Thursday, August 26, 2010

If Obama Were a Muslim

Most Americans don’t know the religion of their president. That is the conclusion of a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. Only a third of Americans know Obama is a Christian. A fifth think he is Muslim, and almost half don’t have a clue what faith he espouses.

The increase in the number of people who think that he is a Muslim (11% to 18%) and the corresponding decrease in those who think he is a Christian (48% to 34%) is causing most of the uproar. The White House is responding by insisting that Obama is - and has always been - a Christian.

I have several observations. First, what does it matter? I couldn’t figure out what religion Ronald Reagan was the whole time he was in the White House! He never went to church, didn’t seem to believe much of anything, yet he was the darling of the Religious Right.

Furthermore, what is wrong with giving the First Family a little privacy when it comes to their faith? The publicity surrounding their religious practice has made it impossible for them to worship with a Washington congregation like other presidential families. That doesn’t seem quite right.

Second, conservatives ought to be celebrating the fact that Obama says he is a Christian. They ought to be encouraging him in his faith, rather than alienating him by suggesting he might not really be a Christian. They ought to be celebrating his first name – Barak – named after the Biblical Hebrew general – rather than pointing to his middle name – Hussein – named after the grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. But you don’t hear anyone suggesting that because of his first name he might be Jewish.

Third … and the most radical idea for my Christian brethren to fathom … I wouldn’t mind if Obama were a Muslim! So what if he were a Muslim? That should be the response of the White House these days!

It would be fine with me if we had a Muslim in the White House – for the same reason that I think it is great that we have an African American president. Having a non-Christian president would signal that we have achieved true religious tolerance in this country, as well as give us a much-needed rapport with the Arab world.

Of course I don’t want a Taliban in the White House instituting Sharia law. But that wouldn’t happen anyway. That is the scare tactic behind the rumor that Obama is a “secret Muslim.” But having a moderate Muslim president – like having moderate Christian presidents - could a boon for America and the world. At the very least if would force us to learn about Islam.

There is a plague of religious illiteracy in America, especially when it comes to Islam. The ignorance spewing from the debate about the mosque proposed near Ground Zero has revealed that. Perhaps having a Muslim in the White House would raise the level of religious discussion above placards and slogans.

But maybe not. Having Jimmy Carter in the White House really didn’t help the image of Southern Baptists. We have had two Southern Baptists presidents in recent decades – Democrats Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton – and yet people still connect Southern Baptists with Republican presidents Reagan (a Presbyterian) and Bush (a Methodist)!

Theoretically I wish we had more godly followers of Jesus Christ in Washington. I think it would be good for the country. But I also think that religious diversity in high places is good for the country. That is why I am disturbed that there are presently no Protestant Christians serving on the Supreme Court  … but that is another blog.

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