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Barack Obama’s Christianity

Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

Apparently Mark Driscoll is beating up on the president’s religion:

Praying for our president, who will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.

Now, to be completely clear:

  1. I believe Mr. Obama is a Christian. He talks and acts like most progressive Protestants I know, especially those coming from the social justice wing of Protestantism rather than the varieties that focus on individual salvation.
  2. … and even if he wasn’t, it’s not really my business. Mr. Obama does a good job keeping his personal theology out of his policies. Even when I disagree with him, it’s not because we have different views of the Bible. If Mr. Obama was a Muslim, or an atheist, or a Zoroastrian, I think I’d feel pretty much the same about his platform.

Even so, Mr. Driscoll’s words stuck in my throat. At the risk of crossing into the same judgmental-about-salvation language Rvd. Driscoll is engaging in (and which Mt 7 clearly says is a big no-no), you don’t just dismiss a person’s often-stated religious affiliation like that without any explanation or justification.

But this Tweet came out the same day as a story that does illustrate Obama’s faith quite well: about his friendship with conservative mega-pastor Joel Hunter and the way he responded to the news that Rvd. Hunter’s young granddaughter Ava had been diagnosed with a GBM brain tumor. I know from personal experience just how destructive this particular type of tumor can be. This story comes from a man who you would expect to be his political rival (and on many issues they are), and shows a man reacting in a uniquely Christian way. I’ll also add it shows a more humble faith, more focused on grace than power, than anything I’ve ever heard coming from Mark Driscoll.

As I said, I believe it is a sin to judge another person’s status as a Christian, and Rvd. Driscoll may have some dark torment at work that’s driving him to make these kinds of statements about the prresident. I’m not going there. And by the same notion, I may be wrong about Mr. Obama’s faith. He may be playing u all. Rvd. Hunter may be bamboozled, or he may have some ulterior motive. (Having seen the utter destruction caused by GBM’s up close, I don’t think so; but I’ll admit the possibility.) There may be more to this story than meets the eye. And of course the fact that he’s a Christian doesn’t earn him a free pass on drone strikes, “enhanced interrogation,” rampant militarism or any other issue you want to point to.

But in light of Pastor Mark’s tweet, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share this story about Obama and Rvd. Hunter. Quite aside from Driscoll’s comment, it’s a story worth reading if you want a fuller picture of the president.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 22nd, 2013 03:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing that link and that story. One of the things that drew me to President Obama is the way he seems to be genuinely interested in the people who surround him, that he seems to truly care.

Of course, politicians being politicians, there's always the little voice in the back of the mind wondering if it's just acting.

I am glad to know that my impression of him is a true one. I am glad to know that he truly is as lovely a person as I hoped he would be.
Jan. 22nd, 2013 04:41 pm (UTC)
If there's one thing that really gets me, whether it comes from a Christian or a Buddhist or any other person of faith, it is attempting to define or categorize another person's faith.

1. Mr. Driscoll isn't Mr. Obama. He doesn't know what Obama's
history is, what his mind is, or what his heart is about.
To attempt to tell someone else about a faith not
his own is the height of hubris.
2. Christians, I believe, are exhorted NOT to
do what Mr. Driscoll is doing in the verse about not
touching the motes in other people's eyes until one takes
care of the logs in one's own eyes. Wise teaching, that.

Mr. Obama is a Christian, from all I've seen and heard. For my own part, that's all I need to know - not what denomination he belongs to, not if he's a dominionist or something else. The quality of Mr. Obama's faith is best observed through his actions, both public and private, than through the "darkened glass" of another person's opinion.
Jan. 22nd, 2013 07:01 pm (UTC)
You know, the only reason I care about peoples' faith identity (outside of friends, where I may have a more specific relationship with them and want to see them use their beliefs to become the best kind of person they are) is when that faith helps me understand where they come from. If Mr. Obama was a Dominionist, that would worry me - not because I think Dominionism is wrong or evil or anything, but because I think it's harmful. Beliefs - any kind of belief - help predict actions.

But really, the broad religious labels like Buddhist, Muslim, atheist, Christian are entirely too broad to be useful. Tell me how a politician balances his beliefs against science, against other peoples' values, against his own good common sense - that will be helpful. Saying someone's not a Christian as if that's an insult (let alone a barrier to office)? I'm not on board with that. And interestingly, this approach applies to non-Christians and non-Democrats too. I remember back in the primaries looking at the brouhaha over Mr. Romney's Mormonism and thinking about it in similar terms. He claimed to be a Mormon, and that to me is not orthodox Christianity because they have a different holy text on top of the one Christians hold to. (That's typically the divide in western religions - when you add a new revelation on top of the old one, you're no longer part of the same tradition.) But that doesn't mean I thought he was a bad man or a bad candidate. In point of fact I did think he was a bad candidate, but for completely other reasons. I could have easily voted for Jon Huntsman, for instance, and have voted for Mormon politicians at the local/state level in the past. And for Muslims, and Hindus, and... in a multicultural society, it's really not my place to judge another person's religious belief.

If Driscoll was saying "here are the beliefs Obama holds and here is why they are dangerous," that would at least be a starting point. But his statement is both (to my knowledge) false and also insulting.

Btw, thought you might enjoy a pic I came across the other day, apropos to all this:

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )



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