Obama: A Rare Breed of Christian Convert?

Christians expect converts to renounce, worship and witness, but Obama is reticent

Conventional wisdom says President Obama’s religious beliefs should be helping him connect on a faith level with voters, who will soon choose between a mainline Protestant (Obama) and a Mormon (Romney) for president.

But Obama has strangely established no real advantage in this area, whose importance is underscored by the fact that 67 percent of Americans tell the Pew Research Center: “it is important to me that a President has strong religious beliefs.”

According to Pew, fewer Americans said Obama was a Christian in July 2012 (49 percent) than in October 2008 (55 percent). Fewer still (45 percent) said they were comfortable with Obama’s faith. Almost as many (41 percent) who said they were comfortable with Romney’s Mormonism.

Why don’t more Americans recognize Obama’s Christian faith and feel comfortable with it?

Oft-cited reasons have become familiar. Some might simply not believe him. Or political opponents aim to “tar” him with another label, such as “non-Christian” or “Muslim.” Indeed, 17 percent describe Obama as Muslim, up from 12 percent in Oct. 2008.

These reasons alone, however, don’t fully account for the level of skepticism about Obama’s faith. Christians learn that “you shall know them by their fruits… every good tree brings forth good fruits” (Matthew 7:16-17). In Obama’s case, Christians are looking to see particular types of “fruit,” or outward signs, of the conversion experience Obama detailed when he ran for president the first time. When they don’t see evidence of a changed life or mindset, some question whether the newfound faith is really God-given and durable.


“There are some assessments made of Obama’s religion by practicing Christians who are very decent people who just believe in a different form of Protestant Christianity than he… was converted to,” says David Holmes, a retired College of William & Mary historian and author of The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents: From Truman to Obama (University of Georgia Press, 2012).

In the past, when Obama was more forthcoming about faith than he’s been lately, he professed confidence core Christian tenets.

“I am a Christian,” Obama told the New York Times in March 2008. “What that means for me is that I believe Jesus Christ died for my sins, and … [that through] his grace and his mercy and his power… I can achieve everlasting life.”

These beliefs grow out of his conversion story. Born to a Muslim-turned-atheist father and secular humanist mother, Obama received both Christian and Islamic training as a child, according to Holmes’ research, and was listed as Muslim in an Indonesian school’s records. (Holmes says the Muslim listing was an error). His mother taught him to view organized religion as “an expression of human culture… [a way] that man attempted to control the unknowable” (The Audacity of Hope, pp. 204-206). But Obama accepted Christ as Savior when he returned to Chicago after Harvard Law School. He was baptized at Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ.

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G. Jeffrey MacDonald
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