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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. Free Man in the Republic of Texas

    Look at Obama’s faith draws criticism, praise....

    WHAT "FAITH" ???
    "Faith" in Liberalism ???
    "Faith" in OBAMA ???

    “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.
    Matthew 16:24

    FORWARD -> -> -> ->
    To total depravity !!!

    October 24, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • itsallaloadofbollocks

      Nonsense

      October 24, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  2. BK

    WHO CARES! God, this subject is sooo tired. And his faith is an issue? Really? No, the real issue is that he's Black. If he was white, not one of you idiots would have a word to say about this. So at least just be honest and admit that your a bigot because that's what this topic is really about.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • GuyinCanada

      I'm not sure if thats entirely the case, but I bet at least 75% of it is racism. The other 25% is just people believe random fictional nonsnes Fox News tells them to believe.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  3. Nancy

    Mr. Blake, about the "payoff" you speak of at the end of your article, claiming it was for you. Wouldn't a conscientious journalist perfer that the "payoff" of sparking insight and discussion belong to his or her readers? If your sole objective as a writer is to cobble material that others notice, then write about Honey Boo Boo. Leave religion and politics for serious writers. You know, those of us who are commissioned and paid money to write.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  4. Michael

    Mr. Blake, where is your story about Romney's "Christianity"? I won't hold my breath waiting for it.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • Nancy

      Here you go, John! An article that would really be noticed! Do you have the guts to discuss how Mormonism isn't considered a Christian religion by mainstream Christianity now that you've questioned Obama's faith? Have at it! I dare you.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  5. wheels

    I cant tell you what Obamas religion is because I really couldnt CARE LESS...When are we going realize that there is no place for religion in politics....fix the economy! Send our troops home! Get this country going again! Whatever deity the guy worships shouldnt make a difference. I dont care if the guy is Buddhist, Christian, Muslim , Atheist, if gas prices are below 3 dollars a gallon

    October 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  6. Judy

    I actually found your story quite interesting and insightful. I was raised in a church that stressed the love and the forgiveness of God and did not spend the entire time trying to scare me out of hell and into heaven. I was taught to 'Judge not, lest ye be judged'....I was taught to follow the teachings of Jesus in caring for the sick, the sinners, and the poor. So I guess my Christian beliefs are pretty much like the President Obama's. I don't want my minister telling me how to vote and I don't need politicians telling me how to worship. I also don't feel the need to tell any congressman or president how they should worship. Just sign me 'The wrong kind of Christian'.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  7. DOUG M

    I’m a Christian and I have been borne again. The visceral attack on president Obama’s faith is disgusting and makes the right wing camp a bunch of hyprocrites. Mormonism is considered a cult by any and all evangelical Christians. To have the evangelical community now question Obama’s Christianity and not comment on their objection and revulsion to Mormonism is hipacritical. Mormonism is considered a big threat to main line Christianity, but obviously these right wing Christians have their heart in politics, money and the color of someone’s skin.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • GuyinCanada

      I don't mind people having "faith" or being religious, but when they start to put down other religions as "cults" or just stating it is not the "real" religion you can't help but laugh. How can one made up story be superior to other made up stories? If a person who is full out Christian wasn't born in a Christian household or country and was born in say....India, they would be preaching Hindu as the one true religion.

      When geography is a large part of where your religious beliefs come from, you must realize its trivial to argue whose is the "right" religion.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Sam

      The threat to Christianity is the government forcing companies(& people) to pay for contraceptive and abortion drugs.....The threat to Christianity is relativism with in the Christian groups and Christians being divided on the very foundation of their faith and morals....Mormonism is way down in the line if anything.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • itsallaloadofbollocks

      Sam, You know the ACA doesn't force people to buy contraception. Why do you spread lies?

      October 24, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  8. JD

    I think, Mr. Blake, what evangelical Christians like myself are asking is "does Barak Obama have a relationship with Jesus Christ." You're right in saying that no one can determine who is a Christian and who isn't–religion is this man made thing but it's also personal so who can say in the end but the individual. For me and many other "evangelicals" I guess, the point isn't what you call yourself but Who you know, if you get me. And I don't know (I'd like a journalist or Obama to tell me) what Obama says about this: does he have a "relationship" with Christ, does he pray to him thinking he's God? Or does his progressive version of Christianity consider Jesus also more of a character/moral teacher to be learned about rather than the living God to be worshiped. I didn't mean this to sound derisive, I'm genuinely curious. As an Obama advocate, I'd like to know the details of His faith and this particular point is important to me.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Stephen

      Curiosity is ok. But it's worth pointing out that even if he uses all the popular contemporary evangelical lingo to define his relationship with Jesus in exactly the words certain judges want to hear, they still might not be satisfied. And it's worth pointing out that plenty of recent leaders who use all the right words to satisfy modern Pharisees of the Bible Belt have later shown themselves to be walking down dark paths.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Bill P

      JD, let's see if this helps:

      Obama on declaration of faith: (2008 interview with George Stephanopoulos “You’re absolutely right that John McCain has not talked about my Muslim faith.” (Regardless of the correction, was it a mistake or inadvertent truth? How does one make such a mistake after twenty years as a "Christian"?)

      Obama and prayer: “Uh, yeah, I guess I do. It’s not formal, me getting on my knees. I think I have an ongoing conversation with God. I think throughout the day, I’m constantly asking myself questions about what I’m doing, why am I doing it.” (Jesus was pretty clear as to how to pray: “And when you pray, pray in this manner …”, see Matt 6:5-14).

      Obama and heaven: “Do I believe in the harps and clouds and wings? What I believe in is that if I live my life as well as I can, that I will be rewarded. I don’t presume to have knowledge of what happens after I die. But I feel very strongly that whether the reward is in the here and now or in the hereafter, the aligning myself to my faith and my values is a good thing.” (Obama is either unfamiliar with or rejects John ch. 14 and the Book of Revelation).

      Obama and sin: “In the same way that if I’m true to myself and my faith that that is its own reward, when I’m not true to it, it’s its own punishment.” (Obama apparently rejects Romans 3:23 and 6:23).

      Obama and Jesus: “Jesus is an historical figure for me, and he’s also a bridge between God and man, in the Christian faith, and one that I think is powerful precisely because he serves as that means of us reaching something higher. And he’s also a wonderful teacher. I think it’s important for all of us, of whatever faith, to have teachers in the flesh and also teachers in history.” Also “I believe that there are many paths to the same place”. (Obama fails to say that Jesus was the Son of God and rejects that Jesus is the ONLY way to heaven, John 3:15 and John 14:6).

      Jesus said, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." (John 14:23)

      October 24, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • Primewonk

      We are electing a President of the (secular) United States of America. We are not electing a Pastor-in-Chief. Why do you ignorant fundiot nutters seek to apply a religious means test for elected office? Do you not understand the meaning of Article VI, Section 3, of the constîtution?

      October 24, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  9. Matt

    Ok, If Obama is Moslem, then he has to get up every day at 5:30AM and pray 4 times towrds Mecca? Does he do that?

    First of all , does not matter what religion he has. Being Christian does not mean a good president. Also what is Christinity?

    He beilive Jusus and stick to his fundamental. That is important.

    I am sick of this narrow minded discussion. I also remeber that some people called him, he is not black!

    Whoever, he is, he has my respect as human being and he is our president.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  10. GuyinCanada

    I'd prefer a president to be an Athiest. You want another George Bush Jr. saying God told him to do things? Religion has no place in politics.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  11. Bible Clown©

    None of you are Christians. I wouldn't laugh at you so much if you actually believed the stuff. It's just a weapon for you hit other people with as far as I can see.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  12. Stephen

    I am disappointed in fellow Christians who are so quick to judge, especially when Jesus himself pointed out how dangerous that behavior is! My parents served as Southern Baptist missionaries for a couple of decades, and no, I'm not one of those MKs who walked away from the faith. I serve as a small group leader in my church in Texas and want bring honor to God and love and care for people because that is what God's Kingdom is about.

    Why do I say all this? Because my fellow Christians do not seem to understand that it's possible to be listening for the direction of the Holy Spirit and still be grappling with tough questions such as what legislation to write about controversial issues such as abortion. Plenty of Christians who have been serving the needs of pregnant women for years have thoughtful reasons for NOT outlawing abortion. They might actually be doing things the way Jesus would do–not banning behavior with the laws of society but rather reaching out to care for those who need help and treating them as persons loved by God! Their actions might do far more to lower abortion rates than all the loud judgment and passing of laws combined!!

    So many people find it so easy to claim Obama is a Muslim when he says he is a Christian. Ridiculous. Using your arguments, I can easily point to countless injustices wreaked by my government and show you that Reagan and Bush were not Christians either. God never said thou shalt only elect Christian presidents, but he did say to pray for our leaders! And he certainly said not to judge people.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • SkiOne

      Wish I could tattoo this to all the people who claim to be Christians and judge other people.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Miguel

      Amen, Amen.....Amen!!! Away with the Pharasees!!!!

      October 24, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • Judy

      It couldn't be said better!!

      October 24, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  13. CAsean

    Thank you for your piece and follow up to some of the responses posted. I am a full-time minister and lover of articles that make us think. Reading your follow up piece reminds me just how fractured as a country we are. As a result of many things that has gone on prior to and through this election process I have stepped away from party affiliation. Why is it that we as a nation allow extremists on both sides to rule independent thinking? This article is not a reflection either direction. We ALL are allowed to have our own opinion are we not? The louder we yell does not make us more or less right! As one american to another, read this as thought provoking, conversation inspiring and above all else challenging to share your opinion via your intelligent vote either way!

    October 24, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Stephen

      Great response! Shane Claiborne points out that we ought to be careful in this country of serving two masters, something Jesus warned about. Christians should not exalt politics to be equal to the throne of God.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • itsallaloadofbollocks

      Exactly Stephen, politics has the higher standing.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Primewonk

      " Christians should not exalt politics to be equal to the throne of God."

      My country is not a theocracy. We don't stick gods on thrones to rule over us. We have a constîtutional republic that was founded on the ideals of the age of reason and the age of enlightenment.

      Neither your version of a god, nor any other version of the 10,000 gods we've invented over the past 200,000 years has any standing in our secular laws.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  14. Joe - Utah

    I don't believe anything Obama says, because I believe he is a liar. He's actions tell the truth – not his mouth.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • itsallaloadofbollocks

      So you think Osama bin Laden is alive and well and living in Vegas?

      October 24, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • Kris

      Just why is Obama a liar? He hasn't been able to complete some of his promises because of the right-wing agenda. I trust Obama and Romney is the liar and it is proven everyday by facts.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      "because I believe he is a liar." I believe that you are a liar, and that you support Obama. I can tell by your foreign name that you are no Christian.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  15. Bill P

    Of course, no one knows the heart and mind of another person. Only God knows that. But what defines a Christian? The secular world defines a Christian as a person who does good works as Jesus had admonished. Ergo, the contemporary "social Gospel". And, perhaps in their mind, they are satisfied that the government – through higher taxes – is the agent for God to implement that so-called Gospel. But Jesus and the Apostles John, Matthew, Mark, and Peter, as well as Luke, in the writings of the New Testament, made it very clear what "being a Christian" meant. Jesus put it succinctly, "If you love me you will keep my words." And Jesus laid it out plainly, speaking of Himself, "I am the way the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me" (John 14:6). For Obama's part, he has stated, “I believe that there are many paths to the same place”. In essence, he rejects what Jesus said. Now, while that alone does not declare someone to not be a Christian, it makes his "faith" suspect and disobedient. And Obama has made other statements on prayer and sin that clearly indicate that he does not understand the teachings of the Bible.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • CAsean

      Thank you Bill for your biblically factual response. I wish more people would read the bible for themselves and ask what they believe. I have a feeling that we would be a better nation for it!

      October 24, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Bill P

      CAsean – You are welcome. Some folks, Christian or not, like to point to "judging" – as if they understand where the line is drawn. And caution is important. In both the Old and New Testaments, the believer is commanded to warn others of sin and unbelief. How do you do that without making some sort of “judgment”? Failure to do so, clearly stated in the Bible, lays the “blood” of the non-believer or sinner on the believer’s hands. Recall that Jesus, to the woman caught in adultery, though he shamed all those that “accused” her, nevertheless, told her, “Go and sin no more.” Thus, He had judged her correctly to be in sin and warned her to stop. There is a distinction between having a sanctimonious spirit, like the Pharisees, in which one forgets also being a sinner, and warning someone else that he or she is in danger of certain consequences of sin. In fact, I would think that it is the work of Satan that would cleverly use the “do no judge” chant, thrown out so casually, without understanding, in order to suppress warning others of sin and error.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • jaywingfuller

      You just don't get it, do you. You are so blinded by your disfunctional, literal belief in a 2000+ year old mythology (the basics of which, by the way, were refined by several religions centuries before Christianity came on the scene) that you think you can judgementally verblize hatred for others who simply do not agree with you or look like you. Stop with the bigotry arising from your irrational fear of someone different than yourself. And, for Christ's sake, quit using religion as your crutch and launching point for your hatred.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • Bill P

      jaywingfuller – You seem to be confused. On the one hand you invoke Jesus’ name for His sake, but then you proceed with judgments about my “dysfunctional, literal belief in a 2000+ year old mythology”, obviously denying it as truth, denying Jesus as the Son of God, and then tell me not to judge. Does Jesus exist or not exist in your mind? And, if He exists, in what form: God or man? Or, as the Bible clearly points out, God and man. There is no “bigotry” when one points out error. Think about your own anger, your own words: “don't get it”, “blinded”, “dysfunctional”, “ 2000+ year old mythology”, “judgementally”, “hatred for others”, “bigotry”, “irrational fear”, “Christ's sake”, “religion as your crutch”, “your hatred”.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • JWT

      One thing for christians like you to remember Bill P is that not all people are christians and as such have no need to follow any teachings of christianity. Tellign them they are sinners is just plain rude as it demands that they follow your particular belief system or else they are wrong.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  16. Jason

    So are we going to have an indepth look at Mormoism and Mr Romney's place in it.

    And I mean a REAL piece not a fluff piece about Mormonism.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  17. J Harris

    I like to say this first, "Judge not, and you shall not be judged: condemn not, and you shall not be condemned: forgive, and you shall be forgiven:" Luke 6:37 and "Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are that judge: for wherein you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you that judge do the same things." Romans 2:1.
    I believe everyone interprets the Bible according to his/her own understandings, so for a man to stand up and play God is not cool. The President calls the name of God and claims to pray to the same God you pray to is between him and God not you. You go on preaching the Gospel and spreading the good news of Jesus like Paul and do not try to be Jesus or play God. Leave the man alone and let him serve God as a free American would.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Stephen

      Amen

      October 24, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  18. Religion is for dummies.

    I am free.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • this guy

      if this were facebook, i would like your comment

      ...ALSO, if this were twitter, i would retweet your comment

      October 24, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • GuyinCanada

      ditto. free from religion means free to think out of the box

      October 24, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • keithhoover

      Question,

      Are you really free or are you educated? I can't believe how many individuals in this country are uneducated. Science is king. People, you come from high-mass stars.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • TheEyeofGodisWatchingYou

      Isn't believing religion is not real just another religion?

      October 24, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Religion is for dummies.

      @keithhoover

      I am free by definition and educated as much as my intelligence and available information will allow.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Religion is for dummies.

      @TheEyeofGodisWatchingYou

      Thank you for proving my point dummy.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  19. Irrational Exuberance

    Here is the question to ask.

    If he saw a man about to sacrifice his child in response to a voice which said to do it for the glory of God would he try to stop him?

    If so he might be the right kind of man, but he wouldn't be the 'put your faith in the Lord' person Christians, Jews, or Muslims would elevate as an example for others.

    So basically he needs to be a bad Christian in order to be a good man.

    But I admit I'm a bit biased, I think we should try and stop people from killing their children because the voices tell them to do it.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  20. MarcinGeorgia

    President hollywood needs to go. He is quickly killing this country.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • palintwit

      How's he doing that? Can you elaborate a little?

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

      Not sure if you notice but the countrys economy is getting better as we speak.... We know republicans want to try their best to make the economy worse, but dispite their attempts Obama is making this country better!

      October 24, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • sam stone

      Marc: How is he doing that? Are you going to support your statement, or are you going to post and run like yet another loudmouth right wing fvck?

      October 24, 2012 at 6:42 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.