Obama: A Rare Breed of Christian Convert?
Christians expect converts to renounce, worship and witness, but Obama is reticent
“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.
“Jeremiah Wright was undoubtedly the primary reason for his joining,” Holmes writes in his book. “Obama admired not only the pastor’s erudition but also the political dimensions he gave to the mission of Trinity.”
Converts are routinely expected be passionate witnesses for the faith, as was the Apostle Paul after his Damascus Road encounter with the risen Christ. They presumably love to tell how Christ changed their lives. They’re often specific about what they left behind, in terms of lifestyle or possessions or beliefs, when they committed to a saving God. They yearn to worship regularly in the company and encouragement of fellow believers.
These might be stereotypical marks of faith, but they are nonetheless time-honored ones that resonate with a wide range of Christian communities. When Christians don’t see them, they wonder whether the convert might be backsliding, or might not have had a true conversion in the first place.
Obama has made faith a staple of his life as president. He confers with pastors as spiritual advisors, prays daily and receives Biblical meditations on his Blackberry. He attends worship services occasionally, either at St. John’s Church (Episcopal) near the White House, or in a family-only service at Camp David. He clearly hasn’t lost interest in spiritual matters.
But Obama doesn’t embrace basic practices that are thought to be second nature for converts. Church attendance marks one example.