Editor's note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
Presidents wear a lot of hats. They serve as commanders in chief. They nominate Supreme Court justices. They veto congressional legislation. Increasingly, they are also coming to serve as our pastors in chief.
In his remarks Sunday night at an interfaith service at in Newtown, Connecticut, President Barack Obama vowed to use “whatever power” he has to prevent more mass shootings, and he all but promised to push for stricter gun control laws in the next U.S. Congress. But policy was not top of mind yesterday for either the president or a grieving nation.
Obama began by quoting from the second letter of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians:
Do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away ... inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1).
He then reminded us that, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once put it, we are all “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny.” The tragedy that visited Sandy Hook Elementary School could have been visited on any school in any town in America, Obama said. So Newtown’s grief is not its alone: “All across this land of ours, we have wept with you."
As a pastor among pastors at Sunday's interfaith event, Obama spoke of sadness and comfort and evil and inspiration. As a parent among parents, he referred to "caring for our children" as “our first task” as a nation.
Presidents are often tasked with posing difficult questions about foreign or domestic policy. In this speech, Obama asked philosophical and theological questions instead: “Why are we here? What gives our life meaning? What gives our acts purpose?” He then spoke, as Lincoln did at Gettysburg, about moving through the darkness, without easy answers, “often unable to discern God’s heavenly plans.”
In his famous hymn to love in his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul wrote that "the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13). For me, the most surprising turn in Obama's speech came when our president did the same.
"Love" is not a word that typically comes flowing off the tongues of our chief executives. But on Sunday, Obama spoke of love nearly a dozen times. In an uncertain world, he said, love is the “one thing we can be sure of."
Then he read the names of the 20 children who died.
Earlier, Obama had spoken the names of the six teachers and administrators who were killed. As he did so, the wailing in the auditorium was audible. When he read this litany of the children, the wailing returned. He read the names slowly. He read them surely, like someone looking out loud for a fallen friend on the black granite of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He then asked for the blessings of the Almighty on those who were killed and his comfort on those who are grieving.
It wasn't a speech. It was a sermon. And it is worthy of the talents of our current pastor in chief.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.
Sorry, but this is not about Obama. Nobody cares about how great his speech was- maybe if it was a speech about something else less gruesome. Stop using any story- even the death of 20 children- to gain political points.
besides, how can he be a pastor when he himself does not believe in the Bible? and refers to Paul's teachings as "some obscure passage in Romans".
Please save it. You can't be a pastor, and support abortion. You can't be a pastor and be so dismissive of God's definition of marriage. Stop using this time to worship Obama. This should be a time to turn back to God.
Amazing... how many of you liberals are so drunk on mr. obama's Kook-Aid. What a charlatan he is... nothing but a despotic charlatan using scripture to further his own agenda.
Hold on a minute. I'll be right back. My aluminum foil hat got bent up as I bashed my nose into the keyboard typing. I'll be right back after I straighten it out.
Oooh, trying to help the nation get over a tragedy, what a diabolical agenda Obama has!
Only for the new members of this blog:
What BO should have said:
The Apostles' Creed 2012 (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)
Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????
I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)
Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,
He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.
(References used are available upon request.)
I don't know whose more of a crackpot... You, KellyF, or mr. obama.
AND THE INFAMOUS ANGELIC CONS CONTINUE TO WREAK STUPIDITY UPON THE WORLD
Joe Smith had his Moroni. (As does M. Romney)
"Latter-day Saints like M. Romney also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah."
Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;
Mohammed had his Gabriel (this "tin-kerbell" got around).
Jesus and his family had/has Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day demon of the demented. (As does BO and his family)(As do Biden and Ryan)
The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other "no-namers" to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.
Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these "pretty wingie/horn-blowing thingies" to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.
The writer means "Muslim Cleric," right? Pastor - NO WAY - that would indicate a belief in Christ.
The Christian love of lying and slandering is quite astonishing. Violates the Ninth Commandment, and yet one after another does it here.
Christianty doesn't make people moral. It only gives them the illusion that they are moral as they as being nasty.
All Muslims believe in Christ. It's actually required of their faith. The difference is Muslims don't believe that Jesus was God or the Son of God. Christianity didn't believe in the divinity of Christ until the Church decided to make him so. Jesus is also the most revered Messenger of God in Islam. No other Messenger, not even Muhammed, is mentioned more times in Quran than Jesus and there are sections dedicated to Jesus, Mary, and John the Baptist. So, even if Obama was a Muslim, which he is not, he be REQUIRED to believe in Jesus and all others who came before him.
God bless our president. The rest of the haters here are just that, sad pathetic haters. And at a time like this? YOUR what is wrong with this country. You should be ashamed but I doubt your able to understand why either.
I like the President, but deplore his personal biases that distort his actions as President. Is that a crime? No.
Thank you Mr president it's about time our leaders lead by righteous example. The creator is waiting for us to ask for his intervention and hearing from our president is a step in the right direction.
Um ... remember Benghazi ... and gun running to Mexico, which came back to kill border agant Brian Terry.
More self-serving fictional crappyola from Rev. Don and his delusional flock
I agree with don, as it may be hard for some to believe or accept; we WERE as a nation built on the principles included in the Bible. We were faith driven and gave glory to God, and succeeded for it. This gives me stronger faith in a leader I was unsure about, even just a little.
I cannot intervene. Violates free will. So all those things you thought were me were actually just coincidences. They would violate free will otherwise.
So God needed to be invited before he helped anyone, is that what you're saying?
Perhaps if we and our elected officials spent less time praying and more time doing, this wouldn't have happened. Religion's greatest evil isn't violence or bigotry, but complacence and sanction of refusal to take personal responsibility.
The problem is that God has finally gotten around to punishing the American colonies for rebelling against the King and country that he choose as the scribes for the only valid translation of his word. Which is of course The King James Version of the Bible.
Repent now. Throw off the evil that is your government and subjugate your self once more to the English Crown and regain God's graces.
llol, stfu , you idiot
Mental cases like THIS are what is wrong with this country. WOW. Who let him out? SERIOUSLY.
Can you prove that he's wrong?
Pastor in chief is a pejorative term to say the least at this time of deep national grief for the loss of innocent children's lives. I really do pray that the talking heads could just let one day go buy without trying to make their bones of the fortunes or misfortunes of others. These are no longer journalists at all.
Some of the comments say President Obama is not a pastor. Was Jesus? Who ordained all the prophets? Was it a seminary? No way. There were none. Who ordained Jesus a rabbi? hmm
Barak Obama has just as much right as any other person of faith to witness for God. Thank you very much.
You have a problem? Maybe I can help. How long have you been delusional? Were you born that way? I'm curious.
Victims families who were able to compose themselves to speak out said that our president was of great comfort to THEM. This is ALL that matters and whoever doesnt like it can take a flying leap off a short pier.
So you don't mind it happening again and again then? All you care about is wallowing in the grief of others as if that gave you some sort of authority? You must be great fun at parties.
As a chaplain, I take offense to Obama being called a minister. He gave a very nice speech but I have my doubts as to whether he wrote it. If he were truly a strong Christian, the speech would have reflected it. We, as a nation, need to hold him to his word – make sure he follows through with his promises.
As a Bible-reading, Jesus-loving Christian, I take offense to Republicans who spew racist hate calling themselves Christians.
As a Christian, I take offense at people like Franklin Graham, Janet Parshall, etc. who have skewed the gospel.
I am thankful for President Obama who truly represents Christ-like love, mercy and compassion.
Oh, good grief.
This is why there is this disclaimer:
"The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero."
Who are YOU to say that the POTUS isn't "Christian enough"?
We, as a nation, have to remember that is is a man...and not, oh, say God.
His speech was wonderful.
Christ taught us to be ministers to one another in love and in faith in healing and in helping . . . and to take offense in nothing . . . of what do you minister?
Judge not. Peggy. His words were of the highest order and very Christian.
And I take offense at your assertion that only pastors can minister to the community. If you are an RN in a hospital, you are probably not an ordained member of the clergy, but you perform spiritual work at your workplace. Have you heard of the Priesthood of All Believers? All faithful people, at some time in their lives, are called upon to witness to one another, offer comfort and encouragement, and remind one another of God's promises. Our President is a man of faith, and it was certainly appropriate for him to speak as such on this occcasion.
This is simply offensive. This does not reflect faith as I understand it.
Can you say for certain that none of the big name pastors get help writing their sermons?
He did write most of it with help from his speechwriter. I'm sorry but your view is ignorant. You're basically saying he doesn't sound like or talk about what I talk about, so he can't have a relationship with Christ. I will pray for you, young one.
You are doing a disservice to humanity by pretending to preach things you surely neither comprehend nor believe.
Well, I don't know if Obama has any tattoos, or skims money off the collection, or told anyone lately that they're evil and going to hell just because they disagreed with them, or has ever cheated on his wife with another woman, or man, so maybe he isn't your typical pastor, is that what you're saying?
"As a chaplain, I take offense to Obama being called a minister. He gave a very nice speech but I have my doubts as to whether he wrote it. If he were truly a strong Christian, the speech would have reflected it. We, as a nation, need to hold him to his word – make sure he follows through with his promises."
I thought that to be like Christ, you had to not judge. That to be like Christ you had to love everyone, especially your enemies in the other party. I thought to be like Christ, you have to come to save, not to destroy. I thought that Christ turned everything upside down, a shepherd leads from behind, a king who lives as a beggar, a leader serves and is not served, and the meek ruling the earth, not the strong. And the pharisees in moses seat were greedy hippocrites, who Jesus said you should follow their words and not their deeds.
I thought that when anyone speaks from the pulpit, and speaks truth, even if they be such a Pharisee, they should be obeyed regardless of what they do, for the words they are quoting are true, because they are quoting scripture. Shouldn't those reading the bible aloud not be our saints, but instead our sinners, for don't they need the practice?
I thought that when a Christian does wrong, you should first approach them, and try to teach them, and understand the issue. And not attack them in public.
I thought that – Love – what he said and repeated, was the prime commandment that supersedes all others, and this is cited not just by Jesus but by Paul as well. When asked what is most important is this not the response?
He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”
Or as another Rabbi who preceded him said
"That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the commentary; go and study."
Note that i actually heard people booing the golden rule this year – when people boo the golden rule, well things are askew. If you question the free market system, and how greed is good due to the invisible hand – well there is scripture about how you cannot have two masters. I seem to remember the lesson of breaking the bread and sharing, and there was enough for all. There seems to me a stronger faith in the "free market", than in God. There is even a "prosperity" theology. Things are askew, there are reasons people leave the church, and there are reasons for atheism, for distrust of "christians".
The number one issue is abortion on every agenda, yet this is an issue which is not stopped by legislation, it is stopped by attacking poverty, by increasing love for children, by accepting everything a sinner does – instead the goal is secular laws, shaming women with ultrasounds. And making doctors not able to focus on healing, because we think the answer is laws, and not a doctors compassion and need to end suffering. Not even getting into "defending marriage" in a nation who can't seem to even get straight marriage right.
And isn't the relationship with God, and each spiritual journey going to lead us in different directions – why do we need to judge others who profess Love of God, who profess love of their fellow man, yet seem to us to act unkindly to others, how can we judge them unless we talk to them and understand them as well as God does. Why do we need to judge them. Why is being a Muslim or Jew such a bad thing – are they not followers of the same god, and many of the same prophets.
Why do we always add our own interpretations to the bible year after year. The history of theology is filled with so many things we find immoral today, or just plain wrong. Interacial marriage, Slavery, subjugation of native peoples, witch trials, flat earth. There are too many Christian Sons of thunder, calling for "family values", and punishment. Isn't the thing needed unconditional love for everyone.
Judging is wrong because it avoids the real question. What is wrong with the world? I am. There is far too much zeal in tearing others down, we need to instead support each other, and attack the real problem – ourselves.
I am just saying, we need to stop fighting, we have far more in common than different – even with muslims at an "interfaith" service, and we need to be careful that we don't spend all our time focusing on defending our faith from the the outside, and end up failing to focus on the needs of the families at that service.
Peggy RN – you need to get out of the chapel more. You are judging a persons heart – also, the President is not calling himself a minister. The writer of the article was moved by his speech, and took it in his heart as a sermon. That's all.
It is quite obvious that people hate, truly hate, the President. It is incomprehensible how anyone who calls themselves a christian or even an athiest for that matter has this much hate.
President Obama did an outstanding job at the memorial service on Sunday. I could not be prouder of our president!
It was the best talk of his presidency. It was heartfelt and compassionate. Who among you that genuinely cares about this horrble tragedy.can critcize this with any real foundation. You can't even have the common decency to allow the man to express his personal pain while trying to console others.Why do you prefer to be part of the disease when instead you can be part of the cure?
I agree, Larry. His speech was wonderful...and only he knows, but I fully believe it was absolutely heart-felt and honest. Those of us who didn't vote for him would be well-served to support him 100% when he is right (as he was here), and we should continue to pray that he would have wisdom and discernment in every decision he makes...and that we also would be patient and humble in regards to him.
Those closest to him have said off the record that this tragedy has affected Obama like nothing else before. He gets called a lot of names, but it's pretty obvious he's a great family man and I think it shattered him. Perhaps this tragedy will help us all begin to see the humanity and good intentions in one another, even if we have slightly different views on tax rates.
Larry – how lovely it is to read your words . . . thank you
That's what I'm seeing to, ssmote. Certainly we don't doubt his love as a father...whatever other doubts we've had about him. I hope that our country works to put our focus not on finding blame for this act (in failed psychiatrists, friends, family, or whatever...), and don't just look to seek gun reform, but that we look to reform ourselves as a society as he said. We need to have conversations with our family members, friends, children, and classmates...we need to change the stigma on mental illness. Instead of sweeping it under the rug, or passing out drugs, we need to start having hard conversations, taking hard looks at ourselves, and move outside our bubble to each improve ourselves...and hold one another accountable in a loving way. One by one, we will grow and improve our whole nation...just as President Obama is hoping for as well.
LARRY, eeewwwww. You speak like a Socialist Hegelian. Did you really have to study to the test?
BTW, since when do commies have "common decency "? Prothero proves they don't.
When you can look this tragedy and only see the hate for President Obama your out of touch with humanity and flat out sick! At some point in your life you will have humble yourself and get to know the GREAT I AM. Even with all your hate, God loves you anyway, so give God a chance and look for the goodness, love , and compassion of people.
beautiful, lovely and full of grace . . . thank you
If Obama wants to lead a revival in this country I am all for it even though I did not vote for him.. If he would denounce his positions on gay marriage and abortion on demand it would help though. Especially the murder of the un-born! How can he sit up there and make a speech about the murder of children while supporting it at the same time? Maybe Obama has seen the light! I hope so and if he has I will be behind him.
He is for equal rights for all citizens, even if it may collide with his personal religious beliefs.
He cannot try to overturn a SCOTUS opinion, based on his personal religious beliefs.
He can champion equal rights for gay people, even if it goes against his personal religious beliefs.
Do you get it?
Religious beliefs must not, CANNOT be legislated into law.
Abortion is a legal medical procedure. No babies are harmed in the process. Get your fact straight. If you don't want one, don't have one.
Same sex marriage is about equal rights. Again, if you don't want one, don't marry someone of the same sex. Denying others the same exact right you enjoy is bigotry.
Lin, no matter which side you stand on in regards to abortion...pro-life, pro-choice, or the murky waters in between, you have to understand that a baby dies in an abortion. If you aren't able to come to terms with that, you're not making an informed decision. You can call it a fetus, zygote, or embryo...but no matter what you call it, another term for it is baby. 9 months from conception, if an abortion doesn't occur (and assuming the baby doesn't die of natural causes), you're holding a living, breathing being in your arms.
Jesus would have been hanging out with gay people and those who have had abortions while the Pharisees asked: how can he do such a thing?
Craig, you can think of it in any terms you want; however, it is not your decision to make.
Fetuses are not children.
Lindsey, I think it can be looked at another way. Those who speak out against abortion and family practice and at the same time support cuts in education, school lunch funding, decry reasonable control of weapons and other programs that help children cannot call themselves Christians. I watched Obama and his talk sure seemed heartfelt to me. This is an incredibly sad time for this country and I cannot imagine the pain the parents are going through. It's a time this nation needs to come together. And make some changes.
Maybe what this country needs is a revival AWAY from all the opposition to gay marriage and abortion. A revival swinging Christians back to the middle, where compassion and tolerance are more evident, and fear is less so. I think that's just what we need, how about you?
His speech last night was beautiful. A true man of God who brought words of comfort.
God help the families and friends of those who were lost. God help the children who experienced such horror. God be with us and help us.
I believe in heaven; I believe that one day this pain and sorrow will be over and we will live in glory forever: joy, laughter and love unending.
On one thing we atheists agree with you; one day, the pain and suffering will be over. We just think that means everyone, and not just a few.
I hope the Bible is true and, if it is, it is very clear that the kingdom of heaven will be comprised of those whom the self-righteous religious hypocrites don't expect it to be comprised of (which is why it is good news). =>
So, see you on the flip side.
I read a story where the end of the world came, everyone ended up in heaven, but the fundamentalists got so upset by everyone getting the same treatment that they all stormed off to hell out of protest. Any God who would forgive all sins was too weak for their tastes, so they rebelled.
Kelly, followers of the way are on a narrow path unlike you and the Big O.
1.2 million babies are murdered every year. Obama does not believe in life, Obama allows people to choose to kill. He is a heretic. Now turn to Chicago – one innocent kid murdered each week by a drug gang! Obama has done NOTHING but open the borders and help the drug flow! Where is the truth in the media?
You sound like the devil.
There are no babies being murdered. Abortion is legal. It involves no babies, only fetuses or embryos.
Get over it. Your side lost. It happened over a month ago.
What are you doing to 'save the babies'? Have you adopted any? Do you sponsor any? Do you feed any (they are dying all over the world daily/hourly)?
Try reading about the Pharisees...
You are a bitter looser my man. You hate Obama for all the wrong reasons. You are a miserable Republican that has no understanding of what Obama is about. First of all, he is not believing that abortions are ok. He is as a grown and intelligent man giving he choice to the person that is affected by it, the woman carrying the baby. Also for your information, you have no business to dictate my life. Mind your own business and stay out of my bedroom. I hope you get the message, you moron.
You can't oppose universal healthcare and then wish to make abortion illegal. So long as you support a healthcare system in which people have to make economic decisions over life and death based on what they can afford, you are not pro-life.
Embryos are not babies.
Embryos are not fully human.
The women whose most vital and important right, that of bodily autonomy, that you would so blithely violate, on the hand, are.
Just what did Geo. Bush do in this same area? Geo. never stopped an abortion, and President Obama has never caused one. Go sell your hate somewhere else.
dd – your hate speech brings shame on your name, not Obama's
Did any Republican president end abortion? Why would they? Without it, how could they ever distract people from the real issues, and their poor policies to manage our real problems?
The A&A's are all confused about love and hate................"1Jo 2:15 Love not the world, neither the things [that are] in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him."
Nice. Another worship story about Christ Obama.
Are you really that hateful that a story on our President giving comfort to these people makes you gnash your teeth in fury?
Your ease in using two names so lightly. In the same sentence, I am beckoned here to ask/ what have u done of your life so great?
Nice try but, Obama is not your boy.
We're a silly species of ape. A quick perusal of these comments confirms this.
good point cynthia. i did not vote for the man but i appreciate the compassion. people who say he is numb to this are idiots, not recognizing that as a father this tragedy really hits home
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.