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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. Tom Paine

    John, I thought your article was quite good. I am a mainline protestant pastor and feel your observations highlight an issue in society and the church that does not get referred to very often. Indeed, the president's faith would not have been as unusual in the 1950s as it is today.

    October 24, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Truth Seeker

      http://cathleenfalsani.com/obama-on-faith-the-exclusive-interview/

      October 24, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • Tom Paine

      @ Truthseeker: Thanks! This is about eight years back, and I know people's religious perspectives do grow (or sometimes wain) over time. But this gives a fascinating snapshot. Most politicians do not talk about their faith to this degree.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Truth Seeker

      I have not seen anything or heard anything that would show his view is any different now. The views he espouses in the interview are not Christian Doctrine. i.e. "more than one way to heavan", "Jesus was a great man".

      October 24, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Tom Paine

      @ Truthseeker: Again, thanks for the link. I posted it alongside some articles on Romney's faith on my pastor's blog for people to read. I might not read it the same way you are but I think it is good for us to know as much as we can about both men running for office.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  2. Chutzpah

    Obama's "religious" critics are the reason I see no place for religion of any sort in my life from now on. They make a grand case for religion being nothing but another form of insanity.

    October 24, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • Truth Seeker

      Read this and tell me what he believes

      http://cathleenfalsani.com/obama-on-faith-the-exclusive-interview/

      October 24, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • Chutzpah

      Why don't you tell us what YOU believe, and then I can get a handle on whatever brand of fundamentalist cult dogmas you're trying to shove down my thoat.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • Truth Seeker

      I nor Obama get to define Christianity. Only Christ can define that. The New Testement is clear on what a disciple is.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  3. Melly

    Well considering all the hatred towards religious people these days... he needs to shut up & take it.

    October 24, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • sam stone

      if religious people were not trying to deprive other citizens of their civil rights, there would not be this "hatred"

      October 24, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • DB

      Complaining about how difficult it is to be religious in America – especially a religious Christian – is sort of like complaining about how unfair it is that the disabled get all the best parking spaces.

      It's a sign that you're completely self absorbed and you JUST DON'T GET IT.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • Chutzpah

      Actually, most of the hatred I've been hearing is coming from the religious right. I'd say your comment is a good (if comparatively mild) example.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • RealMenLoveJesus

      Hatred and intolerance towards religious people will only get worse. People always confuse religion with Christianity. Religion is a system of man made rules regarding the worship of God. Christianity is a relationship with God through His son Jesus. Good news is non-believers are following the script to the letter. They do exactly what the scriptures say they will. There have always been doubters and until Jesus ends this mess they will hang around doing their job. trying to get us to buy their perspective on the meaninglessness of life. I refuse to believe that all of this is for nothing. If there really is no God then not a single professed non believer would be commenting on this forum. It would be a complete waste of their precious limited time. They are only going to die any minute and become non existent. I surely would not be wasting my time trying to convince the masses that there is no God if I knew that when I die I just cease to exist. Couldn't you find anything better to do with your meaningless life? Why waste a second trying to convince anyone of anything? It makes absolutely no sense! Your life makes no sense. Christians have a reason for telling people the hope they have...but non-believers preaching non-belief??? For what? A feeling of superiority?...me thinks thou dost protest too much.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • sam stone

      "Religion is a system of man made rules regarding the worship of God. Christianity is a relationship with God through His son Jesus"

      Based on a book written, translated and edited by man

      October 24, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • sam stone

      meaninglessness of life? where do you get this, real men? i suppose we can turn your argument around...if you are so sure you will be with god, what are you doing here? you could be begging in front of the savior within the fortnight.

      October 24, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  4. Truth Seeker

    Obama's own words show he is not a Christian. Look at this interview. His beliefs are not Christian beliefs but a combination of many including Muslim.
    http://cathleenfalsani.com/obama-on-faith-the-exclusive-interview/

    October 24, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • Chutzpah

      There's no problem with being a Christian and also recognizing "truths" in other belief systems.

      There have been thousands of religions in humanity's history, and a lot of them have something of value to say. Close your eyes to everything but your own little "truth" if you like, but intelligent people look at all ideas.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  5. hnbc

    Those so-called Christians who questions Obama's faith are not Christians! The first rule of being a Christian is to not judge. And, they are so busily judging they cannot possibly live as Christians.

    Thankfully, I am not a Christian now but was raised in a conservative church. I no longer believe as they do.

    Also, some people can have the truth staring them in the face and they will deny, deny, deny.

    October 24, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      The divine law of the Torah was given to show us that we have left a state of health.

      If we condem people who sometimes break a command we judge badly, and abuse the law. If we see someone who sins we should offer the gospel of Jesus Christ so that he or she may improve through the releasing power of Jesus.

      Yet, Obama did not only break a command but he teaches falsly (gay marriage), and St. Paul says that heretics need a somewhat harsher treatment. The problem is that Obama leads many naive people astray by his wrong doctrine. He needs very sharp admonition.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Truth Seeker

      http://cathleenfalsani.com/obama-on-faith-the-exclusive-interview/

      October 24, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • TC

      Gay people doing the exact same things, like marrying, and valuing the exact same things, like family, that straight folks do is not christian? How odd.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • YO! Rainman

      If you do not believe in gay marriage you are condemning yourself to beiing single for all of your life perhaps it will change if you find a soul mate.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  6. Viclyn

    Hi faith follows the mercy of JESUS, but at the same time JESUS did NOT say it was OK to do "whatever makes you happy". Also Obama's beliefs are not even close to our founding fathers' beliefs.

    October 24, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • sam stone

      yeah.....them founding fathers....could own people, women could not vote. yessirrreeebob, let's get back to that.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • TC

      Most Americans don't support slavery, either. And most are fine with women having the vote, unlike the Founding Fathers.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  7. 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

    I question all believer's faith. Given that there is not one bit of evidence for any god, believers are either delusional (mentally ill), liars or both. Anyone have any factual, verifiable, independent or objective evidence? Don't think so!

    October 24, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  8. wyominguys

    No real Christian would promote the type of social agenda our President has... NOT ONE... In my view his heart IS with the Islamic faith.

    October 24, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • hnbc

      Surely you jest! As I recall Jesus spent much of his time with the downtrodden, the ill, those whom society had cast aside. He fought the wealthy who had taken hold of the temple.

      Perhaps you read a different Bible than what I was familiar with as a child. Even though I am no longer Christian, the Bible has not changed. And, that's probably according to your religious beliefs, too.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • TC

      In what way, exactly?

      In improving the ecomony? Helping the poor to survive? Rebuliding infrastructure? Being strong on foreign policy? Wanting every American to have access to healthcare? Access to a good education? Protecting the auto industry?

      I have never heard these things to be part of the Islamist agenda.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • sam stone

      do you feel that this "social agenda" of obama's would be acceptable to muslims?

      October 24, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Yourefullofit

      Hey wyomingguy.....if that's the case, then he would be A G A I N S T g-y marriage and abort1on!!!! You must ignorant about Islam.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Connor Shaw

      I do not understand how people argue that he is too socially liberal to be a christian, thus he believes in Islam. Islam is far more socially restrictive than that of the most christianity. Although it is a bad argument, you could argue that he is socially liberal thus he is not associated with any religion, but to say he is socially liberal thus he is part of a more socially restrictive is asinine. Furthermore it is racist. We have had many socially liberal candidates throughout our history but the only one accused of being Islamic is black, I really do not think this is the type of propaganda that should go into picking our president.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  9. Rainer Braendlein

    What is actually the real faith?

    Here is it:

    God's gospel of his Son Jesus Christ: God, the Father, delivered God, the Son, Jesus, for our sins, and raised him from the dead for our justification.

    If we simply believe that (regard this gospel as true), and get sacramentally baptized, we become righteous. Through baptism we die for the sin, and enter Christ. Christ becomes our righteousness. In Christ we can overcome the lust of our sinful body. Daily we remember Christ's sacrifice and our baptism, overcome the lust of our body, and love our felllow human beings in God's power. This is the real Christian faith, which leads us to eternal glory.

    If Obama would know God's love he would help single women and men to find partners of the opposite gender, and would not encourage for gay marriage. This one who brings about community is a loveable man. We err, if we simply believe community would be there for no reason. We have to put in a lot of effort to stop our loneliness, we even have to invest money for that.

    October 24, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • YO! Rainman

      "stop our lonliness, we have to invest money for that." They call them rent boys in England, is that what you mean?

      October 24, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • sam stone

      "What is actually the real faith?

      Here is it:"

      Thank you for your godly words, Rainy.....we will cherish them for the rest of our lives.

      "Daily we remember Christ's sacrifice and our baptism, overcome the lust of our body"

      Still in the closet, are you?

      "If Obama would know God's love he would help single women and men to find partners of the opposite gender, and would not encourage for gay marriage"

      It is about equal rights under the law, bigot. Dress up your bigotry in as many pious phrases you can vomit out, but it is still bigotry.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  10. justj joey

    I know why you have had so many responses......when you come right down to it, we all want you to define this:JUST WHAT ARE "PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIAN TRADITIONS????????I guess that is the religious Faith followed by the POTUS.....he does go with the flow, doesn't he?

    October 24, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  11. surry

    . his father was a muslim. look at his name. baraak hussein obama, what do you guys think he is . he is a christian now becoz he followed his mom.

    October 24, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • Keeping It Real

      His father was an atheist and his mother an agnostic.

      Any Christian leanings would have come from his grandparents, who raised him for more years than the biological parents (he met his father only a couple of times in his whole life, the last time at age 10)

      October 24, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  12. Melissa

    Oh get over it. His religion doesn't matter in the least. Time to concentrate on more important things, like jobs, the economy, education, health care, etc.

    October 24, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • Mark

      Melissa, I'm a Christian and I can actually agree with you that his religion does not necessarily matter in the secular administration of a government. I do think a person’s religion is an indicator of how they will function though. It is the person’s principles that will guide them in their decisions. All humans have the desire to know what we don't know and so, people want to know what will guide him. This all can be applied to Romney as well. What are the priciples that will guide him? Everybody (maybe everybody) wants to know.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • Melissa

      Only if they are a fundamentalist. Its better if they don't let religion figure into it at all. Religion muddies things up. They should let their own morals decide, not their religion. In my experience, religion promotes far more hate and injustice than anything else does. Having their own religion is fine, so long as they can understand (unlike most of the rest of the population in this country) that their religion is a personal matter and what they do in their personal lives should have no baring whatsoever on what they do in their professional lives. For example... as a christian, you probably hate the idea of abortion because you say your god stands against it (he actually doesn't, the bible says that a fetus isn't alive until it has a heartbeat and that doesn't happen until the second trimester), but that isn't up to you. Its about doing whats right for everyone, your religion only applies to you. And it sounds cold but a woman can always have another child, but there is only one of her in existence.

      Think about it.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  13. Mark

    The word "Christian" means that the person is a follower of Christ. There is no perfect Christian as we are all perfectly human. However, the desires of the Christian will be to follow Christ, his teachings, his example. A person's desires can only be known by that individual and God. If a person makes the conscious decision to act counter to Christianity, that can lead others to question a person’s salvation. You see, the fruits we produce (actions) are a witness to what is happening on the inside. So if a person claims to be Christian but their actions continually contradict the claim, doubt can be reasonably assumed. But again, no one knows the heart of a person except God and that person. Finally, you cannot pick and choose from the Bible what fits your agenda. There is no such thing as a half-Christian. You either are or you aren't. Although I cannot judge his heart/desires, I can discern the fruits (actions) I see.

    October 24, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  14. Jaimie

    I'd never trust a Mormon

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_Meadows_massacre

    October 24, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  15. Jack 3

    I'm with the guy that says...he's not fooling anyone, his hearts with islam. We had muslims attack christians and stone them in Dearborn michigan last April at a Obama rally. The christians did nothing violent but muslims threw stones...four christians were arrested. Very little mention from the media.

    October 24, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • TC

      And, um, this shows that Obama is amuslim? Really?

      October 24, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • sam stone

      the guys who threw the stones were wrong, indeed. but those who were attacked went there to provoke them.

      and, obama's no muslim

      October 25, 2012 at 8:06 am |
  16. Sara A

    I COMPLETELY agree with the quote from C.J. Mills that is mentioned above. This is my sentiment exactly. That is why I am having trouble pinpointing exactly what "religion" I am. The hypocrisy and judgement that seems to flow through the organized religion system like a river makes me sick. They speak of Jesus and God all forgiving and love, but then they hate and discriminate? So obnoxious!

    October 24, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  17. Kathryn

    My sorrow comes from the fact that in all this discussion of who's a Christian and who's not, the only matters being considered are political stances on certain issues (i.e., "Bible-based values") and not the basic truth of Scripture, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God and He died on the cross in atonement for our sins. Without a hesitation, we call Obama a liar when he proudly proclaims this truth, and we pretend that Romney is a Christian because he says so regardless of the unscriptural nature of his professed belief system. A myriad of machinations to present ourselves as "doing God's will" at the ballot box without ever consulting Him about our choices. We Christians will have much to answer for if we do not seek the full counsel of God before we vote.

    October 24, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  18. One men's opinion

    Question:
    What dose June, 8 1978 means to the Mormon Church?

    To all people before you vote do a Google search on the history of the Mormon Church. African-American votes search Google for Black and the Mormon Church? And if you feel you still vote for him so be it. Here is a link to get you started. This why no black or African American can not vote for HIM.

    http://christiandefense.org/mor_black.htm

    African-American should know that Latter-Day Saints/Mormons historically discriminated against African-Americans by prohibiting them from roles in the church's priesthood and misinterpreting Holy Scriptures to justify their prejudice and preaching African-Americans were a 'cursed' race. For nearly 150 years, the Mormon Church had taught that ALL blacks were cursed. Supporting a politician whose religion has latent traces of continued prejudice is disappointing.

    October 24, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  19. paulm5545

    Obama's faith?

    Two words – Jeremiah Wiright

    October 24, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • palintwit

      I think it's nice that your trailer park manager lets you play with his computer.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • Science Teacher

      He found Christ in his life, he no longer is a member of Wright's Church (we all can make mistakes) and he attends Church in Washington, DC with his family. Of course that does not make the news.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • Kiss

      He attended Jerimiah's Wright's Church for 20 years some of that anti-American hate had to sink in

      October 24, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • aktap

      You can't fool us, We know who you are Pastor Phelps!

      October 24, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • sam stone

      "Two words – Jeremiah Wiright"

      That's four words

      October 25, 2012 at 8:07 am |
  20. hilreal

    So the litmus test for being a christian only boils down to two topics, interesting that Jesus wasted so much time talking about the poor, needy and unhealthy in his ministry. To me anyone like Romney that would cut programs for health, food and education to spend another $2 trillion on weapons of mass destruction is certainly not following down the path of Jesus.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • Jaimie

      Read An Angry God by Julio Carrancho

      Religion is all about war and killing innocent people. I doubt you can read more than 4 pages anywhere in the bible before you read about God wanting someone to go slaughter some group of people.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:03 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.