions on many issues. Among the quotes I’ve had to think about most strongly:

    “I believe that there are many paths to the same place…”

    “I’m a big believer in tolerance.”

    “Jesus is an historical figure for me, and he’s also a bridge between God and man, in the Christian faith, and one that I think is powerful precisely because he serves as that means of us reaching something higher. And he’s also a wonderful teacher.”

    “I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell.
    I can’t imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity. That’s just not part of my religious makeup.”

    [when asked, "What is sin?"] “Being out of alignment with my values.”

    [when asked, "Do you believe in heaven?"] “What I believe in is that if I live my life as well as I can, that I will be rewarded. I don’t presume to have knowledge of what happens after I die.”

    I’ll let everyone read for themselves of course. Personally, much of what he says fits into a very broad universalist view. That guess may be consistent with Obama’s strong desires to promote equality in much of his policies as well. But anyhow, happy reading.

  • TOK

    Yeah, RobS, I think I’m in agreement with you about BO’s fairly broad Christian faith- but that doesn’t mean it’s not devout.

    He seems to invoke faith quite a bit, and not in a clumsy manner like a lot of politicians. He’s good with words, but my sense is that it definitely means something to him.

    Whether he would fit in at a lot of evangelical churches is another question. His faith is fairly open-ended and comes down a lot to the Golden Rule or looking after the vulnerable. That’s not bad, of course, but it’s not “explicitly Christian” in any way, either.

    None of this bothers me as an evangelical, though. We’ve had plenty of presidents who claimed Christianity that didn’t fit within an evangelical framework. Some of them good, some of them bad. Furthermore, it just bothers me when we try to press a public figure into a mold so we can determine if he’s “one of us”.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    RobS,

    If we were to judge President Obama on a theology test he would probably fail. As would I.

    I see a sincere Christian belief and ethic in his actions, as well as the attestation.

  • Sue

    I also think that the writer of this book and the ministers whose counsel he seeks all testify to his _growth_ as a Christian, in which case his answers to questions several years ago only testify to his beliefs from several years ago. What troubles me deeply is the sense I’ve gotten in comments on other Christian sites that there are many who dislike Mr. Obama so much they actually don’t WANT him to be Christian and fight the idea passionately.

  • Jerry

    The quotes frm the CNN article sound more like American Presidential Civil Religion than anything overtly christian

  • RobS

    #3 DRT,

    I’m just curious… did you see the interview as a theology test? I found it pretty decent questioning to try and discern beliefs deeper than just the “I’m a Christian” label that most of America uses on a regular basis (probably because they are not Muslim, Jewish, etc.)

    When Obama says, “There’s the belief, certainly in some quarters, that people haven’t embraced Jesus Christ as their personal savior that they’re going to hell.” and the interviewer comes back with a follow-up of “You don’t believe that?”… well, I think that’s fair to try to understand more…

    Some responses come more from what he wants to believe; I’m not sure if he interprets the Bible that way or not. Example: the “That’s just not part of my religious makeup” type of responses see to suggest that he is forming the religion around his belief systems and how he sees God responding to a set of rules or concept of justice. I think the Bible does a good job to say that God is over those justice systems and He makes the rules–not RobS or Obama. I can tell God he should have liked Esau more than Jacob, but the Bible doesn’t really tell me that.

    I’ll agree, I do see an effort for sincere ethics in many of his actions. I’m just not sure what parts of a theology test are fair to ask — and what might qualify as a “pass” or “fail” grade. If it’s hard-core church theory and history, I’m going to fail too…!!

    Really I thought the questions were pretty fair — in many ways, I’ve talked with people who seem to really have odd answers for some of those questions, so I think that’s what the interviewer was trying to discern. (* people saying, “oh, I’ve been a Christian all my life, since I was born!” and other misconceptions *)

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    RobS,

    I too think the questions are fair. I was reading between the lines on your comment to conclude that you are winking to “those in the know” that he is not really a Christian, and I stand by that. That technique is very common in church and Christianity where someone lays out an argument with quotes, like you did, and then makes a non-conclusive accusation about universalism, and anyone who has a rigid view of Christianity would conclude that you are really saying he is not a Christian.

    It would help if you spoke more plainly. Are you saying he is a universalist and therefore not a Christian or not. I don’t appreciate your approach.

  • http://Leadme.org Cal

    I’ll tame an earlier sentiment.

    DRT, I don’t see such a good Christian ethic in Obama and no, it’s not Conservative rhetoric that’s coming, I just don’t like his adding to the American Military Industrial Complex. His continued support for the Predator Drone bombing program.

    GWB also expressed a universalist/pluralistic theology in an interview (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_8GoF9SLas). It seems to be to be a mark of the American Priesthood of the Presidency.

  • stephen

    Liberals defend his faith because they don’t want him to seem any more liberal and radical than he really is. Conservatives decry his faith and his former church because they don’t see a president willing to support their socially conservative agenda. The reality is, no one really knows, not even his former pastor. Much of who he is is a mystery. Even a recent biography by David Maraniss found all kinds of inconsistencies in Obama’s memoir “Dreams of My Father”. Like most politicians he is just very good at presenting what his base voters want to see.

  • http://www.kansasbob.com/ kansasbob

    I reviewed that book when it was first published (http://www.kansasbob.com/2008/08/faith-of-barack-obama_19.html). Felt the book was more about Jeremiah Wright than Obama.

  • RobS

    Well, the quotes are direct quotes from the article itself in case anyone wanted to search for a particular phrase. Yes, it’s worth a full read of the article, but I was taking those statements as direct quotes so I put them in more as citations in case someone wanted to search for them and read around those points.

    I’ll admit, I don’t fully know and I’m not wanting to judge because I really don’t believe I have all the facts. So a small example to reconcile that (if I had a chance): I think it’d be fair to ask more to know if he believes there are “many paths to the same place” (again, just quoting the article) how does that match up or work with John 14:6 where Jesus declares that “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Is that a rigid view of Christianity or a statement of Jesus…? To me, those are mutual exclusive views (many paths vs. through Me)

    I’m not sure if “those in the know” have already made their opinions up. I haven’t totally, and don’t lose sleep about it. I’ve defended the President on some of his policies and actions, but some of his views (as demonstrated in the article) on God, Christ, sin, heaven, etc.

    Maybe I should get the guy’s book…?? :)

  • RobS

    Thanks kansasbob #10 for your link… if I can quote something from your blog review on the book: “He cites Obama speaking of how there are other valid religious ways and quotes him talking about how the traditional view of Hell and his views (of Hell and of God) seem to be a bit at odds with each other.”

    It seems your review and comment there draws parallel themes with the link I originally posted in #1 (& detailed more in #11) — the ideas that “many paths” and “tolerance” would allow for other valid religious ways.

    It seems the interviewer in my link and Mansfield (writer of the book) both saw that common thread in Obama’s belief system. It’s good to see a second source reaffirm the consistency of each other; perhaps giving strength to consistency and understanding of both writers as they explored the same topic and drew similar conclusions and ideas.


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