By John Blake, CNN
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.
When Obama invoked Jesus to support same-sex marriage, framed health care as a moral imperative to care for “the least of these,’’ and once urged people to read their Bible but just not literally, he was invoking another Christian tradition that once dominated American public life so much that it gave the nation its first megachurches, historians say.
“Barack Obama has referred to his faith more times than most presidents ever have, but for many it’s the wrong kind of faith,” says Jim Wallis, head of Sojourners, an evangelical activist group based in Washington that focuses on poverty and social justice issues.
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“It is not the faith of the religious right. It’s about things that they don’t talk about. It’s about how the Bible is full of God’s clear instruction to care for the poor.”
Some see a 'different' kind of Christian
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, a historian and author of “Christianity after Religion.”
“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.”
The origins of Obama’s faith
The suspicion about Obama’s faith may seem odd at first because he’s written and spoken so much about his spiritual evolution in his two autobiographies, “Dreams of my Father” and “The Audacity of Hope.” Other books, like “The Faith of Obama” by Stephen Mansfield, also explore Obama’s beliefs.
The 1925 “Monkey” trial of John Scopes, a high school biology teacher who taught evolution, drove fundamentalists underground, some say.
Mansfield says Obama is the first president who wasn’t raised in a Christian home. Obama’s mother was an atheist and his grandparents were religious skeptics (Obama’s family has challenged the description of his mother as an atheist. Obama called her “the most spiritually awakened” person he’d ever known, and his sister called their mother an agnostic).
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Mansfield called Obama’s boyhood a “religious swirl. He was exposed to Catholicism, Islam, and strains of Hinduism and Buddhism while growing up in Indonesia during the 1960s.
“In our household, the Bible, the Koran and the Bhagavad Gita sat on the shelf alongside books of Greek and Norse and African mythology,” Obama said in Mansfield’s book. “On Easter or Christmas Day, my mother might drag me to church, just as she dragged me to the Buddhist temple, the Chinese New Year celebration, the Shinto shrine, and ancient Hawaiian burial sites.”
Obama became a Christian while he was a community organizer in Chicago. He joined a predominantly black United Church of Christ. The UCC became the first mainline Protestant denomination to officially support same-sex marriage in 2005.
Obama’s faith showed many of the elements of a liberal Protestant church: an emphasis on the separation of church and state, religious tolerance and the refusal to embrace a literal reading of the Bible.
In a 2006 speech before a Sojourners meeting, Obama talked about his approach to the Bible:
“Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application?”
When many people think of Obama’s religious experience in Chicago, though, they cite his exposure to the angry sermons of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and “black liberation theology,” a movement that emerged in the late 1960s and blended the Social Gospel with the black power movement.
Bass, the church historian, says another black pastor shaped Obama’s theology more: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
He attended liberal Protestant seminaries where he learned about the Social Gospel’s concern for the entire person, soul and body.
Obama has reached out to evangelical leaders like Rick Warren, seen here praying at Obama’s inauguration, but many still doubt his faith.
King once wrote that “any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them …is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.”
But King and the black church also fused the Social Gospel with an emotional fervor missing from white Protestant churches, Bass says. Other presidents like Franklin Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were influenced by the Social Gospel, but they weren’t shaped by the black church.
“This is the first time we’re hearing the Social Gospel from the perspective of the black church from the Oval Office. It makes it warmer, more emotive, more communal," Bass says. "There is less fear of linking the Social Gospel with the stories of the Bible, especially the stories of Exodus and Jesus’ healings.”
The emphasis on community uplift - not individual attainment - may strike some Americans as socialist. But the emphasis on community is part of King’s “Beloved Community,” Bass says.
King once wrote that all people are caught up in an “inescapable network of mutuality… I can never be what I ought to be until you are allowed to be what you ought to be.”
“When I listen to Obama, I don’t hear communism, I hear the Beloved Community,” Bass says. “But a lot of white Americans don’t hear that because they never sat in those churches and heard it over and over again. It’s the whole theology that motivated MLK and the civil rights movement.”
Obama is not a Christian, some think
For some, Obama’s actions in the Oval Office seem to contradict Christianity.
Jesus was nonviolent. Obama has ramped up drone attacks in Afghanistan that have not only removed terrorists, but killed civilians.
The Bible talks about the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. Obama invoked Jesus when he came out in support of same-sex marriage. “The thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule," Obama told ABC News during his announcement.
Jesus talked about helping the poor. But he never said anything about creating a massive health care law that taxed the rich to help the poor, some Christians argue.
But Wallis of Sojourners says Obama’s push for health care was a supreme example of Christian faith.
A situation where 50 million Americans don’t have health insurance is “a fundamental Christian problem,” Wallis says.
“Health is such a Gospel issue. Jesus was involved in healing all the time, and to have some people excluded from health care because they lack wealth is a fundamental Christian contradiction.”
Wallis has been one of the most persistent defenders of Obama’s faith. But no matter how much Scripture he and others cite, doubts about Obama’s faith have followed him throughout his political career.
Focus on the Family founder James Dobson once said that Obama distorted the traditional understanding of the Bible “to fit his own world, his own confused theology.” The Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, publicly questioned Obama’s faith, then later apologized.
Conservative Christian books and websites are filled with stories of Obama allegedly trying to suppress the nation’s Christian heritage.
The Rev. Steven Andrew, author of “Making a Strong Nation,” says Obama is trying to change the national motto from “In God we Trust” to “Out of Many, One,” and he’s ordered the Pentagon to remove biblical verses from its daily report.
“That’s the most serious thing someone can do to a nation, trying to separate a nation from God,” he says. “He seems to be trying to change the Christian laws our Founding Fathers made.”
Andrew says Obama is actually an enemy of Christianity. In his book, Andrew argues that the Founding Fathers were Christians who created a “covenant Christian nation” and calls for a “national repentance.”
“I think he’s an anti-Christ,” Andrew says. Cass, of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission, says Obama’s emphasis on helping the poor through social justice isn’t Christianity.
Christians who talk about “social justice” are often practicing “warmed-over Marxism,” Cass says.
“Do I believe in caring for the poor and oppressed? Yes. But you don’t do it along the lines of communistic redistributing.”
Obama’s support of same-sex marriage and abortion rights also disqualifies him from being a Christian, Cass says.
“It’s the most pro-abortion administration in the history of America. On every social issue – the sanctity of life and of marriage between men and women – Obama is on the wrong side of every moral issue,” he says.
He says a progressive Christian is a contradiction.
“No Christian says I believe in Jesus Christ and I reject the Bible,” Cass says. “These progressives who say they’re Christians are liars. They’re using Christianity as a guise to advance their own agenda.”
Cass says he doesn’t know what Obama believes.
“He’s conflicted,” Cass says. “He has Muslim sympathies from his upbringing."
How progressive Christianity lost the public square
There was a time when Obama’s brand of Christianity would have been understood by millions of Americans, historians say.
Obama along with first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters Malia and Sasha leave church after attending a Sunday prayer service.
The Social Gospel and progressive Protestantism dominated the American religious square from the end of the 19th century up to the 1960s. At times, the traditions blended together so seamlessly that it was hard to tell the difference.
The Social Gospel rose out of the excesses of the Gilded Age in the 1880s, when urban poverty spread across America as immigrants crammed into filthy slums to work long hours in unsafe conditions.
Walter Rauschenbusch, a Baptist pastor in a New York slum, urged the church to take “social sins” as seriously as they took individual vices. Churches began feeding the poor and fighting against other social ills.
“The notion that religious people should be about feeding the poor and helping the homeless is a carryover of the Social Gospel,” says Charles Kammer, a religion professor at Wooster College in Ohio. The Social Gospel was adopted by many Protestant churches in the late 19th and early 20th century, says Bass, the church historian. Some of the Social Gospel churches grew popular because they provided the poor with everything from English classes to sewing instructions and basketball leagues.
“The first American megachurches were liberal, Social Gospel urban churches,” Bass says.
The Social Gospel, though, sparked a backlash from a group of pastors during World War I. They were called fundamentalists. They published a pamphlet listing the “fundamentals of the faith:” Biblical inerrancy, the virgin birth, Adam and Eve.
But the fundamentalists lost the battle for public opinion during the “Scopes Monkey Trial” in 1925. John Scopes, a high school science teacher, was tried for violating a Tennessee law that prohibited the teaching of evolution.
Though Scopes lost, fundamentalist Christians were mocked in the press as “anti-intellectual rubes,” and a number of states suspended pending legislation that would have made teaching evolution illegal, says David Felten, author of “Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity.”
The trial drove fundamentalists underground where they created a subculture, their own media networks, seminaries and megachurches, he says.
That subculture thrives today, Felten says, and has infiltrated the political arena. It has created an “alternative intellectual universe” that denies science, rational thought – and any beliefs that violate their definition of being a Christian, Felten says.
“They have millions of adherents who believe in a literal six day creation and a literal Adam and Eve – so it’s not a stretch to believe that President Obama is a Kenyan-born secret Muslim bent on destroying the country,” Felten says.
Progressive Christians eventually lost the messaging wars to this fundamentalist subculture, Bass says. Their nuanced view of faith couldn’t compete with the “spiritual triumphalism” of conservatives.
“If you get up and say we’re right and we have the truth, then you have a powerful public message,” she says. “They have a theological advantage in the public discourse. It’s comforting to have things clear, to have things black and white.”
The result today is that the Protestant tradition that shapes much of Obama’s Christianity is fading from public view.
The share of Protestant Christians in the United States has dropped below 50% of the population, according to a recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
White mainline Protestants make up only 15% of the nation’s population, the survey revealed. The study also found that the fastest growing "religious group" in the country is people who are not affiliated with any religion.
Another generation of Christians, though, may bring a new version of progressive Christianity back.
The lines between younger conservative Christians and progressives are blurring, says Marcia Pally, author of “The New Evangelicals: Expanding the Vision of the Common Good.”
Pally spent six years traveling across America to interview evangelicals. She says her research revealed that more than 60% of young evangelicals support more governmental programs to aid the needy, as well as more emphasis on economic justice and environmental protection issues.
“What’s interesting is that these values, associated with Obama and the black Protestant tradition are now also the values of a growing number of white evangelicals,” she says.
Her perspective suggests that Obama’s faith may be treated by history in two ways:
He could be seen as the last embodiment of a progressive version of Christianity that went obsolete.
Or he could be seen as a leader who helped resurrect a dying brand of Christianity for a new generation.
This is offensive. Singed White male, veteran, worship-leading, independent voter. There is only one kind of Christian, the one who accepts the grace offered. The President has made clear he's accepted that grace on more than one occasion. I'm sick of groups trying to co-opt Christ for their political beliefs.
Obama's opponent's religion on the whole co-opts Christ to gain acceptance in the world. For those of you who do not see the LDS as a cult, you have to admit, it is a secret society that is also a HUGE business venture. Mormon conversion practices are fascist and conspiratory!
honestly – I am so glad I was raised without religion. It is surely the most manipulated and devisive invention of humankind,
There is only one kind of Christian, or follower of Christ. Obama, and others like him, are twisting the word of God to meet their political agenda. It is sacrilegious!! Obama is not a Christian. No, his beliefs coincide more with the Muslim belief!!!
you should find a new source for your 'facts'
Unless you are God, you have no right to judge another's beliefs.
"No, his beliefs coincide more with the Muslim belief!!!"
in what way? do tell us.
and seeing as there are literally thousands of differen christian denominations out there are you able to tell use which 'one kind of christian' is the right one then?
What would you say about Mormon beliefs. Please reply.
İslam and Christianity are SAME. In order to understand Obama, we ask the question different. The true question "did Obama believe any religious" But it is about private life.
The hypocrisy is astounding.
"My house?" For real? ISN'T IT GOD'S HOUSE?
If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Fable. Go kill people that are working today. It's in the bible.
CNN is devolving into the kind of shallow, petty and biased ratings hound that we expect from Fox (Faux) news and the like. Come on, what legitimate news organization would use a pejorative headline like "Is Obama the 'Wrong' kind of Christian?"
How about these questions instead: "Is CNN the 'Wrong' kind of factual?" or "Is CNN the 'Wrong' kind of unbiased?" or "Is CNN reporting the 'Wrong' kind of news?"
Soledad O'brian is the only reporter you have that I can look up to. I hope she moves somewhere respectable one day.
Anyone that believes in god is a delusional idiot.
Wrong kind of story.
Apparently there are still many people believing Obama's charade. Folks, he is NOT Christian. The closest thing he could really be called is some sort of a muslim/athest, but his true idol is himself. He is NOT Christian by any stretch of the imagination. He has proven this time and again by his actions and choice of words. He has been cloaking himself to deceive the voters of the US, millions of whom ARE Christians. When the masses really wake up as to who he is, it will be too late. He is a very dangerous individual. The kind of person he is? One that cloaks himself as a do-gooder until in a position of very hard-to-break power. This is what he is doing. But it seems many still just cannot see it. What a pity!
you are a MORON
gOOD BECUASE CHRISTRIANS ARE THE BIGGEST A HOLES ON THIS PLANET.
I feel sorry for you.
Teaparty members... so embarrassing for the rest of America.
I didn't know right or wrong kind of Christian I know Norman is not Christian it's a cult
bush jnr invaded 2 countries, is he a christian or also just pretending?
I love it when factions of the sub-faction of supernatural idiocy (namely Christianity as part of the world's Religion), accuse each other of not being a member of that sub group purely by some insane measurement built on layers of crazy. I think it's time that this nation stopped concerning itself with what brand of insane a public servant belongs to and instead, question their policy and intent. And by the way, the notion that Obama is some kind of agent of the Muslim world would be laughable if it wasn't so sad. Frankly as a non-believer of all things supernatural, I am not inspired by either of the candidates particular faiths but try my best not to judge them.
Mom- What is your opinion of Mormon beliefs,and why would you vote for Romney,given those beliefs.
Odumber/Oblamber the POS is a Soulless Antichrist Zombie Psychopath Liar, plus he is GAY which also makes him one sick puppy. Gone 2012.
Obama is an atheist who makes a show of being Christian just to secure votes ... this point was proven in DNC where they had to re-insert God into their platform based on a dubious voice vote. Classic example of using God conveniently when you need votes and dumping Him when it comes to making policies ....
Obama got God re-inserted into DNC platform because he found out polls showing God is still important .. not time yet to dump God. Was this a principled stand? NO ... it was based on polls .... Obama is NOT a leader ... he is poll-follower .. who flip-flopped his position on gay marriage solely based on POLLS ... we need a LEADER in WH ... not a POLLSTER.
who died and made you YAHWEH?
God shouldn't be in the platform. Democratic Party =/= Religious Party. Theist, polytheist, deist, atheist, agnostic... the platform should reflect everyone and the DNC was wrong for changing it due to pressure from the right and their cronies.
You conservatives that claim CNN is a some liberal network need to check yourself. This would be offensive even for Fox News. CNN is the same network that once employed Glen beck and Lou Dobbs. If you read all the "Opinion articles" and watch post debate coverage they have more right wing philosophical pundits than any other network other than Fox. There is a reason why CNN was the only idiot cable network that had a poling that said Biden lost to ryan in debate while other cable network clearly showed Biden won. Fox did'nt even bother publicizing their poll. CNN's Polls are crap and so are the there political coverages, since most of their viewers are conservatives or undecided folks voting for romney. This is right wing propaganda on the home page to make christian voters question their vote along with a number of inaccuracies on Obama's background. This is clearly partism and not "fair and Balance". CNN has never been fair to Obama. They act like this President caused the Financial Recession and he was to fix all of it within 3 years. When we went to Iraq and still have no WMDs found CNN did not ask the Bush Administration what happend. When 9/11 attacked occurred and there were no questions about who screwed up CNN did not ask the Bush administration what happend. I'm sorry I'm sticking to my MSNBC and Bloomberg from here on.
Puppet, he is a Islam. He pretent to be Christian because he married with Christian. As usual, CNN is just try to give Obozo a religion for voters.
damn pres Lincoln
C'mon... A picture of Tiger Woods, in a Christian article, THIS close to Election Day?
God will have the final say about when life begins.I'm not going to judge someone but I'm not going to tell my son or daughter when God starts human life.God is the final say not the supreme court.
the funny thing is that you may think that your god talks to people... Do you believe in zombies too?
God does not leave that question up to the supreme group of humans and he doesnt allow You to hide behind a rock taking no position you coward.. God said,"for I knew you in the womb" We He clear enough for you??
I can't believe that CNN has sunk so low. Is Obama the right kind of Christian? Please, Romney is not a Christian at all. Mormons are not Christians. This is just one of the dumbest things CNN has published. Shame on you CNN.
well, you didn't read the article, that's for sure
Well Norma that may be true but in saying that Catholics are not Cristians either. They pray to Mary.They think Mary is an interceser like Jesus who speaks directly to God on your behalf. Thus Mary ,for the Catholics is a God Head. So in conclussion All fall short of the glory of God. None of us have it right. If you knew your New testament youd know that. Not one church on earth makes even one person more worthy to God.
Anyone who believes that far-right "Christian fundamentalism" is in any way a reflection of Jesus' teachings has obviously never read them.
I guess the hateful people's take is, if they hate it, it must be condemned in the Bible there somewhere. I've read the Bible and I don't recall any passages mention Jesus condemning abortion, gay marriage, hating someone because they are a different race, or condoning a political party specifically.
Oh, and I am sick to death of the SOME!
WHO ARE THE SOME THAT THINK THIS. NAME THEM. BE A REAL JOURNALIST INSTEAD OF JUST A HACK. NAME THEM NAME THEM NAME THEM
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.