October 24th, 2012
09:50 AM ET
By John Blake, CNN
(CNN) – People have all sorts of questions for presidential candidates in an election year. But there was one question I asked last weekend that scores of readers griped about:
Why do so many people doubt President Barack Obama’s faith?
Obama has talked publicly about his faith for years, but doubts persist. Why? Was it race? Was he a different kind of Christian than his predecessors? How can anyone judge whether another person is a Christian?
Those are some of the questions I presented in the article. The reaction was stunning: more than 8,000 comments, 25,000 Facebook shares, 700 tweets and citations on political websites such as Talking Points Memo and the Washington Monthly.
Praise and criticism came from all political sides – liberals and conservatives both liked the piece and loathed it. Some saw it as a ringing defense of the progressive Christian traditions that shaped Obama’s faith. Others thought I was trying to sabotage the president's re-election chances with an unfair question.
The comments from readers tended to land on certain themes.
He’s not Christian – no matter what anybody says:
I got the impression that if Obama were suddenly surrounded by an angelic host during a press conference, and the voice of God declared, “He is not a Muslim,” some still would not believe it.
A reader named “Paul” put it this way:
Who gets to determine if someone is a Christian?
Other readers took offense at some pastors in the article who declared that Obama couldn’t be a Christian because he never talked about being “born again” and he supported same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
The article mentioned several prominent conservative Christians – including Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and the Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham – who questioned Obama’s faith.
One pastor in the article, the Rev. Steven Andrew, author of “Making a Strong Nation,” even said that he thought Obama was “an anti-Christ.”
A reader identified as “C. J Mills” wrote:
A ‘hit’ piece on Obama?
What was most surprising to me was the reaction of Obama supporters. The article featured several progressive Christians who said the sources for Obama’s faith are not sinister. The president’s faith is influenced by a brand of liberal Protestantism that dominated American public life during the early 20th century and a biblical perspective shaped by his exposure to the black church and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
A “Cindy” called me Sunday and left a two-minute phone message skewering the story, and added a lengthy e-mail.
I called Cindy at home and, after apologizing for her “cranky” message, she explained the source for some of her anger. She’s an Obama supporter living in a conservative state, and she said was on edge because of the election. She thought any article questioning Obama’s faith would convince people not to vote for him.
Another reader, “Muffin72,” had the opposite reaction. The reader thought the article was a puff piece on Obama:
Other commentators asked when I would write a story asking if Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, was a Christian. One commentator frankly declared progressive Christianity was an “apostate form of false Christianity.”
One of most unusual comments came from a “Clarke.”
I can assure you Clarke, no one paid me to write the story. Yet there was a payoff for me.
Most journalists love to get people talking about what they write. Though I’ll always wonder if some of the commenters actually read the entire article, I’m glad that a provocative question could generate so many follow-up questions, even angry ones.
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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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.