My thanks go out to a young Christian woman in Albuquerque, NM this past week for having the guts to ask the president a question that I was dying to ask myself if ever given the chance. At a meeting in an average citizen’s backyard in New Mexico, fashioned to be a more peaceful, controlled version of the town hall meetings that have become so popular in the past couple of years, this young woman asked President Obama to make a confession of faith.
We heard lots about this issue during the last election. President Obama’s crazy “black liberation theology” pastor, Jeremiah Wright, was exposed for what he was – not really a “Christian” minister at all. However, during President Obama’s years in office, the economic recession, healthcare reform, and other issues have monopolized the thoughts of the American public too much to worry about any personal statement of faith from him. The reason this is so important is simple: a statement of faith from a state leader is vital in that our views on our relationship to God drive our decisions, ethics, and life in general perhaps more than any other component of who we are. What a president believes spiritually WILL affect his policies in the same way that what you and I believe WILL affect our lives.
This Tuesday, President Obama was forced, in front of a backyard full of regular old Americans as well as a national CNN audience, to make his confession. It was absolutely fascinating. If there is any doubt how Obama was elected into office, it’s answered here. In issues of spirituality, President Obama IS the embodiment of the American public. And he is also, then, the embodiment of everything that is good and bad in the faith of America.
Let’s examine the statements that Obama made during his confession of faith: Here’s the link if you want to check out the video for yourself – Obama questioned on why he is a Christian
“I am a Christian by choice.”
President Obama comes across as very authentic and genuine when he speaks. He has a good understanding that the American public is somewhat distrusting of politicians and he advances his cause by projecting convincing sincerity.
Naturally, he also understands that faith, if not sincere, is not true faith. This is absolutely true. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven…” (Matthew 7:21). Jesus was suggesting that regardless of what you say you believe, if it is not sincere, then it’s not true faith.
Although President Obama mentions Christianity as a “choice”, I don’t want to get into the whole concept of “decision theology” here. Scripture is clear that we are made alive by the Holy Spirit through the Means of Grace (Word & Sacrament) before we can make any choices toward Jesus. President Obama’s basic statement here, though, is true: being a part of a certain faith group simply because it’s convenient or traditional on the basis of your family’s history isn’t authentic faith. He seems to take great pride in the fact that his belief system is one that is not blindly professed out of convenience.
“My mother was one of the most spiritual people I knew, but she didn’t raise me in the church.”
Americans didn’t invent the concept of being “spiritual” without being connected to a larger body – that is a very Eastern thought. However, we have popularized the concept of being “Christian” without being connected to a larger body. And that thought, somewhat ironically, is fundamentally unchristian. In Hebrews 10:25, the writer to the Hebrews mentions the importance of believers regularly meeting together. In 1 Corinthians the Apostle Paul makes numerous references to “the body of Christ” that must meet and function as one. And in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes, “In him (i.e. Christ) the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too (i.e. Christians) are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2:20-21).
It’s quite possible that only we Americans are arrogant enough to suggest that we can “do Christianity” not only in a way that hasn’t existed in Christianity’s history, but in a way that is unbiblical. As a general principle, I’m all for freedom in worship. However, I’m completely against freedom to worship God without any connection to “the body” of God, the church. I’m against it because everything in the New Testament suggests otherwise.
Two weekend’s ago, for the first time in half a year, President Obama’s family attended public worship at St. John’s Church Lafayette Square, an Episcopal congregation about a block from the White House and one of the traditional worship sites of US presidents. I can guarantee you that he does not consider himself any less “spiritual” or “Christian” for the lack of attendance. That is America today. That is not, however, Christian Church history.
“I came to the Christian faith later in life, and it was because the precepts of who Jesus was spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would like to lead, e.g. being my brother’s keeper and treating others the way they would treat me.”
Does Jesus guide me in holiness? Certainly. Does his life lay down a template for me to pattern? Absolutely. The way Jesus thinks, speaks, and acts toward God and his fellow-man are all the perfect ideal that, as a transformed child of God, I would like to emulate. The likeness of Christ in Christians is a very attractive component of Christianity. However, Jesus’ perfect example is not why I am a Christian. It is why Mormons are Mormons. For them, Jesus becomes primarily a blueprint to follow.
Being a Christian does not first and foremost mean living in a Christ-like manner. If that was the case – that Christianity was merely all about instruction on living a holy life – would it really have required Jesus’ brutal execution on the cross? That, the single most important event in the world’s history, teaches us that being a follower of Christ first and foremost means recognizing that I’m a sinner who could only be saved by the shedding of the blood of God’s own Son.
Make no mistake, morality and the Golden Rule are very important. What I’m not convinced President Obama understands though, is that they are not ultimately what life is all about. This life is finally about spiritual life or death, because this is what affects our eternity. Recognizing Jesus as our Savior, not our example, is what matters most in the end.
“And I think also understanding that Jesus Christ dying for my sins spoke to the humility that we all have to have as human beings, because humans are sinful and flawed beings that make mistakes and achieve salvation through the grace of God.”
This is easily the best spiritual statement that President Obama made. This is the thing, above all others, that makes one think there is indeed the fire of Christian faith burning in his heart. He recognizes mankind’s flawed condition. He states that Jesus Christ died to take his sins away. He emphasizes that our salvation can come only through God’s grace. And he suggests it takes humility to accept this. I don’t believe I’ve read anything into his words here. Assuming so, I was thrilled to hear him make this confession of salvation “by grace through faith in Christ”.
“What we can do is see God in other people and do what we can to help them find their own grace.”
This is the phrase that made me more perplexed about than any other. “Seeing God in others” and “finding grace” are phrases that could be understood in a variety of different ways. If used correctly, what President Obama was saying is that all people are God’s creation and should be treated and respected as such. And in Christians, God himself dwells through faith.
As far as the statement about “finding their own grace” is concerned, grace is something that God shows, not something that we can manufacture or discover. Perhaps what President Obama is suggesting, however, is that Christians seek to lead others to see the grace of God, which would be perfectly true.
“Part of the bedrock strength of this country is that it embraces people of many faiths and of no faith. This is a country that is still predominantly Christian, but we have Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists. Their own path to grace is one that we have to revere and respect as much as our own. And that’s part of what makes this country what it is.”
Christians respect other humans as the crown of God’s creation – the most valuable of his impressive work. Therefore, we don’t dismiss the sincere beliefs of others as “stupid” even though they may be inaccurate. Proclaiming a sermon to unbelievers in Athens, the Apostle Paul comments to the people about how sincerely “religious” the people are. Yet he suggests that what they themselves acknowledge as “unknown”, he is going to make known to them (Acts 17:16-31). Paul respects, but corrects. This is usually the best way to eliminate obstacles or animosity to spiritual truth when we witness to the world.
Nonetheless, President Obama takes it too far when he says we must “revere” other religions as much as our own. This should NOT be the case. In the mentioned example of Paul in Athens, he did not revere the belief system he found there but was saddened by it, because he knew full well that it was inaccurate.
If you’ve ever done any coaching in sports before, you understand that there are certain right or wrong ways to swing a bat, or hold a golf club, or shoot a basketball. Kids will do it in whatever way feels most natural. That doesn’t mean it’s the right way. Kids hate learning that to do a left-handed lay-up in basketball, you’d better jump off of your right foot. It feels awkward. It’s not easy. It takes practice. Nonetheless, it’s undoubtedly the right way to do it.
President Obama and the majority of America struggle with religious pluralism – the belief that multiple groups may grant access to divine truth, that there are multiple right paths to God. That’s simply not Christian. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No onecomes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Either salvation comes solely through Jesus or it doesn’t. It can’t be both. Someone’s wrong here. And it doesn’t make sense to “revere” anyone for being wrong. In order to find peace, President Obama is willing to sacrifice truth – a dangerous compromise.
“We were founded on freedom of religion. That’s how this country got started. That’s why people came here – because there were a bunch of other folks who said, ‘You can’t worship the way you want.’ We have to constantly reaffirm that tradition, even sometimes when it makes us uncomfortable.”
I would wholeheartedly agree with President Obama’s statements here. Even if I don’t practice or like another religion, a great beauty that this country affords us is the ability to freely practice religion without fear of oppression. Rarely do we fully appreciate what a gift this is. And to be fair, assuming it doesn’t bring immediate harm upon another, I would uphold another religion’s right to freely practice what they believe just as I would hope my right would be upheld. So few people in history have had this luxury – freedom of religion. Affluent as our nation is, this is the greatest treasure that our country will ever know.
Watching President Obama make his confession, I was reminded what an incredibly intelligent, charismatic, sincere, and likable guy he appears to be. However, I was also unfortunately reminded of how spiritually confused he also appears to be. And that means that the American public, that which he embodies from a spiritual ideals standpoint, is really very spiritually confused too.
The real question, then, is…………Is our commander-in-chief truly a Christian? Current polls say that 1 in 5 Americans believe that President Obama is a Muslim. Fewer than half of Democrats and African-Americans now say that President Obama is a Christian. Americans apparently can’t tell what religion he is. By his confession, I can’t say as that I can specifically tell either.
It’s true that only God can know a man’s heart. A verbal confession of faith that paints itself in a man’s life is the clearest that we can tell. Spiritually speaking, then, President Obama (and America at large) is, at best, confused, and at worst, altogether lost. As a country, we’ve survived presidents with non-Christian or at least dubious faith backgrounds (Jefferson, Adams, Taylor, Taft). However, that president has arguably never been as spiritually indicative of the country at large as is President Obama. And I’m not sure what that means for the immediate future of our country or the eternal future of its current inhabitants.