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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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.
Obama will use any means necessary to obtain his goals. I don't believe a word out of his mouth anymore.
Close your Eyes so you can't see what COLOR he is and you will find he is the Most Christian Politician on the National Scene today.
Like Romney getting on his knees and doing the Lewinsky thing on Franklin Graham?
A different kind of Christian, alright......as in secular humanist! As in Holyoke, Marx and many more that followed, to include those responsible for what became the USSR.
No, secular as in Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, etc..
CNN shamelessly engaging in Obama-worship just before the election. Their transparent bias is unbefitting journalism.
The Democratic Pary ran Obama as just like Jesus in 2008.
"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."
A) "E Pluribus Unum" has ALWAYS been American's motto
B) What the heck are bible verses doing in a Pentagon report in the first place??
This article truly makes me sick to my stomach, Obama Said “There is one thing I have to say, Sam. This is my house, too. This is God’s house.” He is actually saying he thinks of himself as a God. He is not a God, he is not anything resembling a leader, he cares nothing for the people of this once great nation. He is like a pariah that has come here to dismantle us piece by piece and sell those pieces off to the highest bidders, and the American Liberal Media is helping him do it!
Open your eye's and ears people, look at how ancient times are now being relived in modern days. This 'man' is not a Christian, he even has a Islamic name – Barack Hussein!. He is a wolf in sheeps clothing, and if re-elected will ensure the destruction of our Nation, our freedoms and hope will be lost.
you obviouslt read into this article what you wanted to. you are so wrong. thank goodness the President represents a moderate view. otherwise we'd be much like Syria – with a ruler imposing irrational antiquated religious views.
If Obama thinks that, then Brownback must think it, too. After all, he welcomed the President to "his house." In fact, Brownback didn't even bother mentioning God. But you skipped right over that little point of order, didn't you?
This article is an absolute CROCK. Mr. Obama is obviously just trying to win votes. His actions in the white house and in dealing with other countries shows that he is not a Christian.
THIS IS ABSOLUTELY NON-SENSE !
President Obama accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior, whether he is weak or strong in faith is for God to say, not you, not anyone. You only mind your own faith.
When was the last time having Mormon accepted as main stream faith? this is another cult, hands of the devil. God doesn't hire saints. His Holy Sprit meets all the needs of human.
Don't even try, it is absolutely disgusting.
One And Done
Honestly... I've never seen a more blantant pandering than this.
For literally the last 12 years, I've heard nothing from the left other than "we need to separate church from state"... now, suddenly this is one of the "selling" points of this president.
Cripes. Pick a stance and stay with it.
@What the "H"?
IMHO... it doesn't really appear that you got what the article was about. This was not about separation of church and state, but commentary on the differences of "christianity" of the President and the religious right, basically.
The president nevers promotes his faith, he kept it very low profile just not to make it as an issue. It was Romney got a pic op with Billy Graham, bought out his association to claim Mormon now no long a cult.
THAT IS A JOKE !!! BG association sold out Billy Graham as well, not only the President.
Romans 1:21-27 ("They exchanged the Truth about God for a lie...")
So, what beliefs are the "lie" and which are the truth? What's your opinion?
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts.
"The catholic truth" is the ultimate oxymoron.
President OBAMA follows the Gospel according to Jesus – To Love GOD above all else by Loving our Neighbor as Ourselves because Matthew 25 lets US know that what we do or fail to do for the LEAST among us is what we do for CHRIST. Romney/Ryan on the Other Hand follow False Gods whose SATANIC creed is expressed by AYN RAND as SELFISHNESS
Well if you look at how much Romney gives to charity versus how much Obama gives, then perhaps it will influence your opinion. Who will give to the US government when it is broke?
No Christian supports gay marriage.
Gays and baby killing are very much an historical part of Ba'al worship.
Must be tough living in such denial.
JM: What authority do you have to speak for all Christians? Is it the bible jammed up your rectum?
Revelation 3- 14 “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write,
‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: 15 “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— 18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. 21 To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.
22 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”’”
Let those no sin cast the first stone. ASK YOURSELF FIRST.
The article states that ACA (Obamacare) is driven by the Social Gospel. How is this not a violation of the first amendment?
IF OBAMACARE IS SOCIAL GOSPEL, HIS MENTOR IS JESUS HIMSELF. JESUS FED THE HUNGER, HEEL THE SICK, STAND WITH THE UNDERCLASSED, AND HE WAS SOLD OUT AND MURDERED BY GREED.
DON'T BE A HYPOCRAT.
Barack only believes in Barack, communism, and drugs.
Whereas Romney WORSHIPS Mammon – The GOD of WEALTH. Paul Ryan worships the God of Ayn Rand – which states that SELFISHNESS is the Greatest Good and Helping OTHERS is a SIN – THIS is SATANISM
What is "Obama's gospel", or even the "Social gospel"? Is it different than the one Paul taught? How is this reconciled with Galatians 1:6-9 (see below)?
" I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! "
The SOCIAL GOSPEL is contained in Matthew 25 – That which we do or FAIL to do for the LEAST among US is how we SERVE or Fail to Serve CHRIST Himself
OBAMA follows the Gospel according to Jesus – To Love GOD above all else by Loving our Neighbor as Ourselves because Matthew 25 lets US know that what we do or fail to do for the LEAST among us is what we do for CHRIST. Romney/Ryan on the Other Hand follow False Gods whose SATANIC creed is expressed by AYN RAND as SELFISHNESS
That is the Law, oneSTARman, not the gosepl. Can you (or anyone) really love the Lord your god with all your heart, soul, and mind? Continuously? We all stand guilty before a holy God and unless we take hold of Christ's sacrifice then we have no hope. That's why the gospel is good news. The gospel is succinctly defined for us in 1 Cor 15 (below):
Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance F43 : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures
In the Book of Mark when Jesus was asked what command is MOST Important he Replied, "Hear Oh Israel – The LORD They GOD The Lord is ONE – and YOU should LOVE the Lord with all your Heart, Soul and Mind and Your Neighbor as Yourself." He went on to teach that our Neighbor is anyone we meet on the Road of Life to whom we can offer our Help (Like the GOOD Samaritan) in Matthew 25 He goes on to let US Know that what we Do or Fail to do for the Least Among US we Do or Fail to do for Christ himself
and when does Jesus call those things, "the Gospel" (ie: the good news)? Helping the poor, and loving the Lord had been commandments for them since Moses, so there was nothing newsworthy concerning those statements. Agreed, we should do them, but they are not what saves you, nor is that what will save the people you are helping. You can help people all day long every day and it will not be enough to get you into heaven. The Bible declares our own works of righteousness, "filthy rags".
And i am John P. Tarver escape mental patient, and you can take that to the bank!
Do mental patients such as yourself often post using another person's name?
I Like to talk to myself sometimes because well i have noone, im not exactly gay but i do stare at myself a lot
Obama is a follower of Christ's Calvanist brother Ba'al and although the two are similar, one is a devil.
Stop pretending to me, or did i forget my meds again
There is a very good verse in Matthew 7:15-16. This is true for anyone claiming to be a Christian today. The general plublic claiming to be a Christian today is as common as buying a lottery ticket. A true Christian will following the teachings of Christ in every aspect according to the gospels. A common Christian will mold and fit Christ according to their beliefs, agenda and desires. Which brings us back to Matthew 7: 15-16.
I also know star wars line for line, and wizard of oz
But the gospels were written by man.....
After four years in office, Obama's actions speak much louder than any hollow claim that he is a "different kind of Christian" .
Exactly which kind of Christian supports gay marriage and abortion ?
Hint: there is NO RELIGION, not Buddhism, Shintoism, Islam, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism. Islam, Seikhism, Jainism, or Hare Krishnas, that support gay marriage and abortion.
Well.....OK. The followers of Baal sacrificed children to their god and permitted sodomy.
Ouch! You really nailed Obama to the cross!
Exactly what kind of Christian doesn't believe it's his/her responsibility to care for the poor and sick? Exactly what kind of Christian believes he has the right to stand in God's place and judge others for the way they live their lives? Exactly what kind of Christian puts wealth ahead of compassion and mercy? If you don't know, I suggest you read the story of the Good Samaritan, and then review why Christ drove the money-changers out of the Temple. You might also want to concentrate more on what Christ said than on what Paul wrote.
truth is Obama will not ever tell you what he really believes he is always a lying and deceiving politician.
@Lisa: Why do you assume that Republican Christians do not believe in their responsibility to take care of the poor and sick? When Jesus was giving commands to care for the poor and sick, was he talking to the Senate, or was he talking to individuals? It appears you are standing in judgement of them, which is not fair according to your own words. Also, I'm not sure why you are trying to set up Jesus and Paul as contrary figures. It was Jesus who called Paul to be his apostle to the Gentiles....seems they were on the same team.
@Ben, First off, where do you see me mentioning "Republican" Christians? That's your perception, not mine. And there are multiple instances of Jesus instructing the political leaders of the day (back then they were called kings, not presidents, but same thing) to care for the poor and sick. Also, I don't try to set up Jesus and Paul as contrary figures, but unlike so many Pauline Christians, I believe Jesus' words take precedence over anything Paul wrote. The Paulines like to ignore Christ's directives in favor of Paul's finger-pointing. And finally, anyone can claim to be a Christian, but that doesn't mean they are one, and that goes for both sides of the aisle.