Saturday, October 2, 2010

Presidential Faith

On Tuesday, September 28, in a backyard in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a teacher’s assistant asked President Obama, “Why are you a Christian?” His response (Click here to watch the video) is the most articulate and clear response he has made so far on the controversial topic of his faith.

First he answered, “I’m a Christian by choice. My family didn’t -- frankly, they weren’t folks who went to church every week.  And my mother was one of the most spiritual people I knew, but she didn’t raise me in the church. So I came to my Christian faith later in life.”

Being a Christian is a choice. It is not something you are born into. Obama was not “born a Muslim” as Franklin Graham said. He was born into a home where his father was a non-practicing Muslim and his mother a non-practicing Christian. But Obama chose Jesus Christ. That makes him a Christian, even by evangelical standards.

He even got the Christian understanding of salvation right. He explained, “And I think also understanding that Jesus Christ dying for my sins spoke to the humility we all have to have as human beings, that we’re sinful and we’re flawed and we make mistakes, and that we achieve salvation through the grace of God.” Salvation is by grace. That is the Christian gospel, and the president clearly believes that. 

Obama did not use the opportunity to proselytize, but he did say, “But what we can do, as flawed as we are, is still see God in other people and do our best to help them find their own grace.” Not too bad. That is more than most churchgoers do.

When it comes to other people’s faith, Obama says, “Part of the bedrock strength of this country is that it embraces people of many faiths and of no faith -- that this is a country that is still predominantly Christian.  But we have Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, and that their own path to grace is one that we have to revere and respect as much as our own.  And that’s part of what makes this country what it is.”

I would not phrase it in those words. The idea that Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists have “their own path to grace” is a judgment I am not willing to make. I do not presume to know the mind of God on that matter. But I understand the point he is trying to make. He is affirming the religious plurality of America and the importance of respecting everyone’s faith or non-faith. That sentiment I applaud.

In short, the president got it right. And he got it right without a script written by his White House speechwriters. He spoke from the heart on the spur of the moment about his personal faith in Christ while respecting the religion of others. In this regard he was both presidential and faithful. He did much better than the average Christian could do, if asked the same question at a backyard barbecue.

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