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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. Damian

    Who cares what type of Christianity he practices. Mormons, Evangelicals, Fundamentalists are all a bunch of loons for the most part.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  2. RCB

    I'd rather he be a practicing Muslim than a follower of Rev Wright! WHICH HE WAS FOR 20 YEARS!

    October 24, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  3. eroteme

    Obama's deeply held religious beliefs may have strayed a bit when he became a member of that bombastic church in Chicago to set himself better politically with African-American voters.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  4. treblemaker

    To John Blake: all your article did was expose the hypocrisy of people trying to brand Christianity with a label that's palatable to the general public and their own selfish agendas (especially the Republican Party).

    October 24, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  5. herrer

    What does a president's faith have to do with running the country? Some Americans are not really religious and I am sick and tired of people focusing on how faithful a president has to be. You run a country based on what needs to be done not on your faith.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • RCB

      When you call a man who professes his hatred of America ("GOD DAMN AMERICA?") your mentor and spiritual leader, methinks it has a heck of a lot to do with it! IT SHOULD!

      October 24, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  6. tammnew7740

    Many of us Americans are getting tired of one particular political party claiming to be "Perfect Christians" we all need Grace.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • this guy

      who's Grace?

      October 24, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Grace?

      Is that the approval of the con men in the church, or the approval of the ones that bugger little boys?

      Grace is a salary paid to a simpleton.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  7. george

    Have we FIGURED OUT what it is yet. Now what is his middle name again???

    October 24, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Primewonk

      What does Obama's middle name have to do with his religious beliefs?

      October 24, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Kavon

      You're an idiot and a bigot. The most illogical comment ever. My middle name is Akbar and my father is a retired Baptist preacher.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  8. nonBelieverOne

    Born again... do Mormons believe in that? Romney gets a free pass on his faith despite Mormonism being discredited by most mainstream Christian denominations from its inception. There's got to be another reason for Christian conservatives to dislike the president so much.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  9. HamsterDancer

    It is unlikely that the need for spirituality will die out in humanity. It has been shown that this sense is literally hard-wired into the human brain. Below is one video by a Dr. Andrew Newberg who has done research on the subject. Why this is can be argued about. Does it provide an evolutionary advantage for an intelligent being to believe he is connected to a higher force and gives incentive to survive and continue to propagate? Or is it the physical links to an actual force, Intelligence, or underlying structure that sustains existence? Well, you can argue about it amongst yourselves. But one thing is clear from this: mankind will never "grow out of" a spiritual desire. We are literally built for it.

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxREBlWvxfk&w=640&h=360]

    October 24, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  10. Religious fundamentalists trying to make religion the LAW

    These Fundamentalist Republicans intend you to believe their way or I they will put politicians in that will make it so and stack the courts to make it happen. The colonists understood this from England which is why they wanted separation of Church and State and built it in to the laws of the new land. They were no less religious, they just want people to be able to choose what was right for themselves. Now that fundamentalists are coming out of the woodwork.... Also, they would like people less educated to the truth because they can't control education as of now, though they will try.Religion is repressive by nature while faith is uplifting.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  11. considerthis

    This is probably the worst election I can remember, one one side we have candidate that is part of a crazy cult that promotes polygamy and all sorts of terrible/stupid ideas however our president (who I agree with 95% of time) supports the legal killing of 58 million babies in the US since 1973, I know most of the people commenting on this board don't think a fetus is a baby however I've worked in the NICU with those tiny premature babies in the incubators and those little lives do have value and I can't vote for someone who supports killing them because their existence is inconvenient. So who do I vote for, the cult member or the murderer?

    October 24, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Seriously?

      Thank god for abortion.

      Unless you were willing to feed them, stay out of it.

      My taxes alreasy feed millions of unproductive hill-billies that mooch of my taxes, I certainly don't need 50 million more.

      Use birth control, or drown your kids in a creek, but I am DONE paying for more rednecks and ghetto rats.

      If you can't feed em, don't breed em.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • nonBelieverOne

      I get what you're saying, but consider this:
      1) that fetus can't survive on its own;
      2) the president supports a woman's right to choose, which is entirely different that supporting "the killing of 58 million babies..."

      October 24, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Deb

      Obama is not Pro-Abortion... he is pro choice.. and there is a huge difference. He is saying it is not the right of the government to make these choices for a women. She should make them for herself. I am pro choice...I myself would not have had an abortion, but I reserve the right to make that choice for myself.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • Primewonk

      I too spent one summer working in a nursery – plant, not human. Never once when someone came in looking for an oak tree did I hand them an acorn.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • itsallaloadofbollocks

      It is a legal procedure and therefore is not murder.
      Do you get this agitated about all the deaths caused by traffic accidents, children in the tens of thousands dying daily from starvation, gun violence, tainted drinking water, tainted food, preventable diseases, etc?

      October 24, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  12. RealMenLoveJesus

    this guy...see you in hell...Oh wait a minute, no I won't 🙂

    October 24, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      A real man wouldn't gleefully look forward to another persons suffering. That is a sick religion and god you worship.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Patrick in Wisconsin

      Quite, he'll be in heaven and you'll be in Hell. Enjoy the ride!

      October 24, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • William Demuth

      We are already in hell my freind

      We live within the reach of a collective paradise, eternally denied it due to our own ignorance.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • this guy

      if you say, "no i won't" bc u finally realize there is no such thing...i commend you.

      if not, i cant help but believe that yor life isnt as good as it probably could be.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • prufrock

      Yep, you won't see him because there is special circle in hell just for people like you.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • this guy

      @patrick in wisconsin

      no i won't and no he won't

      October 24, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • gappbaaz

      That is so true, because none of them exist. They are just figments of human imagination like a Disney story.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • tammnew7740

      Even if that nonsense was true......Some discipleship you practice. Justsaying

      October 24, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • RealMenLoveJesus

      WOW!! Get off the soap boxes! It's a joke idiot's!!
      Mr THIS GUY made a disparaging comment in an earlier post and I commented. The truth is... If he ends up in hell – he chose to go there. Christians can joke too. Just sayin!

      October 24, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  13. Sam

    When will CNN do a high profile article about Mitt Romney's Mormon faith?

    October 24, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • SamiAm

      Too late. That weak candidate has already passed the test of the public. A lack of knowledge of the Mormon "faith" and his role at Bain Capital have allowed him to slip past undetected–but sadly, folks do not care to know anything about him because he passes the (white) "American" test.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  14. Disgusted

    All you need to do to understand these questions is look at what the Right is trying to do to him. They are constantly implying he isn't "one of us" he's either muslim, or he's a communist, he's a socialist, he's the antichrist (!). Would this ever come up if it was a white man as president? Answer: NO. These divisive tactics are disgusting and offensive, but the GOP sees that if they scare up enough voters, they will win, and that is the sad state of politics in this country.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  15. Separation

    This is why there is separation of church and state....!!!!! Some Preachers can't separate from their politics and hide behind their religion to get their results. I always refer back to the Cat Stevens song "Would Jesus wear a Rolex on his Television show" Would his wife wear firs and diamonds, and would his dressing room have a star?" Relationships with God should be just that... Me Myself and God and no one else!

    October 24, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • itsallaloadofbollocks

      She'd have to be abig woman to wear firs.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  16. Innerspace is God's Place while outerspace is for the human race.

    Aren't we special?

    October 24, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  17. Wil Smith

    This Nation was founded on Freedom of religion and who is anyone to judge. GOD job is to judge and you should know and understand that if you are a true christian.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Freedom of religion indicates one might chose to be free from religion.

      Based on that, why should I care what your imaginary sky teaches you?

      October 24, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  18. Brent

    Didn't George Jr state God spoke to him about foreign policy amongst other things.....to me that was a little worrisome, to others it was a comfort. But isn't that OK. If Mitt gets the nod, will the fundemental right be OK with Mitt making a similiar statement. I wonder about that....generally "Christians" think of Mormons as a cult, no matter what Billy Graham says, in fact, many fundamentalist Christians don't believe Graham is truly standing "in the light"

    October 24, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  19. Zach

    Thank you, John, for shaking things up instead of skirting issues.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  20. Mark p

    Collective Salvation is not Christian. That is an attributes of Black Libertarian Theology. A leftist spin on Christianity.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • William Demuth

      So now Christ was a conservative?

      For real?

      Funny how so many read the bible, yet mouth political propoganda!

      Christ was about as "left" as any God ever fabricated. He would make Castro look like a Nazi

      October 24, 2012 at 12:09 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.