A new twist on the “Is Obama a Christian?” debate

November 19, 2008

The “Is Obama a Christian?” discussion is starting up again, this time not by people who suspect he’s a Muslim but those who think he’s a phony follower of Jesus Christ. The occasion for this is the posting on Beliefnet of an interview he gave to the Chicago Sun Times in 2004, while he was still an Illinois state senator. Conservative Christians have taken his religious views as proof he’s not a real Christian, but there’s support from a more liberal corner for his views.

That there is disagreement isn’t really a surprise. Theologians have been debating who is a Christian almost since the dawn of the faith and still dispute where the dividing lines lie. What is more interesting is that critics are picking apart his views — or purported views — on theological issues that have no obvious importance for his job as president.

(Photo: Obama at Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, June 15, 2008/John Gress)

Bloggers Joe Carter and Rod Dreher read in Obama’s interview a denial of the Nicene Creed since he called Jesus “a bridge between God and man” rather than clearly saying he is the Son of God (hat tip to Steve Waldman). “Unless Obama was being incredibly and uncharacteristically inarticulate, this is heterodox. You cannot be a Christian in any meaningful sense and deny the divinity of Jesus Christ. You just can’t,” Dreher writes. Has Obama denied the divinity of Jesus Christ here? That’s not clear here. Another point that Carter notes is that he doesn’t believe that people who have not embraced Jesus as their personal saviour will automatically go to hell. “I can’t imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity. That’s just not part of my religious makeup,” he said.

Elsewhere on its site, Beliefnet quotes a prominent Catholic theologian saying the same thing: “…Everything we believe about God, and everything we know about man, prevents us from accepting that beyond the limits of the Church there is no more salvation … We are no longer ready and able to think that our neighbor, who is a decent and respectable man and in many ways better than we are, should be eternally damned simply because he is not a Catholic. We are no longer ready, no longer willing, to think that eternal corruption should be inflicted on people in Asia, in Africa, or wherever it may be, merely on account of their not having “Catholic” marked in their passport.” This came from none other than a certain Joseph Ratzinger, aka Pope Benedict XVI. The quote is from 1964, from the young Ratzinger, and is not what he would say today. But even he said it back then and many theologians would agree with Obama’s view today.

As Waldman points out, it’s a view that George Bush would also agree with. And apparently with him many Christians as well:“millions and millions of people call themselves Christian, worship at Christian churches and believe that acceptance of Christ is not required for entry into heaven. In a recent Pew poll, 70% said ‘many religions can lead to eternal life.’ 66% of Protestants and 79% of Catholics said they agreed with that idea.”

Over at the Episcopal Café blog The Lead, blogger Sounds like a good Episcopalian. The Episcopal Church welcomes you.”

Do you think it’s important to know exactly which Christian teachings the president-elect embraces and which ones he doesn’t, even if they have no relevance to his performance in the White House?

(Photo: President Bush at St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, August 29, 2006/Jim Young)

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This is a wonderful forum in the sense that we are able to hear voices from all over the world. As an evangelical Christian, I believe it important to listen and not judge people too quickly if at all. The Bible and Jesus say we are to leave judging up to God. This doesn’t mean avoiding trying to find the truth, but putting people down for their beliefs rather than compassionately reasoning seems completely against the way of Christ.

Deborah Tannen in her book “The Argument Culture” contends that America has become too black and white and that the whole sense of reasoning with a concern for the other has been replaced with trying to cut the other side down with our version of the truth. Now I believe the Bible is the Word of God and contain ultimate truth needed to know God, but I do not believe that I should in any way use my knowledge of God or the Bible to belittle others. This is exactly the opposite of the humble attitude Jesus commands and exhibits (given that He’s God).

Thus, for anyone who hasn’t read tons about Obama or talked with him in person to cut him down regarding his faith is patently unChristian. The way one argues is as important as the content in issues of this sort, and my brothers and sisters sometimes seem to forget this to the shame of the One we serve.

On the other hand, I don’t find the President’s beliefs irrelevant as some posters suggest. It is just that what he says about his beliefs, being that he is a politician, can be taken with a grain of salt just as with the current president. As some suggest, the better judge is to look at how his beliefs affect his actions. There we look not only at his voting record but how he treats those who disagree with him and how he conducts himself in both public and private affairs.

Many have suggested that Bush’s war on Iraq was far more immoral than Clinton’s infidelity. Whereas the consequences of the former are far more horrendous than the latter, the inner motivations that led both to these very different sins may well be equally offensive to God. That, however, I do not know for sure – as I can’t read hearts as God can – which is why I am glad that God judges, not me. What I do know is that for any sin, the remedy of forgiveness through Christ is the same, and I pray that every person, whether President or pauper takes hold of God’s grace.

For the President, the result of a relationship with the living God can be something the world rarely sees in such a public office. My mind runs to Lincoln because he exhibited a humility so rarely found in the White House. May we who are Christian pray for our president and president elect rather than write off and may we who post do so knowing that every human being has an immense value worthy of respect.

Posted by Scott B | Report as abusive

Whether Obama is a Christan is not important,and that is the fact that we can’t change.Why not take some different ones to discuss? How about hot chicks?Hahaha……… I know a great place, seekingbi.com is pretty good.

Posted by kitty | Report as abusive

Good Grief! Give this delusion a rest already. Do you honestly think that any being or force which has the entire universe to deal with really cares how or even if we choose to Personify Him, Her or It?
How many millions of murders have taken place simply due to the differences in preferred personifications, or due to disagreements over who has the most powerful invisible friend?
Organized religions are all essentially prisons of the mind.
Let these old delusions die already. They are like diapers to the toddler. Sooner or later the child has to leave them behind, become responsible and grow up.

Posted by Jay | Report as abusive


I was thinking it was a bit over the top, people might think I was being sarcastic. Unfortunately for friends and family, not so. But I think you actually read my post and saw the bones of an argument: that we can’t fix our economic problems without (real, not speculative) growth, which in turn comes from gentle population growth among the middle class, we’re not doing that because we have no dream, in order to have a dream we have to believe two things, that our God kicks ass, to the extent everybody has to know about Him, and that it’s okay to reproduce because we’re going to space and it won’t hurt the earth. Then we go to space, and start the energy machine. We have the technology now, we don’t have the dream. And Obama’s not it, either; he’s one of the contraction people.

Well, do you have a better idea?

Come to my blog, I have some platform.

Dear Jay,

God is all-knowing, and does care about you and would intervene even with the laws of nature in your behalf–if you ask Him. Having created the universe, it’s no challenge to keep up with it. Delusion? More deluded to deny a creator. Everything else is deducible from there.


what is a christian?answer,someone that believes the teaching of jesus christ and believes that he is the son of god.any one who thinks that they can anticipate how he might have reacted to a situation today because he had a forgiving personality is wrong and all roads do not lead to god.he would not have accepted gay marriage and he would not have condoned abortion.why because he did not contradict the old testament he came to verify it. gods word is the same today as it was yesterday.thats the bottom line, sorry.be more carefull what you call your self.how about an obamarite?

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

To Maria Taylor: One cannot fully know God’s mind, its true– He IS infinite — but He did give us His word which IS certainly about telling us His mind on many, many things. Gods mind on sin (10 commandments, plus other teachings throughout the word on this topic) on love, on mercy, on justice–and how he practices these things–and so many other things–its there in the word. And Jesus came and gave us the living breathing embodienment of God’s mind as God in the flesh thorugh his teachings and actions which perfectly applied them all. Chrsitians are called into a relationship with God He talks, we listen, we talk, he listens, ( aka prayer) we study, He speaks/reveals through the word to us–and we learn. Even creation speaks–so says the Bible. So the idea that we cannot know God’s mind is silly–that is what He calls us to do as first priority and foundation of all our works of service. Jerimaih quotes God as saying He will tell us ‘great and unsearchable things’–if we seek.

Posted by Pd | Report as abusive