Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Obama's "Faith"

I just read an interview that Obama had with a reporter from the Chicago Tribune in 2004. The reporter, Cathleen Falsani, was working on a book about politicians and faith, and she asked some very pointed questions about his beliefs. Here are some excerpts ("GG" is "God Girl", Falsani's Internet nickname):

GG: Who’s Jesus to you?
(He laughs nervously)
OBAMA: Right. Jesus is an historical figure for me, and he’s also a bridge between God and man, in the Christian faith, and one that I think is powerful precisely because he serves as that means of us reaching something higher. And he’s also a wonderful teacher. I think it’s important for all of us, of whatever faith, to have teachers in the flesh and also teachers in history.

Note that there is nothing in this answer that indicates that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us in the flesh, part of the Trinity. And the part about Jesus being a bridge to God is true as far as it goes, but it's also pretty vague and wishy-washy. Does Obama understand how Jesus is the bridge, why we need a bridge? I can't tell for sure, but later in the interview, he suggests that he really doesn't understand that Jesus is the ONLY way, the ONLY truth, the ONLY life. For starters, he mentions Gandhi as one of his main spiritual inspirations. Then there's this:

OBAMA: I think that the difficult thing about any religion, including Christianity, is that at some level there is a call to evangelize and prostelytize [sic]. There’s the belief, certainly in some quarters, that people haven’t embraced Jesus Christ as their personal savior that they're going to hell.
GG: You don’t believe that?
OBAMA: I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell. I can’t imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity. That’s just not part of my religious makeup.
OK, I know the fact that millions of people will end up in hell is hard. It's not a pleasant thing to think about, and I wish it wasn't that way. But it is a clear Biblical principle and a tenet of our faith. Obama again seems a little confused on this point.

GG: Do you believe in sin?
GG: What is sin?
OBAMA: Being out of alignment with my values.
GG: What happens if you have sin in your life?
OBAMA: I think it’s the same thing as the question about heaven. In the same way that if I’m true to myself and my faith that that is its own reward, when I’m not true to it, it’s its own punishment.

Wow, just wow. It's sad that someone is so confused about sin. He wants to believe that he gets to define for himself what is right and wrong--sin is about his values, not God's values. This is moral relativism on full display.

(Aside: It also has eerie resonance with Michelle Obama's comment in a stump speech at UCLA in February: "That is why I am here, because Barack Obama is the only person in this who understands that. That before we can work on the problems, we have to fix our souls. Our souls are broken in this nation." These comments suggest that the Obamas think we can determine both what is wrong and how to fix it on our own, without God. In fact, Michelle comes dangerously close to suggesting that Barack is the one who can save our souls.)

I think this interview is interesting and important, not just for what it tells us about Obama's beliefs, values, and judgment, but also because it's a reminder that not all churches or all Christians have their theology straight. Obama makes comments about how he's suspicious of dogma, and he doesn't think one faith has a monopoly on truth. I've looked at the website from his (former) church, and I'm guessing a lot of other people there are confused and misled too. There isn't much indication that the Gospel from the Bible gets preached in that church. There is a lot of stuff about the evils of capitalism and the need for social justice--not so much about the need for Jesus. And for sure Trinity United Church of Christ isn't the only church with that problem.

This is the danger of moral relativism creeping into Christianity. We need to keep paying attention and making sure that our religious leaders are preaching the truth, and that our friends and acquaintances who call themselves Christians aren't following some secularized, untruthful version of the Gospel. We each have a responsibility to think about what we're taught in church and by other religious leaders and measure it against Biblical truth.

Other, more political points from the interview: If you read the whole interview, you'll notice that Obama talks about his close relationships with Reverend Jeremiah Wright and Father Michael Pfleger. He's also a little down on the intelligence of conservative voters--he thinks American voters have a surprising amount of common sense but have been confused by Fox News and talk radio.

Update: I've been thinking about this some more, and I just want to clarify in case I conflated politics and religion in a confusing way. As a voter, I don't require theological purity from my presidential candidate; I'm making my choice based on policy positions, judgment, and experience. As a voter, I'm concerned with Obama's faith/church only inasmuch as I would like to know how much he agrees with the anti-American, anti-capitalist, race-based preaching that seems to be fairly common there and what it says about his judgment. He did attend for 20 years and contribute a substantial amount of money, after all. As a Christian, I'm concerned with Obama's faith/church as an example of the creeping moral relativism that seems to be so common today and the need for us to combat it.

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