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Obama Tries to Reassert His Christian Bona Fides, With Words and Deeds

4 years ago
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Barack Obama went to church on the Sunday after Christmas in his native Hawaii, worshiping at a multidenominational service at a chapel at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

And this is news, you ask?

Actually, yes it is, when you are a struggling president facing re-election after a year in which growing numbers of Americans -- as many as 1 in 5 -- thought he was a Muslim, while more than half felt Obama's religious views were different from their own.

Moreover, resurgent Republicans and conservative activists continue to raise doubts about Obama's religious views as a way to sow doubts about his commitment to American values.

Barack Obama and familyIn early December, for example, 41 Republicans -- and one Democrat -- who are members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus wrote to Obama asking why he told an audience in Indonesia during a trip there that the phrase "E pluribus unum" (Latin for, "from many, one") was the national motto instead of "In God We Trust."

"E pluribus unum" was adopted by Congress in 1782 and was considered the nation's unofficial motto, appearing on coins and banknotes since 1795. In 1956, at the height of the Cold War, Congress passed a law establishing "In God We Trust" as the official national motto, just as Congress had added the phrase "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954.

In his speech in Indonesia, Obama used the phrase "E pluribus unum" to underscore that in Indonesia, as in America, "hundreds of millions who hold different beliefs can be united in freedom under one flag."

The Prayer Caucus letter also referred to three earlier occasions when Obama cited the second line of the Declaration of Independence -- "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights" -- but did not mention "Creator."

Conservative activists ran with it, portraying the phrasing as evidence that Obama doesn't adhere to standard religious, namely Christian, beliefs -- charges that the White House called "silly."

But if the accusations strain credulity, they can also affect public perceptions. So it was likely no coincidence that during the holidays the president seemed to take every opportunity to put the "Christ" in Christmas.

During the lighting of the National Christmas Tree on Dec. 9, Obama repeatedly referred to the birth of Christ and pointedly said the Nativity is "a story that's dear to Michelle and me as Christians." And at a Christmas benefit concert a few days later, the president spoke of how "a child born in a stable brought our world a redeeming gift of peace and salvation," and he called it "a message that guides my Christian faith."

Stephen Mansfield, author of "The Faith of Barack Obama," told Religion News Service that the polls about views of Obama's faith "had to be a wake-up call to the White House."

Politico's Carol E. Lee also tracked Obama's recent religious rhetoric and says that he has used the phrase "Christian faith" more in the past three months than he has over the past year. He also took his family to church in Washington in September, as the midterm campaign was heating up, along with controversies over the Islamic center in Lower Manhattan and suspicions about Obama's faith.

As president, Obama has rarely attended church and gave up looking to join a congregation because he said it would be too "disruptive" to whatever church his family picked. So the Obamas attend services at the chapel at Camp David when the family is there, and the president reads the Bible daily.

"I think he's just bringing more of himself to the game, so to speak," Mansfield said of Obama's recent pronouncements. "It's not as though he's changed religions or something. He's just being open about it."

Or he's being more explicit. Obama has frequently used biblical language in his presidential speeches, but he often cites the Old Testament -- the phrase "my brother's keeper," from the Book of Genesis, is an old standby -- and he favors verses from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, for example. But not many Americans can automatically connect those scriptures to Christianity, so Obama has to spell it out.

"The president understands that he needs to continually tell his own personal spiritual story," Shaun Casey, professor of Christian ethics at Washington's Wesley Theological Seminary and a former Obama campaign adviser, told RNS. "He did that masterfully in the campaign and I think you're seeing a return to that voice."

But there's also a real question as to whether Obama can ever dispel rumors about his religious affiliation, or the depths of his Christian commitment. After all, Ronald Reagan was an indifferent churchgoer, and George W. Bush never joined a church while he was president, preferring, like Obama, to attend services at the Camp David chapel or to gather with small groups for prayer and Bible study. But no one questioned their faith.

And Obama has hardly been reticent about proclaiming his Christian faith in the past. Just last Easter, Obama gave two off-the-cuff testimonies at meetings with a range of Christian clergy that were profound and eloquent expositions of the meaning of the crucifixion and the resurrection.

Soon after that, the number of Americans who thought Obama was a Muslim started to rise. If this Christmastime renewal of God talk by Obama can produce a different result it would be one of the surprises of 2011.

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Someone earlier posted "If Obama is a christian, then so was Hitler!" Well, Hitler was indeed a catholic, so I don't know what your point was. Secondly, why do people keep spelling out "Koran"? It is spelled Qur'an, so congradulations on showing your ignorance. If Obama comes from a line of Muslims, so what? He is still, regardless of what anyone says, a DOCUMENTED american born citizen, which means that be he Muslim, Buddhist, Christian or Atheist, he has the right to run for office. It's leagal, and its constitutional... You know about the Constitution right, That old parchment written a few hundred years ago by a group of intelligent men who sought to AVOID this kind of discrimination, and make a better nation for any who wanted to be a part of it?

January 13 2011 at 1:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

i agree that race seems to be the issue here, how would you like it if someone continually questioned your faith

no one (not even glenn beck) knows what is in the soul of another man or woman

January 08 2011 at 6:14 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

What a damn liar this man is. 2012 can't come soon enough. In my 52 years I have never seen the moral among people any lower than right now. Not even the huge recession of the 70's had people acting the way they are now. Hope and change? I think not. I think the entire country knows that too.

January 08 2011 at 3:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am an Obama supporter and have posted several comments since yesterday, none of which have appeared here. Hmmm. Let's see if this one shows up. O'Reily, Limbaugh, Beck, Oberman all have entertainment value but pahlease. If there were any hard evidence to say that Obama was Muslim then we would have it. Many people are trying very hard to find some but it's not there. It is strictly against the Muslim culture to worship secretly. Do you know of any secret Muslims? Obama is all American and Christian. His problem is that he is African American. Because of that, many people will not be able to see him in a truthful light. It's sad.

January 08 2011 at 1:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

In my opinion no one really Knows this President. He is like a Camelion. He appears to change to what is best for his motive or referendem is at that time. I am proud to be a Christian and I am very proud to tell it to the world. I believe the Bible and I believe in the Trinity. God, Jesus and The Holy Spirit are one. Jesus was God in the Flesh. God Bless!

January 08 2011 at 12:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
R. Lee's Gifts

Does anybody remember when O'Reilly interview Obama.
Do you remember hearing him (Obama) say. "My Muslim faith, uh, my Christian faith".

January 08 2011 at 3:11 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
R. Lee's Gifts

Our way of life is based on Judeo-Christian principles. If you live in America you are living the Christian life. If you want to argue that point open your eyes and look and see how most of the rest of the world lives. People are starving, in some places you will be killed if you are a christian. They will not allow you to worship Jesus Christ the Christian God. If you have lived in our Christian culture and you think that all Gods are the same you need to get your head out of the sand and look around. Listen to the news, read, study and search for the one and only true God.

January 08 2011 at 3:07 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

He's not a christian and people need to get over this issue. He sides with his buddies in his real muslim religion. What religion he is doesn't matter. He should just stop the cover up and come out openly in ALL areas of his life.

January 07 2011 at 7:21 AM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply

It is amazing that individuals are allowed to so openly cast baseless slander and libel against the president. The individuals that raise these "ridiculous non-issues", so vocally that it catches the intention of others and become news-worthy, don't care about the validity of the claims. They hope to capitalize on the inherent dislikes and suspicious natures of "average Americans". If they can even plant a "mustard seed worth" of doubt, then that might influence the minds of voters, even subconsciously when it comes time to vote. It is a sinister/diabolical plot. Unfortunately, many of "us" are so obtuse that we miss the obvious underlying agenda(s) and "gleefully" pick it up as our "own cause" (i.e. the career Military man that recently put his own career in jeopardy, because he claimed to question the right of "the President" to be the "Commander in Chief" because he "seriously believed" the claims that he was not an American).
I suspect that history will ultimately show that there are many wealthy investors that are funding this and many other efforts to undermine the President and his credibility. I think that, should we ever fully know the truth, that we may be "very surprised" at who they are. Hopefully, not many more of "us" will be taken in by this "meant to be distracting" nonsense.

January 07 2011 at 7:00 AM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to k7w7's comment

Can you say, "Conspiracy Theory?" I knew you could.

January 08 2011 at 1:58 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Why did Obama became the ombudsman to Michale Vick. Does he not have enough things to do in the WH rather than asking somebody to take him back to the game...hey PETA where are your voices of opposition. Had Bush done the asking, I'm sure you wil raise hell and let it all be known your wrath. You are giving Obama a pass? I am not amused.

January 07 2011 at 1:05 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

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