Sunday, January 9, 2011

Is President Obama a Christian?

The controversy over President Obama’s religious faith simply refuses to die. Look at the following:

The question: "Which, if any, of the following people do you believe are Christians?" It was thumbs up for former President George W. Bush (75 percent) and GOP lightning rod Sarah Palin (66 percent), but thumbs down for Obama (41 percent), as well as media superstars Glenn Beck (27 percent) and Oprah Winfrey (19 percent).

Among the pastors who said they were Republicans, 23 percent said Obama is a Christian, a stark contrast with the 80 percent of pastors who identified themselves as Democrats. Among "independents," 52 percent called Obama a Christian.
This raises the question of what exactly it means to be a Christian. There are some core tenets. One has to believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God and that his death on the cross constituted an offer of pardon for a person’s sins, and that accepting Christ as lord and savior earns him a place in the heaven. More than issues like transubstantiation—whether communion bread turns into the body of Christ at communion—or whether women should be ordained or how certain passages of the Bible should be interpreted, a belief in Christ is the most important belief of a Christian.

So does Obama believe this? In an interview with Christianity Today, Obama said “I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” With this answer, we know that Obama professes to believe in the core tenet of Christianity. The only grounds then, for not thinking that Obama is a true Christian is that Obama is somehow not being genuine when he gives answers like that. But there is no way to know. Whether Obama actually believes this is between him and God, and it seems like we should give him the same benefit of a doubt the pastors gave George W. Bush in this survey.

Of course, this is also significant politically. Many of America’s voters are Christians themselves, and it is an open question how likely they are to vote for someone who does not share their faith. To the extent belief that Obama is not a Christian remains widespread, how many votes will this lose him? It is hard to believe that it would cost him an election. After all, there were those same rumors in 2008, but Obama was able to prevail. Moreover, those Christians most likely to believe that Obama is not tend to be Republicans, who will presumably vote for the Republican nominee any way.

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