Posted by Curt on 12 March, 2015 at 11:27 am. 1 comment.


David French:

Seven years after Jeremiah Wright came to national fame as President Obama’s radical pastor, a man who declared “God damn America” from the pulpit, the president’s faith is still a matter of controversy. With a new presidential election looming, it’s apparently urgently important for members of the media to know whether Republicans such as Scott Walker believe that President Obama is a Christian.

Walker’s answer — “I don’t know” — is not one the media want to hear. But how can any man know another man’s heart — especially the heart of a person he’s never met? Who but God knows our deepest beliefs? To the extent that a president bares his soul to anyone, it won’t be to a reporter or to any person likely to speak to a reporter. Thus, any pundit or commentator who purports to declare what a president “really believes” on matters of faith should be viewed with deep suspicion.

But while we can’t know the faith in a man’s heart, we can discern quite a lot about the faith he manifests. Discussions about religion should center not just on orthodoxy (correct belief) but also on orthopraxy (correct conduct). And while we can’t know a president’s inner walk of faith, we can know his conduct, and we can know how he publicly ties that conduct to his professed faith. In other words, we can discern how he practices his civil religion.

In the recent past, Bill Clinton’s public walk of faith was instantly recognizable to anyone who grew up in the heavily churched South: the backslidden Baptist, fluent in the language of faith, struggling with personal demons, yet instantly able to make connections with pastors and the public.

Evangelicals who met with him privately often came away impressed with his awareness of his own sin, with his professed desire to be a better man, and with his knowledge and awareness of Scripture. He spoke of a desire to protect life, and they believed him. He spoke of his close walk with God, and they believed him.

His policies, however, frustrated and angered many Evangelicals and Catholics. Yes, he said that he wanted abortion to be “rare,” but in practice his support for Roe v. Wade was unwavering. And there were lingering suspicions that he was conning the public, that perhaps he wasn’t so much struggling with personal demons as he was regretting that he had gotten caught.

George W. Bush, by contrast, presented a form of mainstream Evangelicalism common to many of our nation’s so-called megachurches. Focused on a relationship with Jesus, heavy on stories of personal renewal and redemption (President Bush spoke of his past battles with alcohol), oriented toward reaching out to the poor (especially overseas), and plagued with an oddly unbiblical optimism about human nature, the mainstream Evangelical is hardly the religious scold portrayed in the secular media.

President Bush’s policies — including his greatest successes and most consequential mistakes — reflected this public faith. For a success, think of the launch of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the millions of lives it has saved.

For a mistake, think of the consistent failures to understand the cultural challenges in Iraq and Afghanistan, where — it turned out — God may not have implanted in “every human heart” the “desire to live in freedom.” Some human hearts burn with much greater desires for vengeance and blood.

What about President Obama? What is his public faith? Much ink has been spilled — almost all of it wasted — attempting to discern what President Obama “really believes.” I’m a frequent guest on Christian radio shows, and even now — more than six years into his presidency — the occasional caller will proclaim, with confidence, that the president is actually Muslim.

When Jeremiah Wright exploded onto the scene in 2008, and sound bites of his anti-American rants filled the airwaves, millions of Americans familiarized themselves with the basics of “black-liberation theology” and wondered whether President Obama was truly that radical.

He sat listening to Wright’s preaching for years. He named his second book after a phrase in one of Wright’s sermons. By his own admission, it was in Wright’s church that he came to faith. He claimed that he attended the church “every week, 11 o’clock service.” How could he not have been heavily influenced?

In his public faith, he was. But not by black-liberation theology. Instead, he has publicly adopted the beliefs and practices of Wright’s denomination, the United Church of Christ (UCC), perhaps the most liberal of the Mainline Protestant American denominations. In fact, when one considers not just the president’s public professions of faith but also his public policies, his relationship with the UCC represents the perfect marriage of church and politician.

Obama’s public professions of faith have been in near-perfect harmony with his church’s teachings. The UCC, like many Mainline denominations, is scarcely Christian in any meaningful theological sense. Its roots lie in the Reformation, but its theology would be unrecognizable to any of the great reformers. Rather, it draws on selective Christian teachings and selective Christian traditions to provide general spiritual comfort and, specifically, to inspire its members to progressive social activism.

The UCC’s statement of its own beliefs is remarkable for how little traditional, orthodox Christianity it contains. The church proudly declares, “The UCC has no rigid formulation of doctrine or attachment to creeds or structures. Its overarching creed is love.” The church emphasizes each person’s “spiritual journey,” the “power of peace,” the “power of possibility,” and the belief that each person is “unique and valuable.” If you’re looking for the Apostles’ Creed, or any expression of beliefs remotely similar to the Apostles’ Creed, you’ve come to the wrong place.

In 2004, Barack Obama gave perhaps his most candid interview about his personal beliefs, which clearly reflect UCC influence. Here’s his basic expression of faith: “So, I’m rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people.”

Obama noted that Jesus was a “wonderful teacher” and said, “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.”

In response to the question “Do you believe in heaven?” he responded dismissively: “Do I believe in harps and clouds and wings?” He went on to explain that he did, in fact, believe in some form of eternal reward: “What I believe in is that if I live my life as well as I can, that I will be rewarded.”

Perhaps his most famous statement in the interview regarded sin, which he described as “being out of alignment with my values.”

To be sure, President Obama has said that Christ “died for our sins,” but viewed in context with his other theological statements, he is not speaking the language of most orthodox believers, of the necessity of substitutionary atonement to reconcile a soul with God, but rather in accord with a more progressive model. Journalist Lisa Miller — in a 2008 profile of Obama’s spiritual journey — described the concept well: “Christ’s gift of salvation was to the community of believers, not to individual people in isolation.”

Obama’s expressed beliefs do not, of course, represent traditional Christian orthodoxy, but they do represent a kind of Mainline orthodoxy, which holds that religions are roughly equivalent (so long as they’re not “distorted” into fundamentalism) and that Christ’s death didn’t represent an atoning sacrifice so much as an example of his love and commitment to nonviolence.

Read more

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x