Thinking Out Loud

February 5, 2011

Obama’s Transparency About His Personal Faith

After hearing U.S. President Barak Obama’s speech at this week’s National Prayer Breakfast, I can say this without contradiction:  The problem is not that the president is ambigious about his faith, the problem is that most North Americans are not as clear and unequivocal about what they believe.

CNN News has very kindly provided its online readers not only with a short video providing a visual snapshot of that morning, but the full text of Obama’s speech that day.

…[L]et me tell you, these past two years, they have deepened my faith. The presidency has a funny way of making a person feel the need to pray. Abe Lincoln said, as many of you know, “I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.”

As well, he states categorically that faith matters transcend political differences:

It’s also comforting to know that people are praying for you who don’t always agree with you. Tom Coburn, for example, is here. He is not only a dear friend but also a brother in Christ. We came into the Senate at the same time. Even though we are on opposite sides of a whole bunch of issues, part of what has bound us together is a shared faith, a recognition that we pray to and serve the same God…

My Christian faith then has been a sustaining force for me over these last few years. All the more so, when Michelle and I hear our faith questioned from time to time, we are reminded that ultimately what matters is not what other people say about us but whether we’re being true to our conscience and true to our God. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”

He even provides a glimpse into his personal prayer life.

We see an aging parent wither under a long illness, or we lose a daughter or a husband in Afghanistan, we watch a gunman open fire in a supermarket – and we remember how fleeting life can be. And we ask ourselves how have we treated others, whether we’ve told our family and friends how much we love them. And it’s in these moments, when we feel most intensely our mortality and our own flaws and the sins of the world, that we most desperately seek to touch the face of God…

…When I wake in the morning, I wait on the Lord, and I ask Him to give me the strength to do right by our country and its people. And when I go to bed at night I wait on the Lord, and I ask Him to forgive me my sins, and look after my family and the American people, and make me an instrument of His will.

I say these prayers hoping they will be answered, and I say these prayers knowing that I must work and must sacrifice and must serve to see them answered. But I also say these prayers knowing that the act of prayer itself is a source of strength. It’s a reminder that our time on Earth is not just about us; that when we open ourselves to the possibility that God might have a larger purpose for our lives, there’s a chance that somehow, in ways that we may never fully know, God will use us well.

Watch the video and read the full text at CNN’s Belief Blog.

Here are a couple of footnotes to Thursday’s speech that you’ll find as you peruse other parts of CNN Belief:

  • The annual prayer breakfast is hosted by The Family aka The Fellowship Foundation.   While thousands gathered inside, a group of about thirty protested outside, claiming the foundation is involved with supporting anti-gay legislation in Uganda.
  • A day later, on Friday, Obama released the names of twelve more Americans appointed to the White House’s multi-faith advisory council, including Nancy Wilson head of the Metropolitan Community Church, a large denomination mostly serving those who identify as  LGBT, and Lynne Hybels, wife of Willow Creek Community Church pastor Bill Hybels.  Click for a complete list and biography of all twelve appointees.
  • Spin is everything.  The executive director of the American Humanist Association, Roy Speckhardt is quoted at Secular News Daily: “President Obama’s remarks acknowledge that children can be raised with a strong moral and ethical foundation, free from the presence of dogmatic religion. He’s living proof that one can lead a successful, moral, and dedicated life of service without the drumbeat of religion in one’s upbringing. The humanist community has fought for the validation of this fact, and to hear the President of the United States echo the sentiment is gratifying.”
  • While political observers filled the blogosphere with reports on the event, my fellow Alltop Church and Alltop Christianity bloggers seemed to steer clear of it; surprising since most are U.S.-based.  The one who did comment, was actually there, but Eugene Cho commented only briefly, and the provided the text of last year’s speech by the President.
  • Other events at the prayer breakfast, including an appearance by space shuttle astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of Gabby Gifford, are covered at this report at The Underground.

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9 Comments »

  1. In the UK, if a politician mentions he is a Christian, we are very very suspicious. I am glad we live in a secular country. I could never vote for anyone who uses their religion for political gain, like absolutely every American politician seems to do.

    Comment by futiledemocracy — February 5, 2011 @ 10:09 am

    • Almighty God, as President Washington penned more than 60 times, used his untrained Continental army to defeat the elite forces of your now dismantled empire sir! Our founders gave us a document that protects your secularism and my evangelism but we now find ourselves in a new battle to destroy the U.S. Constitution because it links us to ‘rights endowed by our Creator’ versus invented rights by secularist to justify their bias and perversion. The hope of our dear English friends and the World is not in secularism but in the life changing messages of John Winthrop, Charles Spurgeon and John Wesley, that England gave us, for righteousness exalts a nation but sin will demand its due and unless Christ intervenes, the payoff will be eternal death. God Bless you! John 3:16.

      Comment by Sam from Nokesville — February 7, 2011 @ 4:03 pm

  2. Having an intellectual knowledge so you can recite an inspiring, kind sounding utterance that sounds religious is not meaningful proof of right standing in God’s eyes. Because God sees inside our hearts, minds and motives, the only way to approach Him is through the model of the Lord’s prayer which stressed humility (Our Father which art in heaven,) abdication of our own will (Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be done,) and surrender of all choices to God’s pleasure (For Thine is the Kingdom, The Power and the Glory forever, Amen.) Obama’s political expertise will win over those who seek to use God as smoke screen when needed as he does. In reality if true faith, hope and charity are not at work in our lives, our actions and even our prayers are only equivalent to noisy gongs and clanging cymbals!

    Comment by Sam from Nokesville — February 7, 2011 @ 3:31 pm

    • So as you see it, the faith he espoused is not real. By implication then, the whole speech was a lie?

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — February 7, 2011 @ 4:41 pm

  3. Here’s another question, then.

    If he won the election, why pretend now?

    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — February 13, 2011 @ 11:21 pm

  4. As someone who read the interview Cathleen Falsani did with Obama about his faith, watched the Saddleback Civil Forum (where Obama said clearly, “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Saviour”), and read David Brooks’ column in the NY Times that examined Obama’s faith, I think saying that Obama is not a Christian is inappropriate. He says he is a Christian and who are we to say he is not?

    However, it also seems understandable if people are mystified by Obama’s faith. Stephen Mansfield said he believes Obama is a Christian but would “love to get him into some real Bible studies” (Mansfield was the author of The Faith of Barack Obama). Perhaps the best clue to Obama’s interpretation of the Christian message is his admission to Brooks that his favorite theologian is Reinhold Niebuhr.

    That neither proves or disproves Obama’s discipleship, but it may shed great light on why many evangelicals do not recognize the faith of Barack Obama as something they are familiar with.

    It is, after all, possible to say Jesus is your Lord and Saviour and not mean what … say, Oswald J. Smith, for instance … would have meant by that.

    Comment by Jon Rising — February 14, 2011 @ 2:25 am

    • The last sentence in my post above is confirmed and illustrated by the following from CNN’s website yesterday:

      “Some critics say he’s trying to debunk Christianity. Some question his personal faith. At a college lecture, Crossan says an audience member stood up and asked him if he had ‘received the Lord Jesus’ as his savior.

      “Crossan SAID HE HAD [emphasis is mine—JGR], but refused to repeat his questioner’s evangelical language to describe his conversion.

      “‘I wasn’t going to give him the language; it’s not my language,’ Crossan says. ‘I wasn’t trying to denigrate him, but don’t think you have the monopoly on the language of Christianity.’

      “When asked if he is a Christian, Crossan doesn’t hesitate.

      “‘Absolutely.’”

      All of this coming after an earlier paragraph in the story which read:

      “Crossan says Jesus was an exploited ‘peasant with an attitude’ who didn’t perform many miracles, physically rise from the dead or die as punishment for humanity’s sins.”

      Comment by Jon Rising — February 28, 2011 @ 10:33 am

      • I’m picturing a grid in my mind with four squares. Across the top are two categories: “Uses Evangelical Language” and “Does Not Use Evangelical Language.” Then down the sides are two categories: “Is a genuine follower of Jesus Christ;” and “Is Not A Genuine Follower of Jesus Christ.”

        And everyone is deciding where to put the “X.”

        For some Evangelicals, this is going to be problematic because they will argue, “If you’re truly following Christ you will speak our language.” This is generally the attitude of people who can’t accept the possibility of true Christ-followers existing, for example, within the Roman Catholic milieu.

        Yet they have no problem with someone who uses all the right words, but whose heart is far from God; the type of “acting” that Jesus addressed much of his ministry to.

        (Just don’t tell some people that Obama was, until recently, cigarette smoker. They will consign him to hell immediately, without passing ‘Go’ or collecting $200.00.)

        Maybe this is exactly why we’re not to judge; because ultimately, we aren’t very good at it.

        (The Crossan example also suggests a three-dimensional analogy with the additional two grid columns being, “Claims to Be A Christian;” and “Does Not Claim to Be A Christian.”)

        Comment by Paul Wilkinson — February 28, 2011 @ 1:22 pm


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