Thursday, September 23, 2010

President Obama’s Christian Faith as a Political Issue

In the 2008 presidential election, the issue of Barack Obama’s status as a Christian was somewhat of a political issue. Some conspiracy theorists asserted he was Muslim despite the evidence that he has been a practicing Christian for several decades, well before entering public life. Amidst concerns about multiple wars and the worst economy since the Great Depression, the issue never really took center stage in the election.

Once Mr. Obama won the presidential election, I had thought the issue of his religion was going to fade away along with the baseless whispers over his “natural born” citizenship. Like the emergence of the post-election birther movement, I’m amazed (and rather demoralized) at the emergence of the authenticity of President Obama’s Christian faith as a political issue.

In recent months, the media have reported on polls indicating that relatively high numbers of Americans believe President Obama is a Muslim and the percentage has been growing since the presidential election. The polls indicate that more Republicans than other groups believe he is a Muslim. Articles about this issue from the last few years are available below:

I’ve written before in this blog at my great frustration with conservative Christians who deny President Obama’s profession of Christian faith. The vast majority of us who fall into the category of “progressive Christians” respected President George W. Bush’s own profession of faith though at times that was a tremendous challenge to us. Under his leadership, our country opted for war when it was not necessary, support for that war was mustered because of the dissemination of falsehoods, our government apparently engaged in torture of human beings, and our government let our own people die agonizing deaths along the Gulf Coast after the tragedy of Katrina. Engaging in violence, speaking falsehoods and turning a blind eye to human suffering are not Christian values. Indeed our Savior taught us to embrace the opposite values. We are to be peacemakers, speak truth and minister to our neighbors’ needs.

Despite these challenges, I personally know of no Christians who believe that President George W. Bush is not really a Christian and only proclaimed he was one for political gain. To my knowledge, not one (progressive) Christian whom I know personally or have heard in the media has ever expressed the belief that our former president is not a Christian. Not even one. Not ever. Indeed, famous progressive Christians like Jim Wallis and E.J. Dionne have even publically confirmed many times they believe the former president’s Christian faith was sincere. Indeed, while President Bush was in the White House, they even made appeals to him based on their common Christian faith to encourage President Bush to make certain policy decisions. I’m not famous, but I too have always accepted President George W. Bush’s profession of faith. Frankly, I do so in large part because I cannot fathom anyone using our beautiful, omnipotent creator for crass, short-term political gain.

This situation gives rise to a question that I’ve asked myself many times: If Christians on the left have been accepting of President Bush’s assertions of his Christian faith, why haven’t Christians on the right been similarly accepting of President Obama’s assertions of his faith? This is quite a puzzle to me.

I’ve repeatedly heard conservative Christians defend the attacks on Mr. Obama by saying he doesn’t represent Christian values since he “promotes abortion” and “fights for gay marriage.” Such arguments prompt two reactions in me. My first reaction is simply frustration because such arguments are based on falsehoods; I don’t understand how anyone can be so out of touch to say things that are so far from reality. My second reaction is admittedly more cynical. Because such assertions are so far from reality, I begin to suspect that folks making such statements know they are incorrect, but are making them nonetheless for political gain, i.e., to mislead others.

In point of fact, regardless of how you feel about abortion and same-sex marriage, it is a distortion of great proportion to assert that Mr. Obama “promotes abortion” or “fights for gay marriage.” If you look at Barack Obama’s record, those are simply falsehoods. Indeed, NOW is pretty unhappy with President Obama because they don’t think he has been a strong enough advocate for abortion rights. Similarly, many in the LGBT community have been dissatisfied with President Obama for a long time because he has not championed same-sex marriage rights.

But even if you think that President Obama’s actual policy positions are not grounded in Christian values, again the same argument could have been made about President Bush’s policy choices. Nonetheless, that situation did not result in a movement of progressive Christians waging an internet gossip campaign to convince our fellow citizens that George W. Bush was actually a Buddhist, an adherent of Wicca or an atheist.

John 3:20-21

For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

1 comment:

  1. Thank you underscoring that point. The right seems bent on bringing the man down and no lever is off limits. They should consider the consequences of how and upon whom the pass judgment. There is no sign of respect, civility, love or compassion from that quarter-- what a sad state of affairs.