Is Obama an Evangelical? Christianity Today Debates

source: Christianity Today

Excerpt from — “Barack Obama: Evangelical-in-Chief?” by Judd Birdsall (read the whole article by linking here)

Jurvetson - Barack Obama on the Primary | WikiMedia Commons

The 2012 campaign has placed evangelicals in a paradox. A recent PRRI/RNS poll reveals that white evangelicals support a Mormon presidential candidate over Obama by an overwhelming 49% margin, but are simultaneously the religious group most likely to say it is important for a presidential candidate to share their religious beliefs (67%).

While there are plenty of legitimate policy reasons that evangelicals might support Governor Romney, their willingness to overlook their desire for a coreligionist candidate may also have at least something to do with the fact that 24% of them—higher than any other religious group—believe Obama is a Muslim, and even more are unaware (or unconvinced?) he’s a Protestant. What if more evangelicals knew Obama largely shares their religious beliefs?

That the true religious identity of the world’s most famous, most powerful man could remain a mystery to so many is itself a mystery. Before and especially during his presidency, Obama has been extraordinarily open on matters of faith, providing ample evidence for his repeated claim to be a devout Christian. The evidence may even suggest Obama is our evangelical-in-chief.

In his excellent religious biography of the President, The Faith of Barack Obama, author Stephen Mansfield spends several pages exploring whether Obama has been “born again.” Mansfield’s interviews with the President’s spiritual advisors suggest so.

“I know he’s born again,” said Joshua DuBois, head of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, in an interview with Mansfield. A pastor’s kid who served briefly in a Pentecostal pastorate himself, DuBois has queried the President about his faith and found that he “believes what the majority of Christians believe.”

Joel Hunter, pastor of Florida’s 15,000-member Northland Church and Obama’s closest spiritual mentor, is even more emphatic. “There is simply no question about it: Barack Obama is a born again man who has trusted in Jesus Christ with his whole heart.”

These assertions of Obama’s “born again” status are instructive but only tell us so much. The Christian experience of spiritual rebirth is internal, subjective, and thus difficult to disprove. Moreover, it constitutes only one dimension of what it means to be an evangelical….

(read article in its entirety by clicking here)

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  • As a disclaimer, I am attempting to describe the psychology/sociology of the politics of faith below. I am not saying I believe Obama to be a Muslim, to be a false teacher, or any other negative attribution. I am rather trying to roughly explain the conservative evangelical mindset as unbiased as possible (as a matter of upfront disclosure, if I were to be put on a spectrum, I would lean conservative)

    The issue with Obama is he is identified as a liberal in entirety. While there are some people that would be labeled ‘liberal evangelicals,’ the majority of them tend to be liberal in fiscal issues and a lot of social issues, but conservative on certain Christian hot-button issues such as abortion and marriage. Obama is not that type of mixed liberal, based upon his stances regarding abortion and marriage.
    The problem for many evangelicals then is that besides his Middle Eastern sounding name and heritage is the fact that they do not see many visible signs of evangelicalism as it is generally conceptualized. So, there is an inherent distrust of any sort of ‘evangelical’ identification of Obama. Right or wrong, evangelicalism and liberalism are generally seen to be exclusive. And the Bible has a metaphor and phrase from the Gospels that some people categorize religious claimers: wolf/false teachers. Anthropologically speaking, false teachers are considered worse than mere unbelievers. So if Obama is a false teacher/religious liar and Romney is an unbeliever, Romney garners less mistrust along the lines of religious identification.

    So when the evangelical public compares Obama and Romney, they do not develop trust based upon identification with either of them. There are two avenues from which trust and mistrust is build: identification based upon core principles and beliefs and calculus-based trust based upon based actions.

    Obama has a huge identification-based mistrust with conservatives based upon his policies. Combine that with his Middle Eastern heritage, the political mistrust bleeds over into religious mistrust. But this is akin to the ‘halo effect’ (research on Wikipedia). Because of a negative political attribution, people are more apt to create a consistent negative religious attribution, which activates the negative Middle Eastern stereotype (Muslim). However, that stereotype is probably the result of mistrust for the majority of evangelicals, not the source of the mistrust.

    On the other end, considering the conservative leaning nature of most evangelicals, they have at least some political identification with Romney. Furthermore, Obama’s actual actions have created a calculus-based mistrust amongst conservative evangelicals, whereas there is not as much readily accessible knowledge on Romney’s actions as politician. So there is room presently for Romney to gain calculus-based trust with conservative evangelicals.

    So in short, based upon the cognitive map of conservative evangelicalism, they are not violating their principle of a religious faith being important in a candidate. Furthermore, given the political identification AND policies implemented by Obama, it is hard to see Obama’s religiousity as a positive. At best, he is a nominal Christian in many of their eyes (I have heard many talk about Obama’s lack of religious service attendance, true or not), and nominal Christianity is not a selling point for evangelicals either.

  • Matcol

    The article is interesting and very provocative in nature… but, I can’t stomach the comments at the bottom. These people have no grace. They need Jesus.  

  • Jsweauclaire

    Anyone can say he is a “believer”.   I would ask what is he a believer in?  I have not seen ANY evidence of a belief in the God of the Holy Bible.   On the contrary he has moved principally and effectively away from Biblical teachings.   He has mis-quoted and yanked out of context most scripture he gets near.   He scoffs at the Jews.   I would ask what kind of “believer’ is Jeremiah Write, Obama’s pastor for 20 years?  By their fruits you will know them.   I can say I am anything, but what do my actions show?

  • Corky Riley

    As For President Obama, just because you walk into a garage does not make you an  AUTOMOBILE. I think the same could be said of a person walking into a Church. I think judging a person’s faith is above my pay grade. I tend to look at a person’s behavior and try and match up what they say and do and this helps me how I fellowship or follow a person as Church leaders. I am not sure how a Christian such as President Obama can support partial birth abortion or laws as a State Senator to withold medical care to a baby born alive after a late term abortion. We have to be careful.  

  • RobS

    Certainly an interesting topic.  I think a huge % of American identifies themselves as “Christian” and very little consistency and understanding exists in how most people use the word.  This interview ( did give some interesting insights into Obama’s thoughts on Christianity and his beliefs.

    The most interesting comments:

    “I believe that there are many paths to the same place…”
    Answer to “Who is Jesus?” becomes:  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
    And he’s also a wonderful teacher. I think it’s important for all of us,
    of whatever faith, to have teachers in the flesh and also teachers in
    history.Also, he wrestles hard with the idea of hell.  That’s certainly more clear for some than others, but his comments on hell suggest that he believes love wins with Rob Bell, but holiness is… a subproduct of God’s character.On heaven:  “What I believe in is that if I live my life as well as I can, that I will be rewarded.”On what is sin?:  “Being out of alignment with my values.”I’m not going to judge or declare something here… just presenting a few comments within a very detailed interview that leave me unsure of the President’s position.

  • Chiefupstart

    As an evangelical, I long for the day when we stop fetishising the idea of having one of our own in the White House. I was always taught that character matters above all and I believe this. There are few more accurate indicators of character than the scope and purpose of a life’s work. One candidate has spent his life in public service. The other has spent his life enriching himself. Character matters, denomination does not.