Barack Obama: Praying to Be 'An Instrument of God's Will'

The Democratic presidential candidate discusses what he prays for daily and why the Golden Rule applies on the campaign trail.

BY: Interview by Dan Gilgoff

 
This Saturday’s South Carolina primary could make or break Barack Obama's presidential aspirations. The Illinois Senator was interviewed by phone on Monday by Beliefnet politics editor Dan Gilgoff.

Listen to Barack Obama:
'I Felt God's Spirit Beckoning Me'
Prayers and Fair Play on the Campaign Trail
Muslims 'Would View America Differently'
A Childhood of Different Religions
'I Am Proud of Reverend Wright'

You spoke at Martin Luther King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church this week and speak regularly at other churches. Is there a difference in speaking from a pulpit versus from behind a podium or at a political rally? Do you have a different set of responsibilities?

When I'm speaking behind a pulpit, I'm in church. And what that means is that it's during a religious service. I'm there, mindful that the primary reason for being in church is to worship. And so I'm going to constrain myself in speaking on purely political issues and am more likely to broaden the theme to address broader issues—values and our ideals, how we can come together to solve the problems that we face as a nation and in the world. But I'm very sensitive to respecting the role that the church service plays and not wanting to abuse the privilege of addressing a congregation.

In writing about your experience encountering church people as an organizer in Chicago, you said you saw “their ability to make a way out of no way, I could see the Word made manifest… I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and be baptized.” It sounds like a conversion or a born-again experience.

'I Felt God's Spirit Beckoning Me'
It wasn't an epiphany. I didn't “fall out,” as they say in the black church. It was an emotional and spiritual progression, as well as an intellectual one. And it didn't happen overnight. What happened was that I felt drawn to the message of Jesus Christ and the power of the church to fortify people in their spiritual journeys. And, you know, in my heart, at least, I felt God's spirit beckoning me. So ultimately, as I write in [“The Audacity of Hope”], I submitted myself to his will, dedicated myself to discovering his truths.

But it's an ongoing process for all of us in making sure that we are living out our faith every day. And, you know, it's something that I try to pray on at the beginning of every day and at the end of every day, whether I'm living my life in a way that's consistent with my faith.

Is it difficult in the rough and tumble of campaign politics to stick to that, to live out your faith? And can you talk about whether you have a favorite prayer or what you pray about?

Prayers and Fair Play on the Campaign Trail
The prayer that I tell myself every night is a fairly simple one: I ask in the name of Jesus Christ that my sins are forgiven, that my family is protected and that I am an instrument of God's will. I'm constantly trying to align myself to what I think he calls on me to do. And sometimes you hear it strongly and sometimes that voice is more muted.

In terms of on the political trail, I don't find it challenging to be respectful and courteous to people, including my political opponents. You know, the Golden Rule still applies in politics.

I do think that being a Christian doesn't mean that you're passive or that you aren't going to confront injustice. What I think is important, though, and is important not just for me, but also for my team—I'm trying to always reinforce this within the culture of our organization, and I'm not always perfectly successful—is to at least be scrupulous and honest in how we present our disagreements with other people.

I try to measure whether what I'm saying is fair by seeing how I would feel if I was at the receiving end of it. And, you know, there are a number of people—there have been a number of times where I've been criticized during the course of this campaign. And I say to myself, “Well, that's a fair criticism in the sense that I may disagree with the criticism, but it's substantive and there's a legitimate difference of opinion.”

There are other times where I feel as if people are just distorting what I say to score cheap political points. And that gets you frustrated or weary or occasionally angry. And so, I try not to do that to other people.

Andrew Sullivan has written about your hypothetical inauguration through the eyes of a Pakistani Muslim who sees "This man, Barack Hussein Obama, is the new face of America, a brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority Muslim school for boys, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest, but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamic ideology, Obama's face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can." Do you agree that a Muslim in the Arab street could hate America less if they saw that you were elected, because of your faith background and your brushes with Islam in your past?

Muslims 'Would View America Differently'
I don't think that it would change the minds of the hard core ideologue of the Islamic militant movement. You know, I think they would view me as a Christian and an infidel and a Westerner and they wouldn't view me any differently, I think, than any other American president.

Continued on page 2: 'My father, for all practical purposes, was agnostic...' »

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