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.
Wait there's a "wrong kind" of Christian? I thought they were all wrong...
So they get rid of the Christian, in favor of somebody that thinks Christianity is an abomination, that he is 'himself' a God. Christians in this country sided with the rich to hurt the poor, abuse the sick, and steal from the needy (predatory lending)..they support all of it. Electing Romney they turn against everything Biblical. The religious right don't follow God anymore, they have all been misled. I know many Christians who see it for what it is, and because we understand the Bible, we know what Romney represents and will never go along with it.
There is no more verified evidence that Moses or Paul (or any of the rest of the Bible story authors) were supernaturally "inspired" than there is that Joseph Smith was.
Someone's tin foil hat must be loose.
People need to be worried about the Morman cult and how Mormons not long ago used to believe in polagomy along with having women stay in their place in the kitchen and being subservant to men,,,no wonder Romney does not believe in equal pay!!
Yup and he also has binders full of women
I heard on the radio two days ago somebody calling himself a "strong Christian"...and yet living with his girfriend for 12 years ...I would say this man has not read his Bible lately and obviously doesn't see The Word of God as His Final Authority!! I don't know if President Obama is a Christian ; only God can judge that because only God truly knows his heart but the fact that he supports "gay marriage" which God is clearly against and God calls "an abomination" in The Bible and by supporting abortion which God calls "murder" in the Bible, I am wondering how much of the Bible He truly believe and if if he truly see The Bible as "His Final Authority"? I am far from perfect and stumble a lot of time but I know that I did wrong because of what The Bible teaches! I then try to turn to God and ask Him to forgive me! My reference point is The Bible! How does a Christian know right from wrong? He reads and studies the Bible! The Bible is our Guide, our Reference point and define for us what is right and what is wrong... we don't argue or redefine the rules that The Creator of this Universe has laid down! That is His Universe and we have to submit to His Rules. He is Our boss, whether we like it or not and one day, we will ALL give an account to how obedient we have been to His rules and commands! He has given us a free will. We have the choice not to live by His commands ands rules! We can live by our own rules and standards and reject His. We are free to do so! Many do! The Bible says in Ecc 8:11: For because sentence is not speedily pronounced against the evil, the children of men commit evils without any fear. The scary thing is one day we all are going to meet our maker...
"You will know them by their works ...", so then we can know. The other test for fake Christian Cergy is if they charge you and is also the basis of the Nicolaitan reference in Revelations.
OK Obama is the wrong type of Christian..I got it! Romney is a Mormon and does hold true any original tenets of Christianity: in particular he does not believe that Jesus was not god incarnate...he does not believe that Jesus died so that humankind could be saved...he does not believe in the resurrection. The bible talks about reprobate minds, and caling Romney a Christian is as close to reprobate as one can get. Now pass the plate.
Obama only distracts us from the things which really matter.
Don't let us focus too much on Obama, the man of confusion, but on the things which really matter because if we clarify the basic misconceptions concerning the Christian faith, we will proceed, and understand everything of the current course of time.
Recently I have occupied myself a little with Frederic the Great, King of Pruzzia, and Benjamin Franklin which were both leaders of positive Englightenment and hence belong to the Fathers of the modern Western World. They spoke out very much in favour of virtue (which even actually means manhood in Greek or Latin language). They said everybody should aspire for a life of virtue.
I extremly appreciate Frederic and Benjamin for their promotion of righteousness and virtue, it is only that they neglected a little (at least I got the impression) to explain completely the way to virtue. One reading scriptures of Frederic or Benjamin could conclude that he could become virtuous just by some special training.
Of course, training as described in Franklin's Autobiography is very important but the absolute foundation for an improving life is the faith in Jesus and the sacramental baptism.
The great issue is that our "grandfather" Adam once forsook God, the Life, the Light, the Peace and the Community. Everything which awakens in us the associaton of joy is in God, God himself is the Joy. Hence, when Adam forsook God, he forsook all which could make him happy. Adam was once made in the image of God but regretably Adam voluntarily and without any reason left that marvellous and glorious state, subordinated himself to the powers of death and degenerated. Hence, we have biologically inherited the degenerated nature of Adam.
God gave the commanments or the law of the Torah. With that he expresses that he is not pleased with much of our behaviour. Now, if we would be perfect by birth, we had never broken any divine law. Yet, the reality is that we break the divine laws nearly every moment because or core essence is corrupted. Of course, we still resemble God in some respect because he at first made us in his image but we also have an evil germ in us which wants to prevail more and more, and can destroy our life, if we don't start to suppress it.
The basic requirement to dampen this evil germ in us is the faith in Jesus' death and resurrection which convinces us again of God's love towards us. Through faith in the gospel we return into the confident community of the eternal God, the Life. Yet, Jesus Christ died for us not only in order to gain forgiveness for us but also redemption. It seems according to the Epistle to the Romans by St. Paul that everybody easily undestands the we can have forgiveness through Christ's sacrifice when we regard it as an atonement for our sins but only a few people or actually nobody understands that it is also a work of redemption.
This problem is solved by the Holy Sacramental Baptism of the Christian Church, insti-tuted by Christ himself. There we get metaphysically connected with Christ's death and resurrection. Through baptism we die for the sin and "enter" Christ because we have resurrected with him through the marvelous baptism. After baptism we are in Christ who is then our righteousness. It is only that the biological body remains sinful in itself, and we have to fight against it/him our whole life. Our life improves when it becomes a habit for us to overcome our body daily by the power of Jesus' death and resurrection.
Having that divine knowledge of releasing baptism we can also apply the special method of Benjamin Franklin which begins with a reduction of food intake which was also recommended by Jesus and the Apostel, and also Martin Luther.
The 2012 election is between a Mormon and a secularist. As a Christian, I have to side with the one that will leave me free to practice my own faith. The one who does NOT promote gay marriage and abortion. The one who does NOT presume to force me to pay for the abortions and contraception of other people. The one who does not represent the political party that boos God. That's Romney.
The one who does NOT promote gay marriage and abortion.
How about we elect a president that doesn't force your religion on others?
Ambassador of what ignorant rhetoric?
Come on now nobody has been fording their beliefs on anyone yet. No shotgun conversions here. It's all in your head.
Christians believe Christ. Therefore, Obama is not a Christian.
Right because you say so...lol.. What a freaking moron.
Are you God? If not, how dare you presume to know what his beliefs are?
Now that this writer has "disected" President Obama in such a negative light just proves he knows nothing about Mormons or Christianity. Mormonism and Christinity is what he should be writing about and not President Obama. It also suggest to me this guy is a Mormon or a Moron.
To learn truth about hinduism, racism called Christianity visit limitisthetruth.com
Put a sock in it already. I think you have posted enough CRAP about Hinduism. This article is about Obama in case that escaped you.
My God it's full of SPAM
“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.,” ......................
Religion in this country is a mile wide and an inch deep. More than 90% of American "Christians" have no idea what is in the Bible because they don't read their Bible. By the way, is CNN the wrong kind of "journalism"?
The inch deepers make them more susceptible to believe whatever their leaders tell them to believe.
I suggest that "Obama – a Progressive Christian, vs. Romney – not a Christian at all" would be the most fair comparison.
I suggest that anyone is a Christian if that person meets the definition - accepts that Jesus is the Christ. Since I can read either man's mind, I don't really know what they've done in that respect.
This election is between a Mormon whose platform mostly aligns with Christian principles... and a secularist whose platform does not.
Not hardly, this election is about an honest man, Obama, and an egotist that is a habitual liar, Romney.
Lol, an "honest man in Obama"? Open your eyes... he lied about the health care mandate, unemployment, the deficits... he can't speak without lying.
The conversion of Nicodemus was a purely intellectual one in which after having a theological discussion with Christ, he decides to follow the way. Paul was the result of a miracle that physically invaded his being to convince him of the truth of the way. There was also Peter who was emotionally overwhelmed by the miracle of the catch of fish who followed the way. There also is the conversion of Timothy who is described as always having had the tools and learning taught to him so that he could work out his own path. So a person does have to be born-again, yet it does not have to be body shaking weeping wailing emotional moment to come to follow the way.
Funny, I read the comments and wonder how many people actually read the article or even took the the time to digest the information. My Parents taught me not to believe everything i read and saw but to do homework and due diligence and then make up my own mind. They taught me that nothing was owed to me, but that i could accomplish anything if I worked hard and persevered They also taught me to help those in need, forgive others so that it would not become my burden. I invite everyone to read the article and then take a moment and ask yourself, where do I stand and what do I truly believe and why. You just night be supervised at your answer
* kind (Maybe many thought he was a king)
'Nuff said. To quote the Bible "By one's fruits they shall know them." http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-0C86WQk9sQY/T7tjEcJnQuI/AAAAAAAAEPM/U6oXAzejC5A/s1600/obama-jesus-brown-skin-socialist.jpg
The great issue is that our "grandfather" Adam once forsake God, the Life, the Light, the Peace and the Community. Everything which awakens in us the associaton of joy is in God, God himself is the Joy. Hence, when Adam forsook God, he forsook all which could make him happy. Adam was once made in the image of God but regretably Adam voluntarily and without any reason left that marvellous and glorious state, subordinated himself to the powers of death and degenerated. Hence, we have biologically inherited the degenerated nature of Adam.
When are the christ psychotics going to learn that we don't want your dopey fairy tale religion involved in our government? Guess what Obama is an atheist and a smart politician that knows he has to appease the millions of mentally impaired christophrenics in this country. Stop pushing your imaginary friend on us.
Calm down there...No one is forcing you to believe anything or dragging you off to church against your will.
Obama is not an atheist. You however, are a buffoon.
I am unable to articulate exactly how your response concerns me. I will pray for you and myself for understanding...yet I also will pray that the anger you feel towards Christians and most of all towards Jesus Christ lessen, that your heart will come to know Jesus.
A whole lot of anger, intolerance and bigotry coming from those white ministers on the Right. I'm pretty sure that's not what Jesus was talking about. And it seems to be primarily evangelistic Protestant ministers, too. What they don't understand is that the "born again" conversion story is mainly a particularly Protestant and evangelical idea and not a tradition in, say, Catholicism. And I'm not sure it's a tradition in other mainline strains of Christianity, either.
George W. Was considered a "Right king of Christian" by the standards of many Evangelicals and look where that got us.
Uh, ok, we'll bite: WHERE did that get us!
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.