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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. Melody

    Last I read Jesus did not die so we could have religion he died so we might have a close personal relationship with God thru him. Just remember...Every single person on this earth will face God one day. He is the Judge.

    October 24, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Keeping It Real

      Melody,
      "Every single person on this earth will face God one day."

      What is your verified evidence for this?

      October 24, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Primewonk

      Unless, of course, one of the 10,000 other gods we have invented is the "real" god. Then you are just as screwed as those you damn to hell.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Melody

      That is about the same line preachers use to get the altar boys to spread em!

      Then they threaten to kill their mothers if they tell.

      Just remember, you are known by the company you keep.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • sam

      I'm still kind of betting on Odin. He did, after all, get rid of those frost giants.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • sam stone

      Jesus had a bad weekend for your sins. He did not die

      October 24, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Keeping It Real

      Melody,

      No response?

      October 24, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • huh!

      well sam, when you stand before Hades, you will Burn.. BURNNN.. 🙂

      October 24, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  2. dave

    I thought the article was a pretty balanced and respectful piece that presented views and background from lots of sides. Keep it up. It's good for all to learn both the reasons for certain Christians' questioning of Obama's faith as well as the idea that Obama's faith is tied to a larger tradition that has been obscured by the recent popularity of evangelical fundamentalism. And beyond that, it gives hope to those like myself who believe that it's possible to be a "born again" Christian and also believe that a 6-day creation is crazy-talk and gays ought to be able to marry. As for abortion, there's a middle road I believe that gets lost in all the passion. And that's this: if we can all agree that unwanted pregnancies are bad, let's try and reduce them, while supporting girls who have them, all while realizing a secular society doesn't allow black-and-white solutions for every person.

    October 24, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  3. Carrie

    There is only one true kind of Christian & that is one who lives by the Bible, God's measuring rod for all of us. Plain & simple. God judges, not me and he truly loves all of us and wants us to come to Him.

    October 24, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • sam

      Uh...all christians will say they live by the bible. Problem is, everyone picks and chooses what parts. So, we're back to square one I guess.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • snowboarder

      carrie – there are literally as many interpretations of scriptures as there are readers.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Your_mom_should_have_aborted

      Wow, and how much of the bible has your average "Christian" read; not to mentions read to comprehend the historical context. Seriously didn't Jesus teach that he who has not sinned may cast the first stone? If you want to pick and choose parts of the bible to follow you are no better a Christian than anyone that supports abortion or gay rights. So you either get it one of two ways 1) you can claim to be a good christian and actually follow the bible to the letter. This means following all 400+ commandments, since it is the word of God. or 2) accept that the faith is ever changing throughout history and Obama is just as christian as every imbecile who hasn't tried to understand their own faith.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • sam stone

      Which interpretation of the bible shall we use, Carrie?

      October 24, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • sam stone

      Carrie: Read The Year Of Living Biblically, then come back and tell us about it

      October 24, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  4. Innerspace is God's Place while outerspace is for the human race.

    Which of us men can create a seed worthy of being Life? Who of woman can create an egg worthy of supplanting a Life without man's 'seediness'? Who is it that makes men's seeds or women's eggs? The fairies? The Transformers?

    1Corinthians 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.

    Our labouring together with God ought tell us that the Godly of God's innerspace places and even the Godly of the civilized and humane "beings" here upon heavily ladled shores of outerspace reaches are all together and in oneness for Life itself to be the treasures "troved".

    October 24, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • The Truth

      If it rhymes it must be true!!

      October 24, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Ronald Regonzo

      Are you talking about Mitt? Romney / Ryan 2012

      October 24, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  5. Billy

    I can not believe that Reverend Wright just walked into church one sunday and started his anti America viewpoint upon that day. Surly his preaches or rants were aimed in this direction well beyond his infamous rant!
    Amazing CNN does not mention the anti Mormon attempt bye Obama followers to try and make the personal attack upon Romney. Just for CNN you can easily listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing God Bless America very easily even though it might offend you.

    October 24, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • sam

      Billy...no one gives a shit. Faux News is calling you.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  6. Just call me Lucifer

    Ronald Regonzo

    "Job one for President Romney will be to restore moral dignity in America. Once moral laws are in place it will be the practice of the country to rid America of the unbelieving sinners that have corrupted the very const itution the founding fathers intended."

    I spoke to god about this (I work for the guy), and he told me to tell you that you should start ridding America of unbelieving sinners right away. Kill as many as you possibly can before the anti-christ sends police to stop you. God also said he would turn you into an angel... but you have to start killing unbelievers right away. We're all counting on you. Good luck and godspeed.

    October 24, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • Ronald Regonzo

      "god" describes an idol. "G"od is sovereign. We do not acknowledge your god. Romney / Ryan 2012

      October 24, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • sam

      Ronald, come up with new material for once. You're boring. The only good thing about your bullshit is that you make Romney supporters look even dumber than they already do.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Ronald Regonzo

      You won't be missed sam . Romney / Ryan 2012

      October 24, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • sam

      I'll be right here for some time to come, tough guy. Where are you going to run and hide when Romney gets sent packing back to his mansion?

      October 24, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  7. Paula

    This is an outrage. Who is to say what Obama is. I'd rather have a Muslim than a man (Romney) who was born from polygamist folks. That's not Christian. Lets get on Romney and his family and background. I don't care what anyone says. These people who hate Obama and act like children making up lies need to stop. Racism is getting old. And these people are racist. And it will never end with allowing the GOP and republicans to be able to slander people. They belong in jail. That's a law and there breaking it . They don't respect anyone. Please stop. This is not how god wants his children acting. You don't see democrats all over t.v nearly as much as the republicans. Republicans slander and lie through t.v campaigns and this is the type of people we allow to get away with it. CNN put me on and I will share plenty that has not been discussed or talked about much. Please let me in and call these people out. Our world and country deserves to know the whole truth!

    October 24, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  8. danita

    Why don't they play the video of Obama talking about how he dislike white people... Obama is no different than the black panthers...and so many of you fools voted for him!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 24, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Sweetheart, I am whiter than you could imagine.

      Almost pure Aryan by the most exacting standards ever concieved, and guess what?

      I don't like you either. Its not you white skin, but your redneck that disgusts me.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • sam

      Sure danita. You seem like a reliable, reasonable source. A dozen exclamation points makes it so.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  9. Daniel Rodriguez

    Jesus told liars that their father was the devil, who was the father of lies. Christians are not suppose to tell lies. Get the picture?

    October 24, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • Ronald Regonzo

      No republican has ever been limited by the Truth, that is why we win. You cannot inst iutute moral dominance if you are not elected. Always remember there are only two ways – 'publicans or sinners. Romney / Ryan 2012

      October 24, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • snowboarder

      ronald – that was pretty funny

      October 24, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  10. Danny Sanchez

    I read the first article and I thought it was an interesting read. That it got such a strong response doesn't surprise me too much since it combines politics, religion, and popular opinion, all of which are hot topics. I am surprised how much it exploded and lashed out at the author. From my untrained eye it seemed well written, but apparently I was wrong. And now I segue into antecedent.

    That week I actually found myself in the sort of Black Progressive church that Obama would have attended in Chicago. For anybody to challenge the devotion to God of its members would be absurd, but it was also an entirely different service than those of my Catholic upbringing. The service focused as much on social equality as on personal salvation and speakers talked about issues facing the community. In my personal opinion it would have been more like the service attended by our Founding Fathers, when churches focused as much on welfare as they did on the sacraments, than most modern christian churches. Since I'm not a member of the community nor particularly devout I saw no reason to join that church for the long term or even attend a second time, but I can understand why a religiously conflicted young-Obama might have found God in such a place.

    I do not understand what all of this conflict over the nature of his worship is about. I would think a Christian would be happy to know that another has accepted Jesus Christ without getting so upset about the particulars. The same goes for Romney's Mormonism. Even my strict Catholic upbringing allowed for dissent within the church, but it seems like dissent with the secular political authority is anathema.

    October 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Danny

      Intra-cult fighting is a nasty business because trillions of dollars are involved.

      Rest assured if the Mormons come into power, they will do to the Christians the same things the Christians did to the Jews.

      You will be disenfranchised, ostracized and eventually gassed to death

      October 24, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  11. Nana Egyir

    Mr. Blake, the answer is very simple but also very truly spiritual few would not even attempt to question. This is like asking " how can one believe God, the creator exist even though eyes have not seen him to believe." Those who have encountered and engaged God truthfully have seen and heard him. Obama believes in God and only God can reveal to the faithful believer. "Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear:" Jeremiah 5:21

    October 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • William Demuth

      So now you admit you are hearing things?

      We got meds for that now ya know?

      Just look for the men in the nice white coats who are coming to take you away

      October 24, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  12. this guy

    i'm pretty sure jesus supported gay marriage and was pro choice.

    October 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Ronald Regonzo

      There are things America will never see again under a Romney Presidency. Romney / Ryan 2012

      October 24, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • William Demuth

      The manufactured God Jesus was OBVIOUSLY based on a Gay Palestinian.

      Think Arafat in drag

      October 24, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • Jesus

      I do support gay marriage and am pro choice

      October 24, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • this guy

      oohhh...thanks @Jesus for clearing that up for everyone!

      October 24, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • Jaimie

      I think he was a party animal turning water into wine, when he coulda used his powers to save innocent children.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Jaimie

      The Christ fable says in his role in the trinity, that Christ was responsible for the mass murder of children on multiple occasions.

      By any rational standard, the Christian Gods are sociopaths.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  13. Ronald Regonzo

    I'll hold down these commie losers by myself while the rest of the Romney/ Ryan team pad the voter registration rolls, this will be a slam dunk. The idiots are here debating me while they could be out campaigning for O'bummer. 13 days till glory !Romney / Ryan 2012

    October 24, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • William Demuth

      We rigged it years ago

      Now you get Obama, then you get Hillary.

      Deal with it.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Ronald Regonzo

      Chicago ain't even in this thing willie, Illinois is in the good column. Romney / Ryan 2012

      October 24, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • sam

      Are you going to hold them down the way Romney held that gay kid down when he was in school?

      October 24, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • Angie

      Ronald....you are not doing any favors for "Romney/Ryan 2012" by saying something ignorant and then stating your support for them In fact, I think you are motivating the swing voters more than anyone else – no educated person would honestly say they agree with your statements or opinions.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  14. Waiting for a candidate

    President Obama keeps his faith to himself which is as it should be! Keep religion out of politics. I don't want to know about your faith I want to know about your policy. I don't want to know about Romney's magic underwear or Ryan's dark ages opinions on women.

    October 24, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  15. sisi

    It's not strange to doubt his faith. His name is a muslim name, his father as well as his step father were muslim. He attended a muslim school, etc., etc., etc.

    October 24, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • Ronald Regonzo

      Don't forget the rug burns on the forehead. Romney / Ryan 2012

      October 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      sisi,

      His father was an atheist (although he barely knew him).

      Obama attended the Indonesian-language government-run Besuki School for part of 3rd grade and for 4th grade (there was a bit of religious studies on Islam included as elective, but he was what?... 9 years old?)

      October 24, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Primewonk

      One of my grandfathers first name was Adolf. The other grandfather has a last name of Hess. Does that make me a Nazi?

      From the 4th to 8th grade I attended a LCMS grade school. Does that make me a Lutheran?

      October 24, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  16. Kelvin

    Obama probably isn't a Christian, and he definitely isn't a Muslim. He is most likely an Agnostic/Atheist, this makes the most sense when looking at how he acts, and the type of person he is. This answer also makes me the most happy, not that we haven't had other non-christian presidents before (Thomas Jefferson comes to mind) but Obama is the first is a long time and as an Agnostic myself I am proud to have a leader that puts the ideals of science and civil society above those of ancient and antiquated religions

    October 24, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • ME II

      Wouldn't "a leader that puts the ideals of science and civil society above those of ancient and antiquated religions" also not claim to be Christian, when he isn't.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Simon

      To bad he had to lie to the whole world, for you to come to those conclusions....

      October 24, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • HornofAfrica

      I agree with you. Obama is agnostic.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Kelvin

      Unfortunately Agnostics and Atheists are the most trusted less in this country than any other belief, lack of belief, group in the entire country, running for public office as a non believer is a sure way not to win, so I running as a christian is the only logical approach to public office if you want to actually win

      October 24, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • Kelvin

      *least trusted

      October 24, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  17. Rainer Braendlein

    The issue of bad judging, and the solution:

    What is that?

    We all commit sins. Sometimes people become mad, and assume they would by better than the others, only because they are connoisseurs of the divine law. Such people use the law as a club, condemn their fellow human beings, and themselves commit the sins which they judge. Such fools will be punished by the Most High, will face prison and bankrupt.

    How to handle the law of the Torah rightly?

    It only tells us that we have forsaken a happy state of health in God. Every sin is an act against the eternal love, and causes God's comment: you shall not ... ! If we would be in a state of health, we would not sin, and God would not tell us through the law: you shall not.

    In order to avoid God's unpleasant comments concerning our behaviour we need to believe in Jesus or God's gospel of Jesus Christ which leads us back to the state of health which Adam has forsaken.

    Hence, when we sin or when we see someone sinning, we should not condemn or fellow human being but offer the gospel of Jesus Christ which can improve his life. Offering the gospel is perfect love, and will be rewarded by the Most High.

    October 24, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • YO! Rainman

      Didn't Bonhoeffer write alot about the lust of the body, but never married or had children and liked hanging out with his buddies, very christ like.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  18. Dangle66

    there are over 30 thousands different sects of christianity... as soon as you christians figure out which one is the correct one, please let the rest of us know...

    October 24, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • Loud Mouth

      The answer is simple. Mormonism.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • iminim

      As long as all religions stay out of government, does it matter?

      October 24, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  19. DB

    It's my understanding that the fundamental core of Christian ideology is that as long as you accept Jesus Christ as the son of God and your Savior, you are a Christian who will be saved. THERE ARE NO LITMUS TESTS beyond that.

    October 24, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • Larry Bob

      Yep. The Son of Sam has accepted Jesus, and he goes to heaven. Same for some of the Manson Family killers, and many others. Entirely possible that Hitler and Himmler also repented just before they went nighty-nght.

      And all those loving caring giving people born where Christianity was not the way, or even known? Torture in hell. Those fine human beings who gave so much but just could not believe, or chose the wrong religion? Torture in hell.

      Religion: The less you think about it, the more sense it makes.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • DL

      Amen! (No pun intended!!)

      October 24, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • Yadda

      God doesn't care if you are good or bad. God just wants toadies.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  20. Loud Mouth

    "One small step for Mitt Romney, one giant step for Joseph Smith".

    October 24, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Funny!

      October 24, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
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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.