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Look at Obama’s faith draws criticism, praise
Some readers thought we went too far by asking why some thought President Barack Obama was the "wrong kind of Christian."
October 24th, 2012
09:50 AM ET

Look at Obama’s faith draws criticism, praise

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:

"Sorry, the premise that Obama is a new kind of Christian is, in my opinion, just flat wrong. He is a Muslim."

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:

"These ministers represent the kind of Christianity that makes me reluctant to say to people I don't know that I'm a Christian, and the kind of speakers for the faith that drove all my children out of churches because they would not put up with such judgmentmentalism. ..."

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.

Her message:

"Your Sunday morning pre-election hit piece on President Obama is an outrage! ‘Is he the right kind of Christian?’ ‘He’s been called the anti-Christ.’ Really? It is disgusting, and doing it on a Sunday morning is an outrage."

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:

"Nice CNN Obama PR piece trying to get a last grasp at another group of voters. … You can't support abortion and be a good Christian at the same time. ... Sorry, it just doesn't compute."

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.”

"John Blake, I do not care for your article. To be fair, please tell us in your own words, what is the right Jew, the right Mormon, the right Christian. Why CNN would let you write about any religion, is beyond me. Religion is a personal thing, and does not belong on your sleeve and for you to judge others is just wrong. Makes me wonder if there was not money exchanged for this article. Shame, shame on you and CNN."

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.

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Billy Graham • Christianity • Culture wars • Obama

soundoff (1,150 Responses)
  1. TomPaine

    I imagine these fringe religious leaders also don't consider Catholics to be Christians because they don't fit into their narrow definition. Give me a break.

    October 24, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  2. dav

    obama is a communist athiest,bye obama 2012

    October 24, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Seby

      Welcome to MormonUnderwear.com

      October 24, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • Observer

      Now you've got that resolved, please tell the millions of Republicans who so ignorant that they think he's a Muslim.

      October 24, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • jeff

      I'm pretty sure Obama is smart enough to know that there is no god.

      October 24, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Truth

      Mitt Romney thinks Christianity is an abomination...in his religion he see's himself as a God. He doesn't believe in the Bible nor Revelations (Armageddon). He has convinced Republicans to side with the wealthy to hurt the poor, deny healthcare to the sick, deny living wages, allow predatory lending practices..these are not gray areas in the Bible..the Republicans are on the wrong side of not only history but God's word. Mitt Romney is leading the religious away from God, just as the Bible said would happen.

      October 24, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  3. Alan

    As intelligent people, we are confronted with choices everyday...we must make decisions based on observations and past behavior. For Christians, we are told to look at a person's fruit (the works they do to glorify God and the behavior they exhibit to show their belief and faith in Jesus Christ). In Matthew 7:15, 16, 20 , Jesus himself says, "You will know them by their fruits." In other words, "if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck..." The issue that most people who question the religious affliation of President Obama, is that they cannot tell where his faith lies. He openly supports issues that are contrary to the Christian faith, is seen supporting Islamic ideals. Some even question his wedding band which has an Arabic saying inscibed on it saying "There is no god but Allah" So it is natural that some step back and ask, "Is he a Christian or a Muslim?" Most people just want to know one way or the other. When it comes to issues of faith, you can't be on the fence-you either are one or the other, but not both.

    October 24, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • midwest rail

      His ring says no such thing. Why perpetuate an obvious lie ?

      October 24, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Seyedibar

      Or you could simply be too smart to believe in any of it, but at the same time smart enough to know that you can't get elected without pretending to believe in fairy tales. I think that's Obama's case.

      October 24, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • TomPaine

      Good grief, how in the world to you know what's on Obama's wedding band? You're just believing what someone else with an agenda has said about it without using your own sense. You have no credibility.

      October 24, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • Seby

      U R LIAR

      October 24, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • Seby

      VISIT THIS SITE : http://MormonUnderwear.com
      you will get answers for this

      October 24, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  4. Seby

    WHAT YOU GET BY EVOKING THIS THINKING IN HUMAN BEING. WHAT RELIGION YOU BELONG TO ? MORMON ? YOU SHOULD HAVE PAID A LOT FROM RIGHT WING NUTS. WHY YOU BRING UP THESE THINGS DURING ELECTION SEASON ?

    TALK ABOUT 13.6 % TAXES, TALK ABOUT 47% LEFT OUT OR FORGOTTON MANKAIND, TALK ABOUT 33 MILLION UNINSURED POOR PEOPLE. TALK ABOUT UNPRIVILAGED AND NOT ABLE TO GO TO COLLEGE OR SCHOOL KIDS. TALK ABOUT THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE LOOKING TO GET SOME MEDICINE FOR THEIR UNENDING PAIN OR SICK. THAT WHAT YOU NEED TO TALK ABOUT DURING ELECTION SEASON. I AM A TRADITIONAL CATHOLIC CHRISTIAN GOES TO CHURCH EVERY SUNDAY AND WHEN I READ BIBLE OR ATTEND HOLLY MASS, THIS WHAT COMING TO MY MIND. I USED TO PRAY FOR EVERYBODY IRRESPECTIVE OR THEIR RELIGION, THEIR FAITH AND THEIR COLOR.

    October 24, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • Seby

      JUESUS NEVER FOUND ANY RELIGION. HE IS BORN AS JEW. I BORN AND BROGHT UP AS A CHRISTIAN

      October 24, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • LinCA

      @Seby

      You said, "I BORN AND BROGHT UP AS A CHRISTIAN"
      No need to state the obvious.

      October 24, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  5. Open ur Eyes

    One only has to go to you tube and search, Obama's muslim faith. There is 9 plus minute video of him praising islam and also speaking many times of his muslim faith. He is not a Christian by defintion regardless of what any one says. He defines his faith inperson in this video.

    October 24, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • Redneck

      U know dubya did that too and so did all the politicians. Does that make Bush a hypocrite too? They have to deal with Muslims, thats where we get the gas for your truck.
      stop stealing your neighbor's wifi you idiot.

      October 24, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Seyedibar

      Which fairy tale he worships should not have any bearing on his politics at all, though I do find it disconcerting when the person holding our nuclear codes believes in invisible men in the sky and a fiery prison under the ground and leprechauns in the trees.

      October 24, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • JESUS

      Remember he even stated to George Step, Remember people, Obama said my Muslim Faith and George had to correct him. The reason he has people so mezmorized is that he's got the power of persusion, and Real Christians can see right through him. Only the Sheeple follow their shepard and Obama is the unbelievers sheapard. So say whay you want Sheeple. Obama is a MUSLIM!!! and he will side with the MUSLIMS. Remember he also stated that AMERICA IS NO LONGER A CHRISTIAN COUNTRY..

      October 24, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  6. Peach

    You can't tell me that sitting in the pews of Rev. Jeremiah Wright's church did not have an influence on Obama. Why do people question his faith? BECAUSE OF HIS ACTIONS. He's not a Christian.

    October 24, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • William Demuth

      But W and Cheney, who collectively killed 700,000 Iraqi's for no apparent reason are good Christians, right?

      You thumpers do cherish your body counts, don't ya!

      October 24, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • Primewonk

      But it's perfectly OK for ignorant tea bagger candidates to sit in the pews of these fundiot nutter preachers for years, right?

      October 24, 2012 at 11:05 am |
  7. Randy

    I wouldn't call Mitt a Christian either. Mormonism is a cult. They've perverted the Bible and let countless people astray. But I'll vote for Romney over Obama because he doesn't want a weakened America.

    October 24, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • Seyedibar

      Christianity is a cult Islam is a cult. All religions are cults, by the definition of the word. Cult is not a derogatory term.

      October 24, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • William Demuth

      You are both correct. Both are cults.

      Both belief systems are by definition absurd, but we humans seem to accept the absurdities most often spoken.

      October 24, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • ConcernedBritain

      Won't that be another example of the mormon's leading someone astray?

      October 24, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  8. Brandt

    I prayed for Obama today. I am not American, but God is giving me a love and a concern for this man. "Saved" or not, he needs radical transformation that can only come from God. America needs not religion, but the spiritual backbone that comes from being radically transformed by Jesus Christ – a new Great Awakening. I see this man as a possible catalyst. If Obama repents, America would be shaken to the core. I see Obama not as he is, but as a potential preacher of the Gospel.

    October 24, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • ADRIENNE

      Awesome comment Brandt. This is how I see it. Pray for al of those who are in an authoritative position. God will do the rest. Selah

      October 24, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  9. Randy

    There's been no evidence that He's a Christian. He's stiffed Christians at every turn while giving preference to Islam. It's not judgmentalism, it's understanding Christian principles and taking note of the president's behavior and what He stands for.

    October 24, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • Mkat2

      Obama is neither Christian nor Muslim. His God is 'himself'.............!

      October 24, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Seyedibar

      There's no evidence that christ ever existed either. Try having a little faith? Isn't that how it works?

      October 24, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Primewonk

      Obama's job is President of the United States of America. His job is not Pastor-in-Chief. Not sure why you fundiot nutters are unable or unwilling to understand this. I'm also not sure why none of you seem to be able to understand Article VI, Section 3 of the Constîtution.

      October 24, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  10. jack

    I missed the article but I cannot believe people still think he is a muslim even when he says he is a christian. What makes one a christian? I thought it is a belief that Jesus is the son of god and beyond that your religion is between you and god and no one else. I would say that those pastors are not Christians.

    October 24, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  11. ernesto

    The Mormon Church spent $30 million dollars trying to change laws in California. This is not division of church and state, this is a church using its parishioners to interject faith into our laws.

    October 24, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Seby

      Welcome to MormonUnderwear.com

      October 24, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Dan

      Oh?
      And the Roman Catholic Church does nothing to influence legislation?
      How about Southern Baptists?
      What about the Muslim Brotherhood?

      They have all announced, and continuously strive, to put their fingerprint on American government.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  12. Dominic Lewis

    My personal beliefs being a Christian is that I do not believe in abortion. But, I do not feel my personal beliefs should be pushed on someone else. I do not feel that I have the right, or anyone else for that matter, to tell a women what she should or shouldn't do with her body. I find it hypocritical that these so called "Christians" will be pro-life AND pro-death penaltyat the same time. Maybe I'm the crazy one but the reasoning behind that just doesn't add up for me.

    October 24, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • Randy

      So you have difficulty understanding the difference between murdering the innocent and punishing the guilty?

      October 24, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • TomPaine

      Abortion is not an issue of religion, nor is it an issue of women's rights. Either abortion is murder or it is not. If it is murder, it should be banned like all murders. If it is not murder there is no problem. This is the real issue, but it is not what is being debated.

      October 24, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • Tamie

      No your not crazy and your not the only one that feels that way. I hate to see what all the money has done to Christianity. It seams more about how to control and divide now than teaching others about Jesus's love.

      October 24, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • this guy

      @tompaine how is it not ok if it IS murder, which i would say it's not, but murder through execution due to being convicted of a crime is ok?

      this is based on the assumption that you're ook with the death penalty, which i may be wrong about.

      October 24, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • William Demuth

      Randy, your hill billy is showing.

      Your faith insists that ye judge not lest ye be judged.

      If you doubt for even a second that innocent men have been put to death, than you are so blind that nothing might make you see.

      The desire of Christians to execute men they have deemed "guilty" in the name of justice merely highlights the fact that subconciously many don't believe.

      Otherwise they would be more confident in the justice of their prefered Sky Fairy, and feel less hunger for the blood of others.

      October 24, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • TomPaine

      @this guy
      I am OK with the death penalty in principle (I've got no problem with Ted Bundy types, for instance being executed), but because of the possibility of wrongful conviction I am opposed to it in practice. In principle, I see it as acceptable justice.

      Abortion is a completely different story. My earlier point is that our debate about it is totally wrong; it's not about religion or women's rights. We need to decide as a nation at what point abortion is murder. Extremists say at conception, and extremists at the other end say no murder involved until birth, but I think the vast majority are willing to find middle ground. That's what needs to be debated.

      October 24, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Brad

      @Randy: Look at human history, humans not actually that special... and if you believe the state has the right to tell someone what they can do with their body, fine, then don't complain about the government telling you what you can do with any other part of your life.

      October 24, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Primewonk

      " Extremists say at conception, and extremists at the other end say no murder involved until birth, but I think the vast majority are willing to find middle ground. That's what needs to be debated."

      The vast majority of adults in the US purposefully choose to be ignorant about science. Hell, half of adults think a god created humans less than 10,000 years ago. How in the world do you have a debate on the science of when "life" begins when the people in the debate choose to be idiots?

      October 24, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  13. ernesto

    http://www.exmormon.org/mormon/mormon505.htm

    October 24, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  14. this guy

    if ppl dont vote for obama bc of his faith and bc he is pro choice, it's time for me to think about another country to live in. ppl are so god damm stupid.

    October 24, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  15. lL.W. Man

    I don't know any kind of "Christian" that would go to a church for 20 years that spewed "God damn America"

    Obama has more problems than his choice of religion – narcissism for one, pathological liar for another

    October 24, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • TM

      I know some that would listen to its minister who said America deserved to have 9/11. It seemed they're conviction was based on us being a debauched country.

      October 24, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Observer

      Rev. Wright's statement was based on a SERMON, not racism. The subject was "thou shall not kill". His argument was that the United States had dropped the only nuclear bombs in history, killing up to ONE QUARTER MILLION PEOPLE.

      So should we say "God bless America" for disobeying the command "thou shall not kill" and instead kill 250,000 people who were almost entirely civilians?

      October 24, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  16. darth cheney

    Most American Christians do not even understand the basic philosophy and theology of Jesus.

    October 24, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • TomPaine

      This seems to be true. Most American Christians seem to think they are mainly supposed to oppose abortion and gay rights, but they don't seem to think about what sort of things they are supposed to actually support.

      October 24, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Bob

      What's so hard to understand? All you have to do is follow the bible instructions and thus do your daily goat sacrifice, and everything will be okee-dokey and nasty ole Christian god might not torture you forever. Jesus said all those weirdo sacrifice rules still apply, so go get that goat. Provided, that is, that you didn't eat the wrong meat on the sabbath (and now was that Friday, Sat, or Sunday?? And how did those non-Christian day names sneak in there anyway...).

      October 24, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • Seyedibar

      Nobody understands the basics because the basics of his theology were written by at least ten different authors, none of whom ever met the man. There is no congruency to the beliefs, except for the hatchet romance job added by the Nicean council and later by King James.

      October 24, 2012 at 10:55 am |
  17. IslandAtheist

    It's time that atheist politicians come out of the closet.

    October 24, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • darth cheney

      You advocate political suicide.

      October 24, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  18. Vic

    A nation is not run on religion, nor should it be. The United States of America is a country more diverse than any other, harboring many religions. Candidates should be chosen strictly on their qualifications and not on their religious affiliations. Imagine an Oriental American Buddhist child wanting to grow up to be the President, but can not due to the ignorance preached by many citizens. If you want to be a President, you must be a "good Christian". It seems to be a prerequisite that I simply can not agree with.

    Whether President Obama is a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist, it makes no difference to me. It's the character of the individual and their body of work that matter.

    October 24, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  19. LinCA

    It is hard to fathom that someone of Mr. Obama's considerable intellect is anything other than an atheist.

    In US politics it is still virtually impossible for an atheist to get elected to anything other than the Berkeley City Council. Fortunately it is far easier for a non-believer to pretend to believe than the other way around.

    October 24, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • jeff

      True, given his intellect, it's hard to accept that he believes in a god that doesn't exist. Someday we'll get an atheist is the white house.

      October 24, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • LinCA

      @jeff

      You said, "Someday we'll get an atheist is the white house."
      I suspect we've already had one or more. The goal is to get an admitted one in there, but I'm afraid that an openly gay or lesbian candidate has a better shot at it than an atheist.

      I expect to first get one to admit to having been an atheist in the Oval Office in his or her memoirs.

      October 24, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • Seyedibar

      We did have an atheist in the White House that we know of. Jack Kennedy was an atheist, though at the time everyone believed he was Catholic.

      October 24, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  20. William Demuth

    He is not Christian, he only plays one on TV

    He is pandering to the right, and doing what so many other non-believers do.

    He pretends, because admitting it is all lies can bring you all kind of grief

    October 24, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • Sue

      William, I would not be surprised if you are correct with your first line.

      I suppose that your last line applies to a lot of elected figures, who unfortunately wouldn't be that if they told the truth, at least for now. One point of good news is that at least you have the freedom to say so. Some days I have some optimism in that as more and more people find the courage to point out the lies and delusions of the mainstream religions, perhaps more and more people will leave religious supersti-tions behind.

      October 24, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • William Demuth

      Sue

      Where ya been all my life? An intelligent articulate non religious woman!

      Rare as hens teeth.

      I agree. As Europe went, so shall we. Most Europeans view organized religion with contempt and fear, as they well should.

      Ironically our wars of interference in the Middle East will expedite this. A few hundred thousand rural Americans are returning from overseas, and I suspect it will be even harder than ever for them to keep Jethro "on the farm".

      Time moves us toward a secular society. It has historical precendence, and I see it playing out with my own eyes!

      Thank God there is no God!

      October 24, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Seby

      Welcome to MormonUnderwear.com

      October 24, 2012 at 11:10 am |
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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.