The re-election of President Barack Obama seems to have divided Christians – not so much those in the UK (arguably we’re less informed at a distance), but certainly those in the US. Putting aside the slightly crazy people (and the really crazy ones) who claim Obama isn’t a real American citizen, and is in fact a muslim spy intent on bringing down Western civilization from the inside, a key question for Christians in America seems to be this: Is Barack Obama really a Christian?
For you that may not be an important or even an appropriate question – surely faith is a private matter after all. But for millions of Americans, the faith of the President (or otherwise) is a key factor in determining voting, and the number one indicator of whether the POTUS is fit to lead his nation.
Here’s the first way of answering that then – by looking at what Obama says about himself. This quote comes from the Washington Cathedral magazine interview with the President in Summer 2012:
‘First and foremost, my Christian faith gives me a perspective and security that I don’t think I would have otherwise: That I am loved. That, at the end of the day, God is in control.’
This is from the same interview:
‘I have a job to do as president, and that does not involve convincing folks that my faith in Jesus is legitimate and real. I do my best to live out my faith, and to stay in the Word, and to make my life look more like His. I’m not perfect. What I can do is just keep on following Him, and serve others — trying to make folks’ lives a little better using this humbling position that I hold.’
So at least in his eyes, he is indeed a Christian it seems. Remember, we’re discounting the idea that this is all a big conspiracy.
But for many people, that’s not enough. And quite rightly. Jesus himself seems to indicate in Matthew 7:20-21 that it’s not just what we say, but also how we act out our faith in Him that matters:
‘Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.’ (NIV)
So do Barack Obama’s actions – and as a politician surely we therefore need to start questioning his policies and stances at this point – reflect a sincere attempt to follow Christ? This, inevitably, is where consensus starts to crumble. There are some for whom the issues of abortion and gay marriage (for pertinent example) are so definitive of genuine faith that the conversation ends here. Obama is demonstrably pro-choice and pro equal marriage. So if you think these things are incompatible with genuine faith, then it looks like Obama is out. Along with quite a few other self-proclaimed ‘Christians’, all around the world, who have no idea their eternal destiny is in danger.
If however, you see a policy like universal healthcare as an attempt to bring justice to a system that priced millions of Americans out of a basic human right, then perhaps it’s not a big leap to suggest that this is a pretty Christ-like idea – the Jesus prophesied in Isaiah is anointed: ‘to preach good news to the poor… to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God.’ That’s a Jesus of justice, sent by a God of justice, and he compels us as we join in with His mission on earth, to become lovers of justice too. Even Obama’s critics would concede that he is a man who has sought to help, and stand up for, America’s poor.
Still, this same man supports – or seemingly fails to stand up against – issues which for some Christians render the rest of the discussion redundant. I get that. I get that this is why a few of my American brothers and sisters have politely asked me to shut my mouth on US politics from way across the pond. I don’t live in the USA – and of course, I can’t begin to understand the nuances. These tiny thoughts are simply my attempt to process the confusing things I’ve heard from this distance, as America has laboured over a close-run decision that has huge implications for the rest of the world (which is why we care so much over here- it’s not just because we loved The West Wing).
Is Barack Obama a Christian? To me, yes. To others, apparently not. Ultimately we all know that issue is between him and God. Yet whatever you think, surely the right response is to pray for him as a God-appointed leader (1 Tim 2 v 2), for peace and justice to flow in the world’s biggest superpower, and – whether he’s actively seeking this or not – for the character of Christ to be displayed in him as he leads, more each day.