I am always shocked by the glee with which many evangelical Christians will pass judgment upon, and dismiss the faith of other professing Christians. I guess I shouldn’t be. Finding ways to be dismissive of those who come from a different Christian tradition, or have experienced a different kind of obedience to the gospel is all too common. But it still shocks me – disappoints me as well.
This has been the practice of many evangelicals who disagree with the president’s politics, so feel inclined to dismiss the fact that he’s a Christian. There’s a fantastic article up at CNN right now by John Blake describing the faith tradition President Obama is a part of and why it’s so hard for some evangelicals to accept. Here’s an excerpt that is particularly embarrassing to me as both a Christian and a Kansan:
“President Barack Obama was sharing a pulpit one day with a conservative Christian leader when a revealing exchange took place. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a conservative Christian who has taken public stands against abortion and same-sex marriage, had joined Obama for an AIDS summit. They were speaking before a conservative megachurch filled with white evangelicals. When Brownback rose to speak, he joked that he had joined Obama earlier at an NAACP meeting where Obama was treated like Elvis and he was virtually ignored. Turning to Obama, a smiling Brownback said, “Welcome to my house!”
The audience exploded with laughter and applause. Obama rose, walked before the congregation and then declared:
“There is one thing I have to say, Sam. This is my house, too. This is God’s house.”
Historians may remember Obama as the nation’s first black president, but he’s also a religious pioneer. He’s not only changed people’s perception of who can be president, some scholars and pastors say, but he’s also expanding the definition of who can be a Christian by challenging the religious right’s domination of the national stage….
Obama is a progressive Christian who blends the emotional fire of the African-American church, the ecumenical outlook of contemporary Protestantism, and the activism of the Social Gospel, a late 19th-century movement whose leaders faulted American churches for focusing too much on personal salvation while ignoring the conditions that led to pervasive poverty.
No other president has shared the hybrid faith that Obama displays, says Diana Butler Bass…“The kind of faith that Obama articulates is not the sort of Christianity that’s understood by the media or by a large swath of Christians in the U.S.,” says Bass, a progressive Christian. “He’s a different kind of Christian, and the media and the public awareness needs to reawaken to that fact.”
Some Christians, however, still see Obama as the “other.” He doesn’t act or talk like other Christians, says the Rev. Gary Cass, a conservative Christian president of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission. “I just don’t see or hear in his accounts the kind of things that I’ve heard as a minister for over 25 years coming from the mouths of people who have genuinely converted to Christianity,” says Cass, pastor of Christ Church in San Diego. Cass says he’s never heard Obama say he’s “born-again.” There’s no emotional conversion story to hang onto.
Obama talks about his faith and attends church, but Cass says that doesn’t mean he’s a Christian. “Joining a church doesn’t mean you’re a Christian. “You can put me in the garage, but that doesn’t turn me into a car.”
What do you think about this?
If you feel like reading more about the relationship between evangelicalism and the social gospel, you might want to check out the book I wrote on the subject: An Evangelical Social Gospel?