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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. Sam Yaza

    Obama is not an anti-Christ, if he was why has he not come to the annual international meeting

    October 24, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  2. Carol

    To be fair to both sides, I think the author should be posting an article about Mitt Romney's religion, which is not Christianity, but is in fact a cult.

    October 24, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      Christianity is in fact a cult, you worship a human; that make you a cult; and lets say Jesus really is the son of a God that make him a demi-god; which still makes you a cult.

      October 24, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • Mobius123

      You're right Carol.

      Many Christians consider the Mormons to be a cult, and Mormon beliefs range from amusing to shocking.

      Like Jesus and Satan are brothers, or that we can "advance" to the level of a God... bazaar.

      October 24, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Carol

      Sam Yaza, you know nothing about Christianity. Jesus is the son of God and accepting Him as our Saviour is the only path to salvation.

      October 24, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • umm..

      "Sam Yaza, you know nothing about Christianity. Jesus is the son of God and accepting Him as our Saviour is the only path to salvation."

      so what makes you an expert on Romney's religion that you were passing judgement on it being a cult or not?

      October 24, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • BU2B

      Carol, spoken like a true sheep. Have any thoughts of your own, or just spout what is in your fairy tale book?

      October 24, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  3. SAMiAM

    It's nice to see so called Christians judge who is a Christian or not. I agree that religion is a personal relationship between you and your god. Who are we to judge a person? Leave it up to your GOD to make that decision. Never in my life time have I seen a President questioned on his religion, let alone after he's already declared it. My parents have always taught me to treat everyone equally no matter how they choose to live their life and to be honest the people that I run into who judge people the most are the ones who believe they've been saved. Saved to do what? Judge and belittle another human being so you can some how feel superior? Just doesn't make sense and this is a large reason why I don't go to church and rather instill my belief on my kids through my own personal experience with my god.

    October 24, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Mobius123

      Sam, few organized religions would agree " that religion is a personal relationship between you and your god."

      What you are describing is "spirituality", something that organized "team oriented" religions generally frown upon.

      October 24, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • RSM

      LOL if you want people to make sense you are living on the wrong planet...

      October 24, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  4. Andy Smith

    I don't think the question should be is he the right kind of Christian, all Christians should have the foundation of Bible, and what Gods word has to teach us as Christians and as sinners. He has not displayed the Christian faith with these foundations, and the word of God tells us this "You shal know them by their fruits" his fruits of abortion and gay marriage do not agree with Gods word. So by his fruits I would question his faith, but in the end God will be the final Judge not me or anyone other human being.

    October 24, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  5. Hipster Slayer

    CNN runs a story on Obama's faith and fails to mention Reverend Jeremiah Wright? Keep building that personality cult, sycophants.

    October 24, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  6. Eliminate hinduism, denial of truth absolute by hindu's laires, for peace, Islam among humanity.

    hindu Mithra ism, pagan savior ism labeled as Christianity is nothing but a Gumbo, cooked to prove hinduism, racism of hindu Jew's, crimnal secular s, gumbo of hindu pagan fundamentals, supported by corrupted teachings of truth to hind fool humanity into gentile ism, slavery, handy work of hindu Magi's, criminal tricksters of Egypt and Persian origin, followed by hindu's ignorant's as some thong of holy nature, hinduism, absurdity called religion. For more visit limitisthetruth.com

    October 24, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  7. Jon

    I did agree with much of the original article, but would like to point out that there is a sizeable minority among theological conservatives that find in their theology reasons to be politically liberal. I number myself in that category. The Gospels for me are not only beautiful, heart-rending stories... they are faithful recordings of historical facts. And if the Jesus of the Gospels is as the Bible records him, I *must* identify as he did with the very poor, the prisoners, the marginalized. "Biblical values" don't consist of just a few dozen verses hand picked by the Christian Right... or Christian Left (though I don't see much of a Christian left these days, sadly). The Whole Bible's counsel must be considered... and through that counsel I find over and over again a God with words of praise for those who defend, protect, and care for the disenfranchised. I will gladly vote once again for our President, Barack Obama, on 2012. He's a Christian. Flawed, like the rest of us. But those who attack his person and his faith are the ones whose own faith I question sharply.

    October 24, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
  8. Chad

    Here's my thought on Pres. Obama's religion. He isn't religious at all. BUT, he is forced to be as for some reason in our political spectrum the president must have a religious affiliation. So, he goes to church each Sunday like fanatical religious nuts think he should. Once he out of office, whether soon or in 4 more years, he'll go back to Chicago and live his life. Without religion. Like many other people do and live a peaceful and harmonious life.

    October 24, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • BU2B

      Most likely correct.

      October 24, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  9. eba

    John Blake, who are you to write an article about anyone being the wrong kind of Christian? Do you think you're God? I thought Christians were taught that the only one who can make that judgement is God. One's faith is personal, and it is impossible for one person to judge another's. Your article is very partisan. Why would you not ask if Mitt Romney is the wrong kind of Christian as well? Shame on you and CNN.

    October 24, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  10. bertha59

    Who is anyone to question another's faith?

    October 24, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • upside down

      Clergy. That's their job.

      October 24, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • RSM

      Agreed which is why I find this topic so fascinating and painful to read.

      I know that the spirit realm is real because I can sense it just as others who throughout history have. I also know that the chances of me convincing a skeptic of this is about the same as trying to explain color to a person born blind. Just how DO you explain something to people who have never sensed something?

      So I gave up trying to convince anyone. But is still find it fascinating to see different perspectives (sometimes painfully stupid perspectives such as in the case of Religion is for Dummies) and get their viewpoint. Just what does make one think that their experiences are the limit of existence? Such existential dialog in the hands of most here is sadly wasted as they have far too little experience with the topic they are discussing.

      October 24, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  11. Tim Atlanta GA

    Joseph Smith’s ancestors were ordinary New England farm people who had emigrated from England to America in the 1600s and settled in Massachusetts. (It is interesting that he is a descendant of the Howland family tree, which is the same lineage as five U.S. presidents and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Joseph Smith ancestors are along with Eight U.S. presidents are known to be descended from Mayflower passengers, and a number of other famous people including astronauts, poets, politicians, actors and actresses, directors, inventors and others are descendants as well. There is is much heritage in our previous Presidents that make them worthy of spiritual ties or kindred spirits. We need to look at our roots and see if men that are connected to our countries noble linage to lead and guide us back to spiritual matters. Obama ties to Muslim hurts him as a leader. Mitt Romney has a noble heritage line and where is Obama's?

    October 24, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • Snow

      Look a bit closer and we both also would probably share some genetic link... and I don't even know where you live.. Also, Why did you only focus on the "noble" linage of one of the candidates? not a good enough researcher? trying to apply your bias?

      BTW would you also look a bit closer and tell us all the murderers, serial killers, immoral people that both the candidates have genetic link with? or, are you afraid of what you might find?

      logic fail.. research fail.. reporting fail.. just, fail all over!

      October 24, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  12. Mike E

    I wonder why so many people challenge President Obama about his faith? I remember when he was running for President and the whole world was mad that his (Christian) pastor made remarks about white people. Now I am a mixed race American who identifies more with Black. I went to a Christian school from K-5th grade. That was the worst time of my life. Late 80s to early 90s in my city were not very nice to black people. I went to an all white Christian school. I was called every name in the book before being in 2nd grade. The most rediculous thing is when they made us sing "Jesus loves the little children", that song would make me cry, because I knew that what they were singing, actually wasn't in their hearts. It got so bad that even the pastor stooped so low as to tell me in the 3rd grade that black people are a lesser race. This is a freaking pastor, but anyway I've been rambling. My point is, leave the man alone. If you really hate him for being black, just say it. I'd rather know your true feelings than for all these people to hide the true feelings that they have. If you are a Christian, you are not supposed to judge others, you are supposed to love your neighbor, not call them offensive names. I actually thought America was getting better with this race thing, but it seems we just have too many hateful people out there. And just from my standpoint, it seems like the most hateful people are these hard-core Christians. What happened to the love you are supposed to show that Jesus said to live by?

    October 24, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • Innerspace is God's Place while outerspace is for the human race.

      Well ain't 'we' special?

      Brought to all, thru and by and for and from, shaping the lewed' & 'shysterly-weighed" lands and polarizing people friggates & their seats and their seeds for randomized notes' of demented "bar-bellonisms". Eat and drink and lay in one's own wastefulness' body being but a solitary kingdom of God where-as which immeasurable; the kingodms of God truly are!

      Luke 17:21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

      Well ain't this deep doo-doo?

      October 24, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  13. RSM

    TheSchmaltz
    Nobody's going to reach 'a realm founded in faith' because it doesn't exist.

    The problem with living by faith is that you'll fall for the first con artist that gets his hands on you.

    For the record, God isn't impossible. I have no proof that Yahweh doesn't exist exactly as described in the Bible. You also don't have any proof that he does, and the story is so unlikely, implausible, and nonsensical that I choose to live my life as though he doesn't. I don't believe in him for the same reason I don't believe in unicorns, Thor, and reincarnation. They're all silly and don't have anything to do with the world we live in. I can't say with authority that you're wrong, but I can call you a fool for buying this obvious malarkey, and a facist for using it as a basis for restricting my freedoms.

    Except for the fact that I believe they ALL exist...yes you heard me right...I don't discount something simply because I did not sense it. Anyone who has studied anything about the spirit realm will tell you that you have to be born of the spiritual to sense the spiritual. Ergo it is not shocking to me that you would never have sensed it as you require to be sensitive to it in the first place.

    Trying to sense the metaphysical realm via scientific physical limited to the five senses of seeing, hearing, touch, scent, and taste is akin to studying astronomical data using a shovel.

    In short the reason that you think there is no god is because you have to be spirituality sensitive to the spirit realm

    Further in order to be conned I would have to be getting the information from a con artist. The spiritual realm is not something that you learn from men therefore being conned by them is impossible as it is something that you personally sense. Of course there is no way for me to prove this to you as you would have to be sensitive to it to know it existed so your skepticism is quite natural and understandable.

    October 24, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • RSM

      One further thought...

      Faith does exist to a spirit and is all important in the spirit realm (something that I can sense and others before me have.) Faith however is not of much use in the physical realm so most naturalists have no natural use for it which is understandable since it is beyond their ability to perceive.

      So it really comes down to whether you perceive that I am either telling the truth or I am simply a delusional lunatic too blinded by the workings of his own imagination to realize the truth that he spirit realm is nothing more that a simplistic way to rationalize the evidence of the naturalistic scientific philosophy of today.

      People who have had a connection to the spirit realm with say that I am telling to the truth and naturalistic atheists will say the latter.

      October 24, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  14. Innerspace is God's Place while outerspace is for the human race.

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

    "Words are for watering; mostly by goodness suggestions and soundness resonations and still there are damnable wordages being spread upon the lands much like plaques of insects so do and lay wasted any crops wanted for goodness and beneficial sakes. Wait until the next crop springs up."

    October 24, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • Huebert

      You're the poster formerly known as God's oldest dreamer, aren't you?

      October 24, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • Innerspace is God's Place while outerspace is for the human race.

      Whats' in-a-name? G.O.D.

      October 24, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  15. Loretta

    Anybody around here ever hear the term "separation of church and state"? The Presdident's religion should not be questioned, even if that religion is Muslim. Guess what, folks – John Kennedy never used his catholocism to effect change in our government. George Bush, on the other hand kowtowed to the religious right on many occasions. Give it up!

    October 24, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • Innerspace is God's Place while outerspace is for the human race.

      How can one "separate" what are the left hand and the right hand of one body, that being the nation?

      October 24, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • Lou Siffer

      Yep, I remember that. Sent a lot of folks my way, you know. I'll be waiting for him at well. I'm patient, if nothing else.

      October 24, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Snow

      "How can one "separate" what are the left hand and the right hand of one body, that being the nation?"

      Are you saying the founding fathers who authored this were wrong? that they didn't know how to make a nation and rule a nation? are you saying the first so many presidents of this country who followed that rule did not know how to do their job?

      if one can not follow the very first amendment to the const.itution, one is not fit for the job as a president!

      October 24, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      Christians posing as me please stop, or spell it Louis Cypher, still i found you out

      October 24, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • Innerspace is God's Place while outerspace is for the human race.

      Snow,

      Two presidents, both with Godly principals and each one believing in a different aspect of Godliness' morals and scruples. God cannot be nailed any more to the cross and/or crosses of humanisms' verbal bellowings.

      Well ain't day sum tin?

      October 24, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  16. Connie in Tennessee

    Let's go back to "separation of church and state"! Obama is a smart and capable leader and that's all I care about.

    October 24, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • Snow

      us humans are such hopeful creatures.. aren't we.. sigh!

      October 24, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  17. Loren

    Didn't read the article, so I have no idea how President Obama's faith has been labeled, but as a person who began attending a Christina Church during adolescence, I know that it is very hard to accept a number of tenets of the faith, so I find myself doubting that a person who was raised for a number of years in a Muslim household and whose mother does not appear to have been of a Christian denomination, is likely to have adopted the tenets of the Christian faith. I think that his actions as President speak more loudly of his "faith" than anything–his excuses for Islamic leadership's failures to condemn extremist behavior while at the same time calling to task marginal Christian leaders for mere words. Seems a bit odd to call yourself a Christian when all your acts seem to identify you with Islam. But then he is a politician, and a Chicago one at that.

    October 24, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • Lou Siffer

      There ya go judgin' there Loren. How's that go again.....? Judge not, and, um....help me out here.....Oh yes, judge not and you shall not be judged. I'll be waitin' on ya Loren......

      October 24, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  18. Sam

    If he is a Christian I am amazed because he was raised by communists and joined the Democratic socialist party, was stepfathered by a Muslim, and gave his faith as a muslim when entering school. And then, he went to church under Rev.? Wright, a hate monger and muslim turned pastor. Oh well, maybe by some miracle he is a Christian.

    October 24, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • Josh Wight

      How horribly wrong YOUR SUPPOSED facts are.....not anywhere near the truth.

      October 24, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • Lou Siffer

      He's been forgiven, and reborn maybe? Judge not, err... how does the rest of that go????? Fake Christians always end up coming my way, Sam......

      October 24, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • God

      By some miracle? Haha...The Bible I read says that's exactly how you become a Christian. Unless someone being birthed by a virgin, walking on water, raising people from the dead, raising himself from the dead, and magically ascending into the sky as if he had hollywood cables on (Sorry Chris Angel) is somehow normal, now-a-days. Sounds to me like everyone is saved by a miracle. You, my friend, are exactly why the largest growing religion is "no religion." No one wants to be associated with ignorance.

      October 24, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • Mike E

      Come on Sam, just say your a racist. That would be easier. Why lie to yourself? Just say it loud, you hate blacks and your proud!

      October 24, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Vince

      You're either trolling, or horribly retarded.

      October 24, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
  19. Unknown

    believe that President Obama is a man of God. Why does some Caucasian American dwell on the negative? Why is it, that regardless of what a person of color does, Caucasians always looked down on us? Are you all Christian? The bible teaches us to judge not be judge, Caucasians have been judge the world since you brought African to this country and stole land for the Indian. Leave the President along let Christ do his work. If you ask me, Caucasian American is bunch of liar and crooks.

    October 24, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
  20. cafemoi

    Who cares? Really, who seariously cares whether a president believes in God or not? It's completely irrelevant to the office.

    October 24, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • baman

      Can you really be that naive? How would you like a radical muslim for president?

      October 24, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • Snow

      @baman.. how about a radical christian president? would you like that?

      October 24, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • Okay

      @baman
      How would you like tricky Dicky Nixon for a president? Oops, been there done that.

      October 24, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • Lou Siffer

      Agreed. But, he should believe in me, I carry more clout. Gotta run, Romney fundraiser to attend.

      October 24, 2012 at 3:19 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.