Is Obama a Christian?

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.

9 responses to “Is Obama a Christian?

  1. Thank you Martin – a very clear piece that like the man brings hope that if we all pray – change is possible and fixing this world is slightly more likely than before.

  2. Hey Martn
    Thanks for this blog. I have had trouble today in my mind as to what I make of what has happened. I have an American wife and family that live in the USA, as well as many friends living there and here for that matter who have all voted.
    I have thought long and hard about the ‘is he….isn’t he’ debate about whether Obama has a faith in Christ.
    I think I have come to the conclusion as I do when I question others’ salvation, is that only God knows. I like the fact he is bringing in policies to do with free health care. I for one love the NHS as my mum has suffered with really bad ill-health and has had 2 knees, 2 hips and a shoulder replacement as well as many operations on her spine free on the NHS. I know if we lived in the USA we would have been bankrupt or my mum would have been in a condition which I don’t want to consider.
    I also really like Obama, he seems a decent, geunine guy who loves his wife and family, something which I admire! However I do question his policies about same-sex marriage and abortion doesn’t sit well in my mind…I am trying not to judge him by this but I it doesn’t sit in my heart……Most of the other policies I don’t understand because I don’t live in the states so hard for me to consider.
    I will be honest if I was american I would have struggled to know who to vote for as I am not a fan of Romney…..tough choice for them.
    I like others will continue to pray for the leaders in the USA as well as in the UK as we are called to do that and thanks for the reminder to do this. We all need to come back to the Lord and seek him…

    I appreciate this blog and thanks for you openness in this!

  3. Thanks for this Martin. It is surely not for us to judge the faith of others. In my humble opinion, one of the failings of far too many Christians – on both sides of the Pond – is to be far too judgemental of Christians who hold different ethical (and theological) opinions to our own. Jesus frequently went out of his way to challenge the behaviour of the religious authorities of his day saw fit to judge and exclude from God’s grace. We should do likewise.

  4. Great article, Martin.

    I think this points to the broader question of should Church and state function as separate entities? My American wife and I have discussed this at length, and I am coming round to her way of thinking that there should indeed be a separation, and that it would benefit the Church. The fact that the issues of equal marriage and pro-choice are two of the controversial points that President Obama faces are demonstrative of this.

    For the most part, Church involvement with these issues succeeds in making Christians on both sides of the Atlantic look like backward homophobic hypocrites under the ruthless media microscope. That’s because when it comes to Christian thinking on the sanctity of life and same-sex relationships, the Bible is explicitly clear. Therefore, for the Church in the current climate to try to be a part of policy on these issues not only adds to the ammunition against it, but more importantly diverts focus from what it should actually be valuing.

    This is not to say that the Church should not have a voice, more that we should state our case by acting as Christ followers first, and speaking as Christ followers later.

    I read a quote in Brennan Manning’s “The Ragamuffin Gospel” recently that said “The church is not a hotel for saints, but a hospital for the broken”. If we (and I switch to the first person here so I can tell myself this as well) spend all of our time campaigning these issues and not first actively and genuinely loving the people who they concern (by welcoming them into the church), then we’re failing. Simple as. The product of this is the situation many churches are faced with, people who won’t dare come near because they don’t feel worthy or don’t want to be judged.

    I have much sympathy for President Obama. He’s embroiled in a world where to make a difference in politics, you often have to compromise and choose the lesser of two imperfect parties to get to a position of influence. But what he is known for, as you rightly point out Martin, is his heart for the poor and the outcast. He’s taken strong, decisive action on that, whilst many “Christians” tweet jibes in Obama’s direction from their armchairs and then don’t bat an eyelid when they walk past the homeless man in the street ten minutes later.

    If we as Christians focussed on loving the poor the way Obama has, when the Church was asked for advice, more people would sit up and take notice of what it said because they hear Church and think integrity.

  5. The TV screen showed Americans going crazy for Obama after he won. They were so happy that gay marriage and abortion are going forward. I couldn’t help but think of Jesus on the cross saying, “Forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”

  6. I was worried when I heard Romney was a Mormon- I was like we will have a man who follows a cult in a position of exceptional power, and that did not sit well with me at all. However in all things Gods will be done- Amen.

  7. If Obama isn’t a Christian why was the United Church of Christ investigated for income tax issues and nearly lost their tax exempt status because one of their members: then Senator Obama spoke at their General Synod back in 2007. Check into that one! First they take apart the local church he attended in Chicago because the preacher dared to call the white people in power on the carpet for their treatment of African Americans over the years then when that doesn’t work, they dub Obama a Muslim. Enough already. I smell sore loser in the mix or the doubters.

  8. To be honest I think that Christians in the US thinking that Obama supporting abortion and gay marriage means he can not be a Christian is symptomatic of a wider problem with Christianity when it mixes with politics; it becomes about issues rather than beliefs. To be honest it’s much easier to express and live out your faith if all that is required is to carry a placard for some cause or other. Is that faith though? God knows whether Obama is a Christian or not. I am not called to judge him.

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