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J Walking

Obama’s faith

There is an enormous story in today’s New York Times about Sen. Barack Obama’s faith and his relationship with his controversial minister. It is (or should be) politically insignificant. It is theologically controversial.

The story doesn’t recount anything particularly new about Obama’s faith. It recounts his conversion to Christianity, his relationship with his pastor, his community activism, and the fact that his pastor has become a political liability because of some of his theology.

Interesting, but it should be politically fairly insignificant unless we have decided that there is some sort of religious test for elected office. That, however, was settled a long time ago in the Constitution – Article VI, Sec. 3. No religious tests in America.


Ergo, what we have here is a fascinating theological article and an irrelevant political article.

The theology, however, IS fascinating.

Rev. Wright is a proponent of “black liberation theology, which interprets the Bible as the story of the struggles of black people, whom by virtue of their oppression are better able to understand Scripture than those who have suffered less.”

On the Sunday after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Mr. Wright said the attacks were a consequence of violent American policies. Four years later he wrote that the attacks had proved that “people of color had not gone away, faded into the woodwork or just ‘disappeared’ as the Great White West went on its merry way of ignoring Black concerns.”


Sen. Obama, according to the article, “admitted [in his book] uncertainty about the afterlife, and ‘what existed before the Big Bang.’…emphasizes the communal aspects of religion over the supernatural ones.”

These are all huge theological questions. They are questions of God’s sovereignty, God’s preference (or not) for a particular people, the nature and manifestation of evil, the reality of miracles, faith’s relevance across racial and cultural and economic lines, and how much faith should motivate political involvement.

As such they should be dealt with theologically. I am eager to hear the discussions about such questions. Perhaps they can appear here on Beliefnet. I’d love to be able to ask Sen. Obama and Rev. Wright some pointed questions about their faith and what they think it means. But such questions and such discussions should have nothing to do with whether anyone should or should not vote for Sen. Obama.

I fear that even now that article is being zipped around evangelical circles and being dissected for attack ads later in the campaign. I fear that some on the secular left are doing the same thing in hopes of taking him down in the primaries. Both approaches are wrong. This isn’t about politics, this is about theology.

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posted April 30, 2007 at 5:51 pm

Something I think we forget is that the substance of fellowship is interpersonal relationships under God’s authority just like every other form of community and, therefore, filled with agreements and disagreements. Liberation theology isn’t unlike other theologies designed to meet political ends, which is to say, largely absurd. I can trust a politician who belongs to a church with a strange confession, if he or she seems trustworthyish. The fact that I’m Lutheran doesn’t make me anti-semitic even if Luther was.

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curiouser and curiouser...

posted April 30, 2007 at 7:36 pm

David, I agree with you about the “no religious tests” being settled long ago, except of course that Americans have, indeed, insisted on such tests for at least the last 6 years (maybe even since Zippergate). Nowadays it seems the voters demand religious tests. I wonder why?

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LaCinda Stevens

posted May 1, 2007 at 12:08 pm

There is a gospel song that reads/sings: “There’s a war going on and if you want to win, you’d better have Jesus deep down within.” America is in spiritual warfare and better sit up and take notice. LaCinda Stevens

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Angela Hagler

posted May 1, 2007 at 1:19 pm

The Bible is very clear on the fact that Christians are to pray for Godly leaders and that God will greatly bless a nation which chooses Godly leaders and in which it’s citizens lead Godly lives. While our constitution clearly states that one’s religion should not be of concern, it is also clear that we are free to vote for whomever we choose to vote for. As a Christian, I will choose a Godly leader over a politically correct one in every situation. While I may not be well pleased with our leader’s views on foreign policy or economics, I feel that having a praying, God fearing leader supercedes all other criteria. Again, thankfully I live in a nation in which I can have this viewpoint and vote accordingly. AS far as Barack Obama, I don’t consider his version of Christianity to fit my criteria for a Godly leader. It is a warped and biased view of God’s word. God does not intend for the Bible to be interpreted to suit our own views and needs as Rev. Wright has done by seeing the Bible representative of the struggles encountered by blacks. Everyone encounters struggles in life and the Bible is written for all of God’s children, regardless of color, creed, nationality or culture. I could not put my trust in anyone with such a narrow concept of the Word of God or such self-serving political views. While these views have been expressed by Rev. Wright and not Obama, himself, the fact that Rev. Wright has been so influential in Obama’s religious conversion raises a big red flag for me. I believe Obama may indeed have some things of great value to offer this nation however, he will not receive my vote if nominated for president. I believe Obama is more beneficial to this nation as a team member, not as a team leader.

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posted May 1, 2007 at 1:46 pm

Can’t a black person just be a typical racist. Whether called a Reverend or not? Barak also sounds like the typical Democrat leftist. Completely suspect in their validity to being a Christian and proven so by wrong doctrine and theology. The New Testament was written as an unshakable apologia. Face that fact.We Christians must never lose sight of the fact white men are not all that bad, and it was they who were also Christians that fought so hard to end slavery. Today, right now. As they did when America had it. And, what are these great black preachers doing to send the Gospel to a hurting and desperate Africa? What are they doing to end Islamic slave trade? All I see is white person after white person working “from” America, to literally “go into” Africa and do what Christians are supposed to do. If equality is the real issue, the Black community forgets about it to conveniently.

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Acrostic Universe

posted May 1, 2007 at 2:01 pm

But such questions and such discussions should have nothing to do with whether anyone should or should not vote for Sen. Obama. These questions should have nothing to do with whether or not he runs (no religious tests) but they will definitely have something to do with how people vote.

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posted May 1, 2007 at 2:17 pm

David,Before I run off for the day, please notice that Obama’s Pastor can say that 9-11 happened as God’s judgment on white people for the myth of racism et al, but “The Left” did not slam him from coast to caost like it did to Falwell and Robertson for saying the same thing, but far more accurately Bible-wise. My view, that The Left is on the side of wrong is provable. Do you think that Hollywood would support a Bible-believing Christian? Is there any left in Leftist politics? And I mean a Bible not edited for political correctness.You know David, California Democrats (Liberals, Progressives and Gays and Lesbians)Don’t tell me I am ranting when the things I accuse the Left of, are reality.There is no such thing as racism like it once was, except in Islamic, Asian and European societies. What we all face now, in the western world, is a credit score to determine the content of our character. God will judge that too.

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Terrence Redix

posted May 1, 2007 at 2:24 pm

After reading your article where you clearly stated Sen. Obama and his minister, Rev. Wright intterpret the bible in terms of an oppressed people’s relationship with God and and applying it to the Black Liberation theology is not new. Modern day prophets like Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Rev Albert Cleage, Marcus Garvey,and most recently Nelson Mandela all believed and still believe in Black liberation theology. Since Christianity began in North Africa, which only recently has been named the “Middle East”, these men are historically correct. Whats puzzling is the world celebrated the release, faith, and freedom on Nelson Mandela and South Africa, but are critical and negative about the process it took to liberate South Africa. The mere fact Sen. Obama is black is political. Don’t you get it? It doesn’t matter what his beliefs are, as long as you’re black in America, thats political and the media, which across the board is secretly and silently supporting and a tool of “White Supremecy”, are gonna do their best to smear his name reguardless of what the constitution says about rights of Americans, in the name of patriotism. If not his beliefs, they are going to attack something else until they somehow discredit him, slandor him, or whatever it takes to destroy him politically and as a human being. Now, lets sit back and watch the drama unfold as a neurotic society attempts to destroy one of its brightest stars.

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Gina Nakagawa

posted May 1, 2007 at 5:13 pm

The real problems with the “Left” is not whether they are liberal or conservative, or whether they embrace “Liberation Theology,” or “Feminist Theology,” or any theology at all. That is all moot because the *do* embrace prenatal infanticide, the indoctrination of young children instead of their education, the murder of the “useless,” those who are old, sick, weak. I would like to hear where any candidate stands on those issues. Like faith, they should not be a determining factor in elections. A candidate can certainly exercise his right to choose the Satanic in his private life. However, they *do* influence election results through the demagoguery of said politicians and their minions. Our President may have made mistakes, even many mistakes, but I shall always admire the stand he has taken to protect children from a form of execution which would raise a public outcry if it were applied to a felon guilty of the most heinous crimes. I don’t know who will receive my vote this election, but it will not be anyone on the Democratic ticket.

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Stephanie Wong-Ortiz

posted May 1, 2007 at 5:22 pm

No doubt David, religions and politics are the oil and vinegar we use. Although the two don’t mix, eventully they will have to come together. America is the country which proclaims freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but in essense it’s saying in a round about way politically, if you don’t see it our way then you can’t play. Why is that? All candidates that run for President or Vice-President has to be a good Baptist or good Catholic person. Anything besides that is just not suitable to out political views. Again, why is that? I think Sen. Obama and Rev. Wright should come together and discuss this oil and vinegar religious relationship. We are all entitled to our point-of-view.

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posted May 1, 2007 at 5:39 pm

How a person interprets the Bible or any other religious text or whether that person is Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian or any other belief is not what makes her or him a desirable candidate. It is the persons character and how they vote on issues that I feel are important to me that determines how I vote. While I feel Mr. Obama does have a lot to offer this country and has a great potential, I am not sure that I have enough information, based on his experience and voting record to be able to say yes or no to his candidacy for president.

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curiouser and curiouser...

posted May 1, 2007 at 5:44 pm

Hey Angela, Hit the ‘Enter’ key twice. It makes for a new paragraph. Like this. As for your ‘arguments’… “The Bible is very clear on the fact that Christians are to pray for Godly leaders and that God will greatly bless a nation which chooses Godly leaders and in which it’s citizens lead Godly lives.” Well THAT hasn’t worked out well, has it? “While our constitution clearly states that one’s religion should not be of concern” – seems to make no nevermind to you, does it? “As a Christian, I will choose a Godly leader over a politically correct one in every situation.” Like I said, that hasn’t worked out too well. In your own words: “While I may not be well pleased with our leader’s views on foreign policy or economics”. Well, you DID make your ‘choice’. Tell us, are you happy with Bush’s response to Katrina? “I feel that having a praying, God fearing leader supercedes all other criteria.” Too bad you don’t have one. Taking your nation to war based on LIES is not being “God fearing”, it’s called being a warmonger and a liar. “AS far as Barack Obama, I don’t consider his version of Christianity to fit my criteria for a Godly leader.” Many of us think the same thing about Mr. BushCheneyRumsfeltRove. “It is a warped and biased view of God’s word.” Ditto for the Rethuglicans. And Mr. Phelps. And Mr. Falsewell. And Mr. Dobson. And Mr. Robertson. And Mr. Swaggart. And Mr. Hinn. And … well, sorry, but your side has NO monopoly on un-warped and un-biased views of “God’s word”. “Everyone encounters struggles in life and the Bible is written for all of God’s children, regardless of color, creed, nationality or culture.” But NOT sexual orientation? It’s still okay to hate the queers, isn’t it?

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posted May 1, 2007 at 8:50 pm

No one hates “queers.” Homosexuality is intrinsically disordered by natural physiology and biology. Not just the Bible’s treatment on the inappropraiteness of same gender sex acts. I, as a Christian, oppose their encouraging others to sin. That is why I can never vote for a Democrat. They have a political platform completely designed for that. Think Nero’s Rome when thinking about a Democrat. Homophobia is a neologism made up to criminalize Christians. Hadrian (another Roman ruler) thought ill of Christians and Jews, the same way “The Left (Progressives, Liberals, Humanists et al) Study Roman history once again. And leave your Bible closed. Democrats still look ominous for Christians. Romans are attaining power once again. They have the powers and principalities behind them to do so.Look at what is “politically correct” now, and look at what is disapproved of. Evil is good, and goodness is a hate crime. And in California, the Democrats and their GLBT power-monger base, is outlawing the words “mother” and “father.” And “The Left” is Christian how?

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Recce 1

posted May 1, 2007 at 10:00 pm

As I recall, the Bible doesn’t exhort us to pray for GODLY leaders, but rather for all those in authority. It is best outlined in the Amplified Bible: 1 Timothy 2 1: First of all, then, I admonish and urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be offered on behalf of all men, 2: For kings and all who are in positions of authority or high responsibility, that [outwardly] we may pass a quiet and undisturbed life [and inwardly] a peaceable one in all godliness and reverence and seriousness in every way. 3: For such [praying] is good and right, and [it is] pleasing and acceptable to God our Savior, 4: Who wishes all men to be saved and [increasingly] to perceive and recognize and discern and know precisely and correctly the [divine] Truth. Certainly we should support Godly leaders, but even if they aren t we must pray for them. Of course it s clear that a godly leader is a blessing to a nation. But it s also true that God will give a nation an ungodly leader as a judgment against it. Can we honestly deny that America, as great as it is, isn t deserving of Divine judgment? And isn t it possible we have the leaders that we richly deserve? Some will say that the question of a person’s faith should not be a factor whether or not they vote for that person. That’s not a Biblical view, but it s quite humanistic. But first we have to ask, what is faith? Is it merely acknowledging God and Jesus, or is it taking to heart His Word to us? For instance, how does one say they re a Christian yet vote for abortion on demand for the sake of convenience, for homosexual acceptance, for legalized drugs, for ill advised wars, or for legalized theft, i.e., excessive taxation? The answer isn t that that person isn’t saved necessarily, but that they haven’t matured in the faith and are still spiritual infants. I would ask thoughtful people to question as to whether our political system such as it is today would permit a godly man or woman of courage, honestly, principles, and wisdom to be elected to high office? Only thru a miracle by the grace of God do I believe it could happen. Fortunately, I believe in a miracle working God. Yet quite frankly, I would vote for a non-Christian who is honest, fair, and keeps his word rather than a fellow proclaimed Pentecostal who is dishonest and doesn’t keep his word or one who speaks the conservative and Christian lingo but really doesn t act accordingly. Also, we must keep in mind that the prohibition against a religious test with regard to office is a restriction against government, not against citizens when making choices. Please remember, the Constitution was meant to limit the power of the Federal government to specific enumerated powers with the remaining ones reserved for the people and the states. However, can anyone believe that the Bill of Rights is still intact other than the Third Amendment, or that we still live in a democratic Republic under the rule of constitutional law? Why, we don’t even have property rights in America, and without property rights we have no real political or civil rights. So it behooves to pray for all leaders, both the godly and the ungodly. But more importantly, we need to pray for ourselves who are called by His name to repent and turn back to God so that he will heal our land.

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posted May 2, 2007 at 1:15 am

I read Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father, and I can tell that his spiritual beliefs are not overzealous. He found spirituality in a beautiful way and appreciates that his church is interested in helping poor blacks, as he is. George W. Bush is a Born Again-er, and everyone knows that Born Again-ers think everyone whose not a Baptist or whatever is going to Hell. Everybody’s got their thing. I’d rather have a President who believes in something higher than himself and isn’t full of ego, and we just can’t get so up in arms about these things. No church is perfect, and no person follows their church’s or religion’s rules to the letter. We take what we like and we ignore what we don’t. So relax. Obama is a smart, thoughtful guy. And I’m ready to vote for smart.

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curiouser and curiouser...

posted May 2, 2007 at 5:16 pm

Donny, “No one hates “queers.” BWAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!!! You TOO funneee. “Homosexuality is intrinsically disordered” Said the staunch (Catholic?) hardliner. Hey, we ain’t all Catholics. It ain’t “disordered” for homosexuals. DUH! “by natural physiology and biology.” Or by ideology of the “right”.”Not just the Bible’s treatment on the inappropraiteness of same gender sex acts.” You mean like David’s love for Jonathan (“surpassing the love of women”)? Or Ruth’s devotion to Naomi, vows usurped by heterosexuals for use at their “weddings”? Or the Centurion’s love for his companion? “I, as a Christian, oppose their encouraging others to sin.” Many Christians do not accept your definition of sin, let alone encouragement of others to ‘commit’ it. “That is why I can never vote for a Democrat.” Yeah, RIIIGHT. Like there are NO Republican sinners. Not a single Republican has ever lied, stolen, committed adultery, cheated on his taxes, disrespected his parents, borne false witness (or any of the other Big 10). But somehow, in your “mind” being gay is the one unforgivable sin that disqualifies one for public ofice? Try again, but DO BETTER! “Homophobia is a neologism made up to criminalize Christians.” Christians wouldn’t BE homophobic in the first place. The real ones, that is. “And leave your Bible closed. Democrats still look ominous for Christians.” You really are a laff riot, Donny. No wonder people don’t take you seriously. As in – “goodness is a hate crime.” “And in California, the Democrats and their GLBT power-monger base, is outlawing the words “mother” and “father.”

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posted May 2, 2007 at 9:09 pm

Curiouser…. the issue of homosexuality is so complex and especially complex when it is the issue that has been chosen by powerful people to gather the mob. In the old days, the mob gatherers would go after “witches” or “heretics” or those “feminists” or somebody of reason like Galileo. There is nothing to support the kind of hysteria against homosexuals that people like James Dobson has created. Nothing. Ancient distrust of those who are different does not change. After studying the so called proof texts that fundamentalists use in their manufactured outrage, I can’t see that there is anything that would encourage such language as that homophobic language used by people like Fred Phelps or Bill Donahue. It is violent and is the antithesis of the Gospel. Hateful people simply need a monster – homosexuals or women or liberals – whatever monster they create in their minds can relieve the pressure – if you can convince yourself to hate for God – you are off the hook. It is what we see in radical Islam, fundamentalist Christianity or any religious group that needs monsters to keep going. My problem is always to somehow not create my own monsters – ie fundamentalists of any ilk. Seeing every single person as a beloved child of God – now that’s hard.

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curiouser and curiouser...

posted May 4, 2007 at 4:47 pm

Terrific thinking, Thinker. Thanks. But I disagree with your statement: “There is nothing to support the kind of hysteria against homosexuals that people like James Dobson has created. Nothing.” Sure there is – hysteria supports itself, and finds other supporters like Donny. It is also supported by lies, spread by the likes of Dobson, Falsewell, Swaggart (he of the 2 whores), Robertson, et al. And the lies are consumed (voraciously and gluttonously) by the “moral” “majority”, the Let’s Focus on SOME People’s Families types, the “Family” “Research” Council, etc. “Nothing to support” anti-gay bigotry? How about the selective, out-of-context pull quotes and distorted translations and versions of and from the Bible? I think if we were successful in getting religion totally OUT of politics, America could revert to being the land of the truly free.

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Unsympathetic reader

posted May 5, 2007 at 5:45 pm

LaCinda Stevens “America is in spiritual warfare and better sit up and take notice.” Yes, but it is different than you think. The ‘warfare’ is between those who think the U.S. is in ‘spiritual warfare’ and those wish that people would knock off their obsession with ‘spiritual warfare’.I am tired of the binary and polarizing, “you’re either with us or against us” mentality. It is scary to be in the middle of such crowds. I certainly wouldn’t want to live in a neighborhood where that view predominated and I am not at all happy with the way it is repeatedly shilled to the electorate. If one manages to live a few decades with their eyes open or follows history, one sees common mistakes repeated and observes the common methods for manipulating people. Do people *never* learn? It’s not ‘warfare’! ‘Confict’, or ‘disagreement’ or ‘debate’, perhaps (I’d call it ‘inevitable social dynamics’), but the linkage to war is specious. Judging from history, I am certain that leaders will continue trying to use polarizing issues as a tool (Hey, it’s easier and far more reliable than intellectual engagement), and I am certain that these tactics will continue to work on a percentage of the population. I only hope that in the long run, cooler, less emotionally-reactive people can keep things from getting completely out of hand and creating real damage.

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