Is Barack Obama a Christian?
This perennial question came to the fore recently after American President Barack Obama endorsed same-sex marriage in an interview with ABC's Robin Roberts. Speaking of his views on the issue as the result of "an evolution," Obama relayed that he had decided that it was "important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married." Referencing the ethical witness of his daughters, the President made his argument on biblical grounds, specifically the "golden rule," the idea that we should "treat others the way you'd want to be treated," as he paraphrased Matthew 7:12.
The question of whether any person is a Christian is important, not just a President or celebrity. Scripture offers numerous examples of people who claim faith and yet are not necessarily converted (Matt. 7:22; Luke 8:421; 2 Tim. 4:34). Christians and local churches act biblically when they examine a confession of faith to see if it is backed up by a holy, God-pleasing life (1 John 4:1; 1 Thess. 5:22). Though a vocal Christian contingent argues that such analysis is hostile, it is necessary for us to examine the faith of those who profess it.
At first blush, President Obama can certainly sound like a Christian. As seen above, he cites Scripture as an inspiration and moral guide. At the 2012 Easter prayer breakfast, he explored the "all-important gift of grace" that came through the endurance of "unimaginable pain that wracked His body and bore the sins of the world." At the 2011 prayer breakfast, he spoke of how he came to "know Jesus Christ for myself and embrace Him as my lord and savior." The President had sounded similar themes in his 2004 interview with Cathleen Falsani.
Yet in that interview, his most fulsome statement to date of his religious views, President Obama diverged sharply from Scripture. In the interview, never refuted in print or in word, spirituality boils down to values: "I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power … there are values that transcend race or culture." Accordingly, to sin is to fail to abide by these values, not to dishonor a holy God per Exodus 20. In terms of salvation, "there are many paths" to an undefined "place," not one exclusive path to heaven, contradicting John 14:6. Disavowing belief in hell, the President opined that "if I live my life as well as I can … I will be rewarded." This reward, though, does not mean "harps and wings" but rather successfully "transferring values that I got from my mother" to his daughters. Heaven, then, is not the perfected realm of God found in Revelation 21. It seems to be the perfected civic order found in liberal Protestant theology.
President Obama's understanding of God as well presents a few problems. God is conspicuously absent from surprising places. When it comes to prayer, for example, the President has spoken of pausing to "take a moment here and a moment there to take stock, why am I here, how does this connect with a larger sense of purpose." The act of prayer, as the President said in 2011, is not only a chance for confession but "itself is a source of strength." Prayer offers a kind of Protestant Zen moment, a dialing-in to deeper currents and larger realities. So too with conversion. Though the President speaks of God as his savior, he does not picture his conversion as a rebirth from righteous damnation per Ephesians 2:1. Instead, it "allowed me to connect the work I had been pursuing with my faith." This version of his conversion is a centering of the self, a Western remix of Eastern spiritualism.