Influential Evangelical Lobby Attacks Obama's Christian Credentials
From Faith & Action
Barack Hussein Obama was born in 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii, to a Kenyan Muslim father of the same name and an American secular humanist mother named Ann Dunham. While Obama's father was raised in Islamic culture, he had become a functional atheist by the time he reached college. Despite his parents' lack of religion, young Obama received his early education in both Catholic and Muslim schools.
Obama's parents divorced when he was only two years old. Henceforth, the senior Obama was "almost entirely absent" from his son's life. Four years later, Ann Dunham relocated to Indonesia with her son to join her new husband Lolo Soetoro. A daughter, Maya, was born to the couple before their divorce. She returned to Hawaii where she went on to earn her MA in anthropology from the University of Hawaii. In his first book, Dreams from My Father, Barack Obama wrote of his mother, "She was a lonely witness for secular humanism, a soldier for New Deal, Peace Corps, position paper liberalism."
Obama's mother was a huge influence in his life. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey in October 2006, he said, "My mother--when I think about the values I hold most dear, they came from her." In a speech given at a Moms Rising event in 2006, he said, "Everything that I think is good about me, I got from her."
While Obama's mother was a quintessential secular humanist, he told Newsweek's Jonathan Alter and Daren Briscoe, "[S]he was a deeply spiritual person, and when I moved to Chicago and worked with church-based community organizations, I kept hearing her values expressed in the church." Dunham died of ovarian cancer at age 53 before her son rose to national prominence.
For much of his childhood, Obama lived with his maternal grandparents. He describes them as having no religious faith. He says of his mother's mother, she was "always too rational and too stubborn to accept anything she couldn't see, feel, touch or count." His maternal grandfather, who he describes as a "dreamer," had an innate rebelliousness and a "complete inability to discipline his appetites." Perhaps this influenced Obama's own youthful experimentation with marijuana and cocaine.
While in Hawaii, Obama attended the exclusive Punahou School, a nominally Christian private school. Upon graduation, he went off to Occidental College in Los Angeles.
After two years, Obama transferred to Columbia College, the undergraduate wing of Columbia University in New York. He studied political science with a specialization in international relations. Following graduation in 1983, Obama worked for a year at a business-related publishing company, before moving to Chicago where he helped churches organize job training programs for residents of poor neighborhoods.
Obama left Chicago to study at Harvard Law School where he was elected the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review. He obtained his Juris Doctor degree magna cum laude in 1991. On returning to Chicago, Obama supported a voter registration drive, and then worked for the civil rights law firm Miner, Barnhill & Galland. He also taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1993 until his federal election.
During his early years in Chicago, Obama says he was a religious "skeptic . . . wary of expedient conversion, having too many quarrels with God to accept a salvation too easily won."
Obama met the Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. while attempting to recruit Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ for a community organizing drive. The very liberal United Church of Christ denomination notes, "In a sea of conservative black churches, Trinity stands out in that it has welcomed gay members, done outreach to people living with AIDS and advocated progressive positions on many social issues." Wright is the man to whom Obama has turned to "help him explain how his liberal positions jibe with his faith." Today, after 20 years, Obama still calls Wright his pastor, friend and mentor.
It was under Wright's tutelage that Obama made his public profession of Christian faith. This, in response to a sermon preached by Wright and entitled (like Obama's recent book), The Audacity of Hope. For Wright and his church, the gospel is fused with the black experience in America. The church's mission statement reads, "Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian... Our roots in the Black religious experience and tradition are deep, lasting and permanent. We are an African people, and remain 'true to our native land,' the mother continent, the cradle of civilization."
Trinity also has "adopted the Black Value System," 12 "precepts and covenantal statements"[xvii] that form a sort of Ten Commandments-like code. The System's preamble charges, "These Black Ethics must be taught and exemplified in homes, churches, nurseries and schools, wherever Blacks are gathered." The second value, after "Commitment to God," is "Commitment to the Black Community." The eighth is "Disavowal of the Pursuit of Middleclassness." And the eleventh is "Pledge Allegiance to all Black leadership who espouse and embrace the Black Value System."
This exclusive commitment to a cultural and national identity played a major role in Obama's decision to identify himself with Christianity. He explains that he probably would have remained apart from any faith, "had it not been for the particular attributes of the historically black church, attributes that helped me shed some of my skepticism and embrace the Christian faith."
Still, this embrace came with the condition, "that religious commitment did not require me to suspend critical thinking, disengage from the battle for social justice, or otherwise retreat from the world that I knew and loved—that I was finally able to walk down the aisle."[i][xx]
This "walk down the aisle" had a distinctly different character from Evangelical conversion. Obama set out his own criteria for what he would and would not accept from the Christian faith. Pastor Wright, Trinity and the Christianity they proclaimed met his criteria. In other words, Obama came to Christ on his own terms, rather than surrendering unconditionally to Jesus' Lordship. This is important for all Christians to know, and particularly for Evangelical Christians whom Obama is actively courting for political purposes.
OBAMA NOT A "BIBLE CHRISTIAN"
[...] In fact, Obama picks and chooses what parts of the Bible he will accept or reject. For example, on the subject of same-sex relationships, Obama writes,
"I am not willing to have the state deny American citizens a civil union that confers equivalent rights on such basic matters as hospital visitation or health insurance coverage simply because the people they love are of the same sex—nor am I willing to accept a reading of the Bible that considers an obscure line in Romans to be more defining of Christianity than the Sermon on the Mount."
It is clear that Obama uses his own human criteria for what he will believe and what he won't believe. This is unacceptable to Evangelicals. The Word of God instructs us; we do not instruct it. We conform to God's Word; God's Word does not conform to us.
OBAMA'S FAITH NOT A CONFIDENT FAITH
Obama doesn't seem to have this assurance of his salvation and, sadly, he risks passing that doubt along to his own four year old daughter:
"I thought of Sasha, asking me once what happened when we die— ‘I don't want to die, Daddy," she had added matter-of-factly—and I hugged her and said, ‘You've got a long way to go before you have to worry about that,' which seemed to satisfy her. I wondered whether I should have told her the truth, that I wasn't sure what happens when we die, any more than I was sure where the soul resides or what existed before the Big Bang."[ix][xxviii]
OBAMA'S "PROGRESSIVE" CHRISTIANITY NOT COMPATIBLE WITH EVANGELICALISM OR CLASSICAL ORTHODOXY
Obama defines himself as a "progressive." He admonishes those of us who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible that we have an added burden of translating our religious principles into what he calls "universal values." According to him, failure to do so in a "pluralistic democracy" means forfeiting even our highest moral standards because "we have no other choice."
Obama's progressivism, however, leads him to conclusions that are morally untenable, if not reprehensible, to Evangelicals and other traditionalist Christians.
He approves of same-sex romantic and sexual relationships, as do his church, his pastor and his denomination. He supports abortion for any reason, by any method, at any stage of pregnancy including during the birth process. In an E-mail under his wife Michelle's signature, his campaign for US Senate championed Roe v. Wade and partial-birth abortion. In 2002 as an Illinois legislator, Obama even voted against the Induced Infant Liability Act, which would have protected babies that survived late-term abortion.
OBAMA HAS A LONG WAY TO GO BEFORE MEANINGFULLY ENGAGING THE EVANGELICAL AND TRADITIONAL CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES
Barack Obama routinely appeals for an engagement of "all persons of faith in the larger project of American renewal." But there are many obstacles preventing Evangelicals and other traditional Christians from answering his call.
To gain our support, he must speak our language, not the other way around. Obama must acknowledge that he may be wrong about such essentials as the Bible, doctrine, the means of salvation and morality. (He will probably have to stop smoking too, as that would be one the simplest ways of avoiding offense with the large number of Evangelicals who hold to holiness codes.)
Obama is a member in a church that places devotion to race and nationality on par with devotion to Christ. His cultural exclusivity stands in direct opposition to the Evangelical concept of the transcendent universality of the Gospel. Jesus permanently nullified racial and gender barriers when he reached out to the Samaritan woman. (See John, chapter 4.) St. Paul writes in Galatians 3:28,
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." Furthermore, Obama is affiliated with a denomination that has decisively rejected the cardinal truths of the Christian faith. This will be an enormous impediment toward his goal of unity.
Obama will also likely need to explain why his mentor, Pastor Wright, unapologetically uses language that insults millions of Americans, many of whom are Evangelicals. In one interview, Wright called those of us who voted for George Bush "stupid."
The fact is Barack Obama isn't really different from other liberal Christians. And, as is so often the case with liberals, he condescendingly reaches down toward those considered his benighted hillbilly Evangelical cousins with a kind offer of enlightenment. He does it more smoothly, with a bit more panache, but he does it just the same. If, as his pastor says, he truly "respects the beliefs of others—even when they differ from his own," he must do more than attempt to win our votes. Ideally, he would say, "I may very well be wrong on these critical issues, and I am open to learn from you." Then, he must stop talking and lecturing, no matter how congenially, and simply listen.
For humanity’s sake, Obama must err on the side of preserving those things that matter most: the public acknowledgment of God, the Sanctity of Marriage, and the Sanctity of Life. Should the Senator discover that a life in the womb is as precious as God declares it to be (see Psalm 139), we must presume he would not want any more irreparable harm to be done. Jesus said we will "know them by their fruits."
Barack Obama is not an Evangelical Christian. Each of us must decide how much weight to give this fact as he continues to make the rounds in our churches, but we must keep it at the forefront of our minds. Only then can we properly and prayerfully decide whether or not to take the Senator up on his invitation to talk. Should he run for president, Obama’s religious identity and the policies that result from it will be critical in assessing whether or not he has earned the Evangelical vote.