October 21st, 2012
06:59 AM ET
The Gospel according to Obama
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.
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.
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.
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.
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About this blog
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.
Evangelicals are the religion of selfishness-doing deeds for their own self interest, thinking they're buying a ticket to heaven.
man, its a good thing you don't generalize.
WOW. You hit that on the head! How true!
Elliot: Don't evangelicals generalize?
Mormons generalize by skin color. Maybe that's why he has so many willing to vote for him?
CNN, how white of you to change the headline from "Is Obama the right kind of Chri$tian" to "The gospel according to Obama". I would really like to see "Does Mitt have more than one wife?" Or "How will Mitt resolve his conflict between his oath to the Mormon council and his oath the US?"
I don't think we will see anything like that in our lifetimes.
If Mitt is elected, what do you use to swear him in? It would be blasphemy to put his hand on a Bible.
If you want to live in a country where the holy book overrules civil law, every man carries a gun, the schools are all religion based, there's no government healthcare, and women have no civil rights - move to Afghanistan
Obama mocks the Lord every single day. His policies are not gospel related neither are they right. You don't take from the rich and give to the poor. The rich are to give of their own free will and choice. And the poor are to do everything in their power to help themselves. The gospels are clear, that if any man has a family and provides not for that family, he is worse than an infidel. Families help each other, and then if they can't manage, others step in. You don't take things that don't belong to you and Obama's policies want to force others to give.
The rich pay LESS in taxes than we do. Obama would like us to all be paying about equal. Come out of the bubble, wing nut, and do deal with reality. The rich pay 10% rate. The middle class pays somewhere around 20 – 30%.
So instead of voting for a civil society you would rather follow a CULT LEADER?
floridamom: obama is running to head a secular society. if that conflicts with the bible, too bad. pull the new testament out of your rectum
Genetics Proves Evolution: The Creationist's Galileo Moment
When chicken embryos start to develop they have teeth buds and the beginnings of multi segmented tails. As they develop their DNA tells the developing embryo to absorb them. Much like human embryo's absorb the so called embryonic gill slits. Now if you turn off the genes that control this absorption instruction you get chicken embryos that develop long multi segmented dinosaur tails and meat eating dinosaur teeth complete with the serrated inside edge. Other studies have also been successful in regressing feathers into scales.
This is not hypothesis. This is not supposition. This is not interpretation. This cold hard, hold in your hands see with your own eyes type reproducible proof. It has already been done and is doc.umented and reproducible. No DNA was ever added to the bird DNA. This was done using 100% pure chicken DNA.
These researchers have proved that bird DNA contains genes that create meat eating dinosaur characteristics. The only way this can happen is through the evolutionary process. That is meat eating dinosaurs evolved into birds.
So like when Galileo first pointed his telescope at the heavens and learned that Aristotle and thus the Church was wrong modern scientists have pointed their microscopes at developing bird embryos and learned that they are correct. Evolution is real Genesis is wrong.
Now just to make things easier for Creationists in verifying the above, yes I realize that you prefer to get your education from YouTube U. as I know reading non religious articles is such a chore for you, however, here are the names and insti.tutions that you can use as starting points for your research. You must remember now to get the best results from your Internet searches do not to include the terms 'bible, creationist, intelligent design, religion, god' in your search engine queries.
Raul Cano, professor of microbiology at California Polytechnic State University
Jack Horner, professor of palaeontology at Montana State University
Hans Larsson, a paleontologist at McGill University in Canada
Matt Harris and John Fallon, developmental biologists at the University of Wisconsin
Dewey Kramer, at Texas A&M University
"Evolution is real Genesis is wrong."
Actually, this is only correct if you read the Bible literally. As for me, I'm a Revelationist so Evolution fits very nicely into my beliefs. "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." Albert Einstein
This is article is toooooooooo looooooooooooong
Short little attention span? Anything longer than a text message too long for you? when was the last time you actually finished reading a book? Have you ever finished reading a book?
Propaganda usually is.
Lmao!! Thumbs up to Adam, that was my first thought and your first comment I saw..... hahahahahah On a serious note, as a Christian, pull the plank out of your own eye first before pulling your brothers... This entire article is a waste of time and i'm glad I stopped reading it.......
@ John.........This is CNN......and its the morning on a Monday, so no, I don't read books at 9am on a monday, i'm busy working....(reading articles on CNN actually....)
" … we will establish our religion with the sword. We will trample down our enemies and make it one gore of blood…from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. I will be to this generation a 2nd Muhammad, whose motto in treating for peace was ‘the Al-Qur’an or the sword.’ So shall it be with us." - Joseph Smith – founder of the Mormon religion of which Mitt Romney is a Bishop.
Obama is trying to sell himself to the conservatives to survive election. Won't work – his actions speak much louder than his words. And the liberal media won't save him, either. Only Jesus can do that.
I don't think you read the article. Too many words?
Is Mormon any better????????? Idiots needs to stop this religion BS in secular nation democratically elects. Obama12. Period.
Yes, Mormon's are better.
according to whom, floridamom?
The religious right is in direct conflict with the teachings of Jesus Christ.
You got that right!
So let's see. Jesus defined marriage as being created between a male and female (is that a progressive or a "religious right" position?). Jesus said that helping your fellow man was an individual responsibility, not a government responsibility. Religious right or progressive? Jesus' cousin (John the baptist) is described as "leaping in the womb" when he heard and recognized someone's voice. What do you think the Scriptural view of unborn babies is?
Please cite where Jesus defined marriage Scott...I'd love to read that! In terms of what Jesus said about the poor, you might want to read James 2:1-7 and Matthew 25:31-46.
Heck, there's still some idiots (using the word correctly) who think our president is a Muslim and/or not a citizen of the United States. You can't reason with that kind of stupid thinking.
He is atheist of course.
I am voting for Barack Hussein Obama.
....unless some party runs a candidate named Osama Gaddafy Khomeini. Then I will vote for him.
Christianity the way he sees it isn't new. African Americans have been doing this for years now. It's only now that everyone is forced to see how an African American lives because there is one in the white house.
CNN- you have been running this for two days- It is not an issue- Who is better at running the country IS!
What would Jesus say about Mormonism....hum!
Jesus specifically said "He who is not against me is with me." Certainly Mormons are not anti-Christian, even if there are disagreements over certain doctrines.
How in the world can you say Mormons are not against the one True God and Father of Jesus Christ? There is only one passage that is true about Mormons and any who follow the teachings and follow those that do. Do not believe in false Gods and worship the one and Only One true God !
"Do not believe in false Gods and worship the one and Only One true God !"
For Mitt, and others like him, that would be $$$$$$$$$$$.
You do know that obama has the mark of Cain on him. That means he can never get into Mormon heaven.
Time to vote for a true Christian
Mitt Romney for president 2012
Mormon is NOT a True Christian and in fact not a Christian at all. Anyone that believes in Mitt Romney believes in false GOD.
If you actually read the Bible, the "mark of Cain" was a mark of PROTECTION, so that other humans would not dare persecute Cain. Cain's judgement and punishments (if needed) were reserved for God Himself. So anyone who uses the "mark of Caine" as a symbol of inferiority or justification for persecution merely reveals that they have never read the Bible.
Wrong again. Romney is not a Chrisitian, he is a Mormon. Only those who believe Jesus Christ is the saviour are Christians. Following Joseph Smith does not qualify.
Only the Living God knows whether President Obama is practicing the right kind of christianity or not. NAHUM 1:7
Clever by half. The Scriptures tell us "by their fruits ye shall know them." If one is walking in the Spirit, his/her life will show it, ultimately. We are told to remove ourselves from those who claim to be a Christian but whose lives show otherwise. It would assume we have to make a judgment based on what the Scriptures tell us. We all know Obama has some fairly strange ideas of what Christian is. Christ said He is the way, the truth and the life. There is no other way. Unless you believe what Obama believes when he refers to Mohammed as The Great Prophet.
So this article gives 2 sentences to Obama's affiliation with Jeremiah Wright? Perhaps its author should listen to Mr. Obama introduce Rev Wright several years back where he cites that Mr. Wright essentially shaped who he is and his belief system. Then please have a listen to some of Rev Wright's sermons.....that is, if the author can be dragged over to the side of journalistic integrity and truth in reporting....
I'm neither a Christian or Muslim; I'm an opportunist !
Since when do right wing Christians have a monopoly on honesty, and morality? I would rather have a President, Christian or not who strives to create the "Common Good" as stated in the Preamble, than one who goes to Church claims to be Christian but doesn't care about ineqaulity or helping the "poorest of these" . If this were the time of Christ, I think that Jesus would be friends with Barack Obama. Chrisitanity has whole cults of hypocrites who profess their faith in public but act quite differently when it comes to really doing something to help their fellow man.
It is not about Christians having a monopoly on honesty and morality. It is about a President who is DISHONEST and specifically supports IMMORALITY.
LOL! Have you read the books by Obama or even bothered to read the article. Jesus was a Jew, not a Buddhist or Muslim. Why do you think Jesus would want to be friends with someone that tries to mesh all those religions into one and call it Christianity?
Also, don't you think it strange that Obama is having the govt of the US to decide how much goes to the poor? I forgot, what verse does Jesus say the govt should be taxing you higher to pay for the poor. In that case, why did Jesus even take the time to go out to the poor. He could have just stayed home and let the govt take his money to give away.
CAesar-check out "Thousand Points of Light". When you're done, you'll know why the government has a role.