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.
What a terribly irresponsible headline to run on this article.
All hail the lord our savoir Barack Hussein Obama, He is the Christ!, He will deliver us from the Evil capitalist empire that oppresses Those who believe in him. Kneel and pry for his forgiveness!
The only kind of "trickle-down" that actually works:
"Theseeker" degenerates to:
"Douglas" degenerates to:
"pervert alert" where he writes such lovely posts as "QUE ERS THE ONES WHO GAVE AIDS TO AMERICA"
"Taskmaster" degenerates to:
"Ronald Regonzo" degenerates to:
"truth be told" degenerates to:
"Atheism is not healthy ..." degenerates to:
"tina" degenerates to:
"captain america" degenerates to:
"just sayin" degenerates to:
"nope" degenerates to:
"WOW" degenerates to:
"!" degenerates to:
and many other names, but of course I prefer to refer to this extreme homophobe as
the disgruntled Evangelical Fortune Cookie Co. writer boot camp flunkie.
What the many 'Obama is a Muslim' liars are so desperate to avoid, is any focus whatsoever on Mitt Romney's membership in an anti-Christian 'religion'.
Mormons, BY DEFINITION, and are NOT CHRISTIANS.
MORMONS REJECT CHRIST AS THE SON OF GOD.
Mormons – Mitt Romney included – believe that Jesus Christ was "just another prophet" among many.
They REJECT the fact that he is the Son of God.
They REJECT Jesus Christ as the Redeemer of mankind.
They REJECT the entire concept of Christianity.
Unlike the silly, anti-Christian liars that are perfectly happy to debase themselves with lies, what I've written is the actual TRUTH.
Mormons are NOT Christians, by definition.
You won't hear them talking about that.
These so-called Christians have no problem lying.
These so-called Christians have no problem voting for a man who openly admits believing in a religion that REJECTS CHRIST.
Based on the comments of the zealots who proclaim Obama to be the "wrong" kind of Christian, or no Christian at all, I'd elect the guy just because anyone the bozos hate has to be doing something right.
There is no worse that the blind, that does not want to see.
1st John defines who is and who is not a Christian with absolute clarity. You cannot BE a Christian outside of what is described in that book. Merely using the teachings of Jesus as a guideline for religion is a recipe for a twisted religion. Read 1st John yourself, and then decide whether first of all, you yourself meet that definition.
You do realize that 2/3 of the worlds population does not give a rip about your bible and they are all the better for it.
Well, if Christianity (or even one of those other religions) is correct, then the "correct religion" isn't decided by a Democracy... so the fact that 2/3 of the world doesn't care about Christianity doesn't matter, except that it means we still have 2/3 of the world to reach with the Gospel.
He's my kind of christian. One that understands that not everyone in the US is religious and as president he represents us ALL.
Not just the religious, no matter how vocal and exclusionary they may be.
Decent enough article...ridiculous trolling headline.
As far as I am concerned, most of the comments about the President's faith on this page, and the very topic of this article are what is wrong with Christianity. Asking if Obama is the "wrong kind of Christian" is insulting at it's core. How right is bending the teachings of Christ to fit ones own views either Christian or noble? Jesus said...heal the sick, feed the hungry,,, care for the weakest among us,,,, and always pray in private. Ideological purity, a fundamentalist view of scriptural literalism, tribal mentality, denial of science, a hostile fear of progress, demonization of education, the need to control women's bodies, severe xenophobia, intolerance of dissent, should not the foundations upon which a "tolerant" religion is based. Many Christians today cite Old testament teachings as examples of how Christians are to behave and believe yet violate them daily. These teachings predate Christianity and are in part what Jesus preached against, thereby undermining the very foundation of the fundamentalist movement. Protestantism does not depreciate good works, but insists upon them as necessary fruits of faith. To insist or infer that the caring for the poor and oppressed is communistic is absurd and violates the very teachings of Christ. To say I will help my fellow man as long as it does not hurt me personally is an abomination. As far as I am concerned, I don't care if Obama is a Christian, a Catholic, a Muslim,a Pagan or any other religion as long as he doesn't legislate like one. I believe completely in the Separation of Church and State. We were Not at our founding a Christian nation. So say the writings of John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson among others. Therefore the dissection and De-legitimizing of the President's faith is insulting. His faith as mine is a private, and wholly personal thing that does not require approval from anyone.
Miss Boo, stated, "We were Not at our founding a Christian nation."
Does the word "Pilgrim" ring and belfries? Or are we not there yet?
The faith of a President is important in that it's a part of his character and gives us an insight into what policies we can expect him to support or not support. That's the primary reason it matters. I don't know any Christians that are looking to establish a Theocracy, but I know a great many that are looking to elect someone who will represent their vote on important issues which, of course, is the point of a representative government.
For me, one of those issues happens to be abortion. I don't want to control women's bodies, but telling a woman that she can't kill her child because it's inconvenient isn't controlling her body any more than I'm controlling someone when I tell him it's illegal to shoot a guy for repossessing his car. There is no way to rationalize killing an unborn child, and that's precisely what abortion is. That "unwanted tissue" is a child. It has the DNA of a human. Left to the natural course of pregnancy, it will be born a human. So why do we treat it as unhuman? Do we assume that children will not eventually grow up to be adults, or that adults will not eventually become elderly and need assistance? Of course not. But for some reason we choose to stop our knowledge of age progression at birth, and anything before that is some kind of weird mystery... when we know full well that that Fertilized egg has all the information it needs to grow into, eventually, an elderly person with a long life behind them. It'll divide again and again adding exponentially more cells, adding more complex cells, and a greater variety of them, until it finally reaches its several pre-set stages as defined by its DNA. Who are we to draw some arbitrary, artificial line and say "Before this, these cells are just junk. After this, these cells are human."?
MIke, I'm guessing from your name that you are a man. You will never be faced with the difficult choice to terminate a pregnancy. You will never have to decide if you can afford, physically or financially, to bear a fetus for 9 months. You will never have to decide if you can afford to support a child once it is born, if you can give it a decent home, if you have the emotional maturity to handle an unexpected responsibility.
Child abuse and murder is rampant in the country, and there are over half a million children in foster care? Most of those children will never be adopted, many will end up with unwanted children of their own. Some will end up in jail, and some will be abused. Some will die before they reach adulthood. Unless you actively support affordable and available birth control and health care - pre- and post-natal, you are simply part of the problem. I don't know about you, but I think it's more humane to terminate a cluster of cells that lacks the ability to feel pain than it is to insist that a child be born into a situation where it is unwanted, unloved, unprotected and may end up abused or dead.
Jhn 18:36 Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.
Taken from blueletterbible.com
Chalk one up for the Mormonism crowds
1. Barack Obama is Muslim. It is recorded that way in his records. He attended a muslim school, as a muslim. He was born to a muslim father. The penalty for converting to Christianity is death. He is not dead, ergo, he is still muslim. 2. He is "Christian" in name only because he knows that if he ever admitted being muslim, it would sink his political career. He did refer to it once as 'my muslim faith'.
I would tell you to look up these things called "facts" but it would appear you are too far gone.
Claude, please stop regurgitating anonymous urban legend emails. It makes you look stupid
I think you are a Muslim fundamentalist
I think Claude's foil hat might be too tight.
If my father was Catholic and I attended a Catholic school, does that make me Catholic?
I have been all over the theological spectrum, from Catholic to Pentacostal, from Southern Baptist to Universalist Unitarian. I have finally found a home in an American Baptist church. This church is what some would call a liberal church. When I hear the fundamentalist cry that the president isn't a Christian, the first thought that comes to mind is another cry of "Western infedels" from those that hold fundamentalist Islamic views. It took me many years to give my present church a try because most everyone of the pervious churches had been so intolerant of others that it left a bad taste in my mouth, or their was hardly any remnant of the true meaning of Christianity. In my brief experience with my present church I have come to realize that is as stated in the Bible, each of us are unworthy, it's only the gift of grace and love that our Savior has gifted us with. I pray that my intolerant bretheren read those parts of the Bible that speak of grace, love, and tolerance more often. I end this post with a verse, John 3:17.
Obama is a deist not a Christians, but that's ok, because following the bible is evil, what Christians need is to waking there Animistic nature
Seriously, CNN? That headline is incendiary and misleading about the content of the article. Change the headline!
He admitted to be islamic, what else do u want?
bow to the saudi KING???? WHTA THE FUKKK
I'd bow to the Saudi King or the Queen of England or any royalty if I met them, and I'm an atheist.
Still no evidence????
How ignorant can CNN be? They know the headline is misleading. They intended it to be so. How very, very pitiful for a news organization, or shall we say, an gossip entertainment organization? II'm looking forward to the headline, "Is a Mormon the right kind of Christian?" It's only fair that there be one.
Including quotation marks around the word "wrong" in the headline should have tipped you off as to the author's feeling on the subject. Clearly he is criticizing those who are questioning his beliefs, not to mention the whole notion of there even being a right or wrong kind of Christianity.
a right kinda christian is one who is po'ed at every other kind of people or nitpick with them – like the conservative talking heads.
How ignorant can CNN be? They know the headline is misleading. They intended it to be so. How very, very pitiful for a news organization, or shall we say, an gossip entertainment organization? I' looking forward to the headline, "Is a Mormon the right kind of Christian?" It's only fair that there be one.
How is the headline misleading? It's essentially asking the question "Why isn't Barack Obama's Christianity considered 'real' Christianity by conservatives?" I think that's a fair question to ask, and I'd love to ask it of him personally. I don't know if he is a Christian or not. I know he goes to church... and a Christian church at that. I know he knows enough of the Bible to quote it. In truth, I have no reason to doubt that he's a Christian. And yet, I have many friends who are convinced he's a Muslim, or that he's pretending to be a Christian for political gain... and, of course, they have very little to base this on.
As for me... I don't agree with his policies, but I do agree with their (genericized) goals... to care for the sick, the poor, and the downtrodden. That's what we, as Christians are called to do.
CNN, what a nasty story to run at this point in the election cycle...not to worry the fair and balanced ones at CNN will tell us that Romney adheres to a Mormon scripture that defines Jesus as a SPIRIT CHILD conceived between a man & wife a god team from another planet. It'll be about three days after the election.
Well Romney is NOT a Christian...that's more of a talking point that needs to be addressed.
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.