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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. Atheist Hunter

    February 2011 – Obama directs the Justice Department to stop defending the federal Defense of Marriage Act.[42]

    October 24, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • sam

      I think it's been ruled unconstitutional anyway...it's not going to be upheld.

      October 24, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • Boss Hogg

      Dick Cheney stopped being an atheist when he shot his unting buddy.What is going to take for you ????

      October 24, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Ronald Regonzo

      In 13 days all of obamas sins will be relegated to the dustbin of history and a new moral America will begin to emerge. Romney / Ryan 2012

      October 24, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  2. Atheist Hunter

    September 2010 – The Obama administration tells researchers to ignore a judge’s decision striking down federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.[41]

    October 24, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • Boss Hogg

      Dick Cheney stopped being an atheist when he shot his hunting buddy.What is going to take for you ????

      October 24, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  3. Atheist Hunter

    August 2010 – The Obama administration Cuts funding for 176 abstinence education programs.[40]

    October 24, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Huebert

      This is because abstinence education has been shown to be ineffective. The states that have the highest funding for abstinence education also have the highest teen pregnancy rates.

      October 24, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  4. Atheist Hunter

    July 2009 – The Obama administration illegally extends federal benefits to same-s ex partners of Foreign Service and Executive Branch employees, in direction violation of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.[37]

    October 24, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Huebert

      Again, good.

      October 24, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • sam

      This list gets better all the time! Thanks for reminding us of how awesome Obama is.

      October 24, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Ronald Regonzo

      In 13 days ho mo se xuality will become a criminal offense once again in America as it always should have been and America will begin the long process of repentance and moral renewal. Romney / Ryan 2012

      October 24, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  5. Atheist Hunter

    May 2009 – Obama officials assemble a terrorism dictionary, calling pro-life advocates violent and charging that they use racism in their “criminal” activities.[36]

    October 24, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • sam

      Sounds about right.

      October 24, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Huebert

      What is your source for all of this information?

      October 24, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • redzoa

      Atheist Hunter's cut and paste comes from David Barton's Wall Builders website. Rather than spamming this thread, Atheist Hunter could have simply provided the link:

      http://www.wallbuilders.com/libissuesarticles.asp?id=106938

      Perhaps, knowing Barton's reputation as a "Liar for Jesus," this was a conscious choice to isolate the claims from the clearly questionable source.

      October 24, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • ....

      BULLSHIT ALERT. (see a review of the author where this info came from:
      http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/14/hard-truth-for-author-publisher-pulls-the-jefferson-lies/ )

      October 24, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  6. 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 5:12 pm |
  7. Atheist Hunter

    March 2009 – Obama gave $50 million for the UNFPA, the UN population agency that promotes abortion and works closely with Chinese population- control officials who use forced abortions and involuntary sterilizations.[33]

    October 24, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  8. The Truth

    Just admit it AH, you are really Donald Trump trolling these boards...

    October 24, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  9. Fools and the tools of fools made the worldly what it is today never ever saving for the tomorrows' waning :-(

    Innerspace is a Godly place while outerspace becomes the humans' race.

    Well even a carnation has seeds.
    Ain't flours sum tin?

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

    March 2009 – Obama orders taxpayer funding of embryonic stem cell research.[32]

    October 24, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Huebert

      Good.

      October 24, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Second that. In fact, Atheist Bumblefoot, you keep posting these actions Obama has taken and they're all good reasons to vote for him. Thanks for providing free advertising for the Obama campaign. Mighty big of you.

      October 24, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  11. Atheist Hunter

    March 2009 – The Obama administration shut out pro-life groups from attending a White House-sponsored health care summit.[31]

    October 24, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  12. The Truth

    btw Atheist Hunter, I could cut & paste the very long list of Christians violent history from Wiki or many other websites too, but i'm not a dumbazz troll.

    October 24, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • Fools and the tools of fools made the worldly what it is today never ever saving for the tomorrows' waning :-(

      Pooof so be it! A smartazz troll!! 🙂

      October 24, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  13. Atheist Hunter

    January 2009 – Obama lifts restrictions on U.S. government funding for groups that provide abortion services or counseling abroad, forcing taxpayers to fund pro-abortion groups that either promote, or perform, abortions in other nations.[29]

    October 24, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • sam

      There's no such thing as pro-abortion, you douche.

      October 24, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  14. 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 5:07 pm |
  15. Atheist Hunter

    June 2012 – Bibles for the American military have been printed in every conflict since the American Revolution, but the Obama Administration revokes the long-standing U. S. policy of allowing military service emblems to be placed on those military Bibles.[28]

    October 24, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • sam

      (Separation of church and state)

      October 24, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • redzoa

      Does anyone really question the legitimacy of a military policy intended to prevent the misconception that America is engaged in a modern Christian crusade in Afghanistan, Iraq and other Muslim countries?

      October 24, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  16. Fools and the tools of fools made the worldly what it is today never ever saving for the tomorrows' waning :-(

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

    And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after [them], nor follow [them].

    And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body [is], thither will the eagles be gathered together.

    Well ain't this fodder for thoughts?

    October 24, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  17. phk46

    Atheist Hunter – I sense a troll.

    You won't have a lot of trouble with your hunting – there are lots of us. What do you intend to do when you find one? Do you want to bag an athiest to hang on your wall?

    October 24, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  18. Atheist Hunter

    April 2012 – A checklist for Air Force Inns will no longer include ensuring that a Bible is available in rooms for those who want to use them.[26]

    October 24, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • sam

      Most people who want 'em usually carry them around...if you don't, I guess your faith doesn't mean much.

      October 24, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  19. Atheist Hunter

    February 2012 – The Army orders Catholic chaplains not to read a letter to parishioners that their archbishop asked them to read.[25]

    October 24, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  20. The Truth

    Thank you Atheist Hunter, for pointing out how far we have come and the progress we have made in ridding the world of the wh.ore of Babylon. Obama/Biden 2012!!

    October 24, 2012 at 5:05 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.