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. Atheist Hunter

    February 2012 – The Air Force removes “God” from the patch of Rapid Capabilities Office (the word on the patch was in Latin: Dei).[24]

    October 24, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  2. Atheist Hunter

    February 2012 – The U. S. Military Academy at West Point disinvites three- star Army general and decorated war hero Lieutenant General William G. (“Jerry”) Boykin (retired) from speaking at an event because he is an outspoken Christian.[23]

    October 24, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • ....

      probably a little too outspoken, I'm sure...lol

      October 24, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  3. Atheist Hunter

    November 2011 – The Air Force Academy pays $80,000 to add a Stonehenge-like worship center for pagans, druids, witches and Wiccans.[22]

    October 24, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • ....

      David Barton exaggeration. Do your own research.

      October 24, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  4. Atheist Hunter

    November 2011 – The Air Force Academy rescinds support for Operation Christmas Child, a program to send holiday gifts to impoverished children across the world, because the program is run by a Christian charity.[21]

    October 24, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • ....

      more David Barton lies

      October 24, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  5. Atheist Hunter

    September 2011 – The Army issues guidelines for Walter Reed Medical Center stipulating that “No religious items (i.e. Bibles, reading materials and/or facts) are allowed to be given away or used during a visit.”[20]

    October 24, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • ....

      It was rescinded four months later. You seem to have both bad sources and statements that are out of date.

      October 24, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  6. Atheist Hunter

    September 2011 – Air Force Chief of Staff prohibits commanders from notifying airmen of programs and services available to them from chaplains.[19]

    October 24, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • ....

      more lies from David Barton. Readers are urged to do your own research. Here is a page that addresses some of the many lies by DB: http://tfninsider.org/2012/03/02/more-zombie-lies-from-david-barton/
      (This was the author whose book about Jefferson was yanked by his publisher when it came to light that is was chock full of misinformation.)

      October 24, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  7. mama k

    Christians are experts in telling each other they are "not the right kind of Christian". This has always been the case in the U.S. Different Christian sects were even feuding and persecuting each other around the time of the founding of the U.S. in several states (or soon-to-be states). Because this feuding between these sects annoyed our founders so greatly, they made it a top priority to establish the separation of church and state (and to make it Amendment #1 of our Constitution). This is also reflected in what they had to say on the matter:

    James Madison (our 4th President, was the chief architect of the U.S. Constitution):

    During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.

    (A Memorial and Remonstrance, addressed to the Virginia General Assembly, 1785)

    and then ten years later:

    Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?

    (A Memorial and Remonstrance, addressed to the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of VA, 1795)

    Thomas Jefferson (our 3rd President, was the key author of the Declaration of Independence)

    Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person's life, freedom of religion affects every individual. State churches that use government power to support themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of the church tends to make the clergy unresponsive to the people and leads to corruption within religion. Erecting the "wall of separation between church and state," therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.

    (Letter (as POTUS) to the Virginia Baptists (1808))

    and then of course we have clarifying moments in history such as:

    President John Adams and the U.S. Senate on behalf of the U.S.

    As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion;

    (from Article 11 of the U.S. treaty ratified with Tripoli in 1797)

    Senator John F Kennedy said on Sept. 12, 1960, just prior to his winning the Presidential election:

    I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.

    October 24, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  8. Atheist Hunter

    August 2011 – The Air Force stops teaching the Just War theory to officers in California because the course is taught by chaplains and is based on a philosophy introduced by St. Augustine in the third century AD – a theory long-taught by civilized nations across the world (except America).[18]

    October 24, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  9. Atheist Hunter

    June 2011 – The Department of Veterans Affairs forbids references to God and Jesus during burial ceremonies at Houston National Cemetery .[17]

    October 24, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  10. Atheist Hunter

    February 2012 – The Obama administration forgives student loans in exchange for public service, but announces it will no longer forgive student loans, if the public service is related to religion.[16]

    October 24, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  11. Atheist Hunter

    January 2012 – The Obama administration argues that the First Amendment provides no protection for churches and synagogues in hiring their pastors and rabbis.[15]

    October 24, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  12. Atheist Hunter

    November 2011 – Unlike previous Presidents, Obama studiously avoids any religious references in his Thanksgiving speech.[13]

    October 24, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  13. Atheist Hunter

    November 2011 – Obama opposes inclusion of President Franklin Roosevelt’s famous D-Day Prayer in the WWII Memorial.[12]

    October 24, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  14. Atheist Hunter

    August 2011 – The Obama administration releases its new health care rules that override religious conscience protections for medical workers, in the areas of abortion and contraception.[11]

    October 24, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  15. Atheist Hunter

    April 2011 – For the first time in American history, Obama urges passage of a non-discrimination law, that does not contain hiring protections for religious groups, forcing religious organizations to hire according to federal mandates, without regard to the dictates of their own faith, thus eliminating conscience protection in hiring.[10]

    October 24, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  16. Atheist Hunter

    February 2011 – Although he filled posts in the State Department, for more than two years, Obama did not fill the post of religious freedom ambassador, an official that works against religious persecution across the world; he filled it only after heavy pressure from the public and from Congress.[9]

    October 24, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  17. Atheist Hunter

    January 2011 – After a federal law was passed to transfer a WWI Memorial, in the Mojave Desert, to private ownership, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that the cross in the memorial could continue to stand, but the Obama administration refused to allow the land to be transferred, as required by law, and refused to allow the cross to be re-erected as ordered by the Court.[8]

    October 24, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  18. Atheist Hunter

    November 2010 – Obama misquotes the National Motto, saying it is “E pluribus unum” rather than “In God We Trust”, as established by federal law.[7]

    October 24, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  19. Atheist Hunter

    October 19, 2010 – Obama begins deliberately omitting the phrase about “the Creator” when quoting the Declaration of Independence – an omission he has made on no less than seven occasions.[6]

    October 24, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  20. Atheist Hunter

    April 2009 – In a deliberate act of disrespect, Obama nominated three pro-abortion ambassadors to the Vatican. Of course, the pro-life Vatican rejected all three.[5]

    October 24, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.