Defending President Obama’s Faith

Renewed questions about President Obama's Christian faith inspire a group of influential leaders to defend him.
Belonging Before Believing

Critics are once again questioning President Obama's faith.

Questioning the President’s Faith

Yesterday, in an interview that was supposed to be about testimony at congressional hearings on the Affordable Care Act contraception mandate, MSNBC host Martin Bashir grilled Dr. Craig Mitchell, an associate professor of ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, about a recent upsurge in attacks on President Obama’s Christian faith.

Bashir became incredulous when Mitchell said the president wasn’t the first to “have that charge leveled against him.”

“People do have their concerns and it’s not wrong for them to express those ideas,” said Mitchell. “What I know is that he says that he’s a Christian, so I have to take him at his word.”

“That kind of response is damning someone with faint praise,” Bashir replied as he pressed Mitchell again and again to affirm the president’s faith based on both his words and his deeds.

Speaking Up for the President

No one who knows the president would question his Christian faith, Florida mega-church pastor Joel Hunter said today on a press call that was designed to counter “escalating attacks on President Obama’s faith and engagement with the faith community.”

“I’m very saddened by that kind of evaluation because it’s obviously coming from a political stance rather than a personal stance,” Hunter said. He attributed recent comments by Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum and the Rev. Franklin Graham that cast doubt on President Obama’s faith to election year politics.

“When we get together, we don’t talk about policy or politics. We talk about his personal life, his family. We pray for the country,” Hunter said of his informal role as pastoral adviser to the president. “I often find myself thinking: I wish a good number of my congregation were as devoted to daily spiritual growth as this man is. So it really grieves me to hear people questioning his faith. I’m just sorry that it’s part of the political process.”

Actions Speak

Other religious and non-profit leaders on the call talked up the good works they’ve been engaged in with the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Thabiti Boone, for example, praised President Obama for the Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative he launched in 2010.

Boone is the international representative for Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative and said his organization has been “on the ground since day one” with the president, working to strengthen families. Seven hundred Omega Psi Phi chapters have committed themselves to improving the importance of fatherhood, Boone said. They’ve done so by partnering with local fatherhood programs in their communities, identifying mentorship opportunities, and advocating with elected officials.

Boone is also a fatherhood advisor to the Allan Houston Foundation and said the foundation is working with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office in New York City to support the president’s initiative. Given Bloomberg’s intransigence on the New York City Board of Education’s decision to prevent religious groups from renting public school space for worship, UrbanFaith asked Boone if the mayor works with faith-based groups on the initiative.

“Yes, he’s working to increase opportunities of how does he connect and tie in with the faith-based community in New York City?” said Boone.

Relationships Are Stronger Than Ever

“The state of the federal government’s relationships with faith-based groups is stronger than ever. Common ground is sought and it is found. Religious freedom is respected and partnerships are being developed in record numbers,” said the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, president emeritus of the National Council of Churches.

She also said she appreciated the fact that President Obama asked the White House Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Advisory Council, on which she served, to respect religious freedom. She quoted the president as saying, “If we lose religious freedom, we lose democracy.”

Hunter, who worked with the previous administration’s Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, said, for President Obama, the office is “an expression of who he is as a Christian.” Hunter recalled a pre-2008 conversation he had with the president, in which they both agreed that faith communities are underutilized in solving the nation’s problems.

“When I did get to hear his testimony for the first time—this was well before he was president—I was struck by how much it involved service to neighbors and how his call to Christ was about helping out the poor and the vulnerable. That was just part of his understanding of what his faith was. And so, all of this work that is being done is not simply good government. It is also a genuine part of how he understands his own responsibility and his own faith,” said Hunter.

Mistakes Were Made

UrbanFaith asked if any participants on the call would concede that the administration had stumbled recently in its communication with religious groups and citizens?

Boone said that as he has traveled the country, speaking to churches and other faith-based groups about fatherhood and mentoring, he’s found increased interest in and support for the president’s programs.

Hunter said that from a white evangelical perspective, “The first iteration of the announcement on the contraceptive ruling was a stumble.” However, he said he appreciates the fact that the administration acted to correct its “mistake.”

Melissa Rogers, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and former chair of the Faith-based and Neighborhood Advisory Council, agreed that the administration “did not strike the right balance with their January 20 announcement,” but affirmed the president’s decision to change course.

She said she disagrees with the administration on some church/state separation and religious freedom issues, but argued that it has “made important contributions to the furthering of religious freedom.” For example, Rogers said the Department of Justice has repeatedly “gone to bat” for houses of worship to prevent them from being zoned out of communities.

“That’s really spectacular work. It’s work of the first order in terms of promoting religious freedom. That work hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves,” said Rogers. “It would be a mistake to overlook very important achievements like the Department of Justice’s work to ensure that our religious institutions, that are so important to us, are able to locate across America in a way that does so much to further faith and to protect the religious freedom of the faith community.”

Time ran out before UrbanFaith could ask if, as critics charge, the administration is downgrading it’s support for religious freedom internationally.

What do you think?

Is the president’s faith fair game in an election year?

About the author, Christine A. Scheller

Christine A. Scheller is a widely published journalist and essayist, and an editor-at-large at UrbanFaith. She lives with her husband at the Jersey Shore and in Washington, DC, where she helps facilitate dialogue between scientific and religious communities.
  1. The short answer is no. The reason being is that this sort of litmus testing of personal Christian faith for political figures is only as old as the 1980 election in which an explicitly Christian president was replaced by an implicitly Christian one, thanks in no small part to the block voting of white evangelical Christians. Only when we remember that this sort of thing is relatively new to the political arena can we take the long view necessary to properly evaluate the usefulness of this sort of strategy.

    Personally, I find questioning of the sincerity and integrity of President Obama’s personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to be deplorable. This questioning is problematic on at least two fronts. First of all, historic orthodox Protestantism has never endorsed any doctrine of visible church. Since the time of the Reformers, historic orthodox Protestantism has clearly taught that only the Lord knows for certain who is genuinely a believer and who is not. Even more, in scripture Christ commands us to let the wheat and tare grow together and that at the last judgement he will do the separating.

    Second of all, the attacks on President Obama’s personal faith assume that his supposed lack of faith disqualifies him to govern. This is totally fallacious. According to scripture, God is the one who created government and He rules every nation through it. This means that government of nations is not directly dependent on the religious beliefs of its leaders. In theology, this is called common grace. Apart from special revelation necessary for personal salvation God has endowed humanity with the ability to properly govern societies.

    Assuming that President Obama is not really a Christian, which is a really dangerous assumption to make, it is unfortunate that so many professing Christians feel the need to dishonor the office of the President. It is an improper response to the supposedly anti-Christian policies that our current president endorses. The proper response would be to take the moral high ground and oppose those specific policies based on a robust biblical and theological understanding of social policy.

    Of course, Evangelicals have been accused by engaging thinkers, both within and without, of being short sighted in their social policy beliefs. This may be in part a consequence of the relatively short history of Evangelicalism. Maybe this is why they borrow so much from Catholic and Anglican thinkers, while rejecting their methods and overall theology. Until Evangelicals display a little humility and admit that their political and social reasoning is still in its early stages, they should be reticent to make such daring claims about such a high officer in our government, especially if they wish to use such claims to influence voters to vote against him.

    So let us pray for our president as we are commanded in scripture and let us oppose his positions when necessary and let us make sure that our opposition is based on solid biblical-exegetical and theological foundations.

    • Why ask anyone about a man’s faith and whether or not if you believe him? The answer is correct. He is if he says he is. Only God knows. The social gospel is deconstructing Christianity from the core by using compassion and guilt to bolster political agenda’s aimed at garnering large blocks of voters.
      By disavowing the validity of the Bible, while apologizing for the accidental burning of the Koran, while the Islamic world is wholesale killing Christians worldwide and burning and bombing Churches to the ground from Egypt to Turkey, Iraq to Indonesia and don’t forget Africa, and saying to the world we are not a Christian nation when indeed the vast majority of American’s are indeed Christian (we all know we are not a theocracy), our President seems to be ambivalent at best about his faith. Ifmy church and my faith were asmportant to me as the president says, and service to the poor is so important, and i am a staunch member of Rev. Jerimiah Wright’s church, for 20 years, there is no way I’m not serving my church in some capacity throughit’s many outreach ministries if not heading up Outreach for Rev. Wright. I would be, with Barack’s credentials, on so many boards it would make your head swim. Got saved there personally by Rev. Wright, and counseled regularly with Rev. Wright and I’m not in service to the church or body of Christ in some capacity?? Deacon Board, Trustee Board, Advisory board, Usher Board, sumpthin! 20 years in a pew? Got married there too? Him and kids baptized there and not serving? Not teaching Bible Study or Sunday School or hosting small groups? No members talking about their 20 year friendship with him and testifying about their spiritual walk with him and the family. i have unbreakable bonds with the men and families at my church. I came in a pew rider and it wasn’t 5 years I was in leadership. Ye shall know them by their fruit. Where’s the fruit? Jimmy Carter would go all the way back to Plains to teach his Sunday school class during his presidency. For the record, black liberation theology does not advocate racism, it advocates salvation through Jesus Christ such that as an opressed people, we would be stengthened through our faith to resist peacefully the wrongful deeds of institutional racism both overt and covert for as long as necessary. Yes it highlights the acts of the opressor, but the value it adds to the courage of the opressed by knowing that God is on our side and wil faithfully deliver us one day, is priceless. President Obama should have been able to articulate that after 20 years under Pastor Wright. Boldly in fact.

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  3. Christians need to remember that judgment starts with the household of faith. We are to love outsiders and lovingly correct those inside our church walls. Because they all claim the label “Christian”, Mormon Mitt Romney and Catholics Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich — as well as President Obama — should be accountable for their lives before God, according to the standard of His Word. As President, Mr. Obama should be walking out Romans 13 and wielding the sword to protect the innocent. His shame-faced reaction recently at the Prayer Breakfast, where the Unborn were named as the most imperiled innocence today, shows he has missed the mark on this front.

    • I’d really like Alito to exliapn why he thought President Obama’s comment warranted an eye-roll.Something else that’s nagging at me is that, even though a corporation may be based in the United States, this does not mean that the major stockholders are United States citizens. Admittedly, my knowledge of the market is pitiful, and my stock holdings are so small you’d need a magnifying glass to see them; nevertheless, from time to time I am given an opportunity to vote my shares with regard to policies and acquisitions. (In fact, immediately following the TARP bailout, was required yup, actually required to cast yay or nay vote as to whether or not Wells Fargo could buy up a mutual fund in which I owned a tiny number of shares.)So this seems to raise a Constitutional issue here. If I am a citizen of another country, and I own stock in a corporation that has now been granted personhood by SCOTUS, and further, since I am allowed to vote my shares, doesn’t this mean I have the right (and the ability) to influence U.S. elections on a scale far greater than an individual U.S. citizen? Doesn’t that kinda make us second class citizens in our own country?

  4. The only one who knows if Obama is a true believer or not is God Himself. For his sake, I pray that he is – and his family.
    However, by their fruits you shall know them.
    Anyone who can fight, argue and vote against a measure that would protect the lives of infants born alive after an abortion is not someone I regard as doing well in the area of protecting the weak and defenseless,
    And, yes, he has done that, in one of the few recorded votes in Illinois – he would usually abstain.
    Are Christians called to help the poor, the widow and the orphan? YES. However, there is a profound differnece between doing it out of agape love, as part of our mandate as believers, and being under duress – threatened with fines and imprisonment. One is true charity. The other is not,

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  7. I Peter 4:17-18
    The President is not a christian. There is only one church. His actions should tell you that he is an imposter.

    There were enough laws on the books to defend anyone who has been abused or discriminated against. We just need to enforce the law in a righteous way.

    The law is for the lawless. At one time in this country homosexuality was against the law. They use to be sent to pyschologists and psychiatrists to correct the behavoir, but imposter judges were appointed to these offices and perverted our laws.

    What level have we sunk to when we as people who are suppose to be educated in christian beliefs and values decide to condone the actions of a president who is clearly wrong.

    It is one thing to try to protect people who are spiritual deviants until they can reached be spiritually, but another to allow them to take us down a road that contributes to this nation’s demise.

    You can dress it up with language put perfume on it all you want, but when you get through with it, a skunk is still a skunk and it still stinks.

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