Faith of Our Presidents

Remember when a Christian president was a bad thing?

When George W. Bush was president, journalists and the left had two templates for Bush-faith stories. The first cast his faith in a dark light, with suspicion and conspiratorial thinking. Bush’s faith, they said, clouded his thinking on vital issues, and his judgment was called into question. The ultimate message of this template was simple: can we really trust a guy who believes that he’s doing God’s will?

”Just in the past few months,” Bartlett said, ”I think a light has gone off for people who’ve spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he’s always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do.” Bartlett, a 53-year-old columnist and self-described libertarian Republican who has lately been a champion for traditional Republicans concerned about Bush’s governance, went on to say: ”This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can’t be persuaded, that they’re extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he’s just like them. . . .

”This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts,” Bartlett went on to say. ”He truly believes he’s on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence.” Bartlett paused, then said, ”But you can’t run the world on faith.”

The horror…a president who believed in a higher authority and actually looked to his faith for…guidance. In retrospect, it’s pretty amazing that the republic actually survived under the rule of such a despotic, Christianist ruler, isn’t it?

The second template was almost exactly the opposite. Reporters and the people they quoted were asking themselves a different question…can the warmongering George W. Bush really be a Christian?

“That a deep Christian faith illuminated the personal journey of George W. Bush is common knowledge,” Suskind wrote. In other words, the devil, as it were, is lurking among the articles of faith, but not in the heart of the man.

This is a huge mistake, because when judged by his deeds, an entirely different picture emerges: Bush does not demonstrate a life of faith by his actions, and neither Methodists, evangelicals, nor fundamentalists can rightly call him brother. In fact, the available evidence raises serious questions about whether Bush is really a Christian at all.

This article was written in October of 2004, just before the election. In what is most certainly just a crazy random happenstance, writers at the Washington Post were asking themselves the same questions just a month earlier.

Weird, huh?

But despite the centrality of Bush’s faith to his presidency, he has revealed only the barest outline of his beliefs, leaving others to sift through the clues and make assumptions about where he stands.

Bush has said many times that he is a Christian, believes in the power of prayer and considers himself a “lowly sinner.” But White House aides said they do not know whether the president believes that: the Bible is without error; the theory of evolution is true; homosexuality is a sinful choice; only Christians will go to heaven; support for Israel is a biblical imperative; or the war in Iraq is part of God’s plan.

Well isn’t that interesting? When Bush declared his Christianity, the press felt a need to delve into his faith and explore the nuances of his belief. Was Bush a moderate Christian, or was he really just one of those crazy wingnut believers who use words like sin and redemption and stuff? Heck, those people are practically snake-handlers, right? But the real question was whether he was a real Christian at all.

So many questions to be explored. And explore them, the press did.

Then, I mean.

I have no idea what Barack Obama believes about God, and I really don’t care. Who he prays to is less important to me than the fact that he’s expanding government power and turning the United States into a debtocracy. The deficits his administration have created threaten not just my economic well-being, but that of my children and quite possibly their children. To me, Obama’s policies are more important than his faith.

The media seem to feel differently. When a poll showed that a growing number of Americans are starting to wonder if Obama is a Muslim, the press swung into full White House Protection Mode. Take it away, Bill Burton!

As Obama left for a vacation, Burton told reporters aboard Air Force One that most Americans care more about the economy and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and “they are not reading a lot of news about what religion the president is.”

Burton added, “The president is obviously a Christian. He prays every day.”

With this, the media breathes a sigh of relief. The White House says the president is a Christian, so he’s obviously a Christian. End of story. No reason to examine this question further, so let’s move on, okay?

I believe that only God truly knows the heart of a human being so the determination of who is a Christian and who is not is ultimately up to Him. Based on what he’s said on the campaign trail and as president, I think Barack Obama is a Christian of the social justice variety. I disagree with the more forced egalitarian aspects of that interpretation of Christianity, but recognize that as a Christian, I have a responsibility to recognize the dignity of every human being and help those in need. Where Obama and I likely differ is that I believe the decision to help others should be voluntary and borne of my desire to serve God. Based on what he’s said in the past, Obama seems to believe it should be a governmental decision. It is an interesting debate and one I would honestly welcome from the president.

So if anyone from the White House is reading this, I am totally willing to have a beer summit. In the interests of unity, of course. If you provide the Newcastle, I’m there.

The media doesn’t seem as interested in that debate, since they’re perfectly willing to declare Barack Obama the most Christian president in recent history on the most scant of evidence:

*** The irony here: The big irony of this story: President Obama is more religious than Reagan or H.W. Bush ever was; in fact, he gets Bible verses sent to his blackberry EVERY DAY. FYI, the Pew poll was conducted before the president weighed in on the mosque controversy. One does wonder if it would have helped push back against this nutty narrative had the president picked a church, as he said he would during the campaign, or if he regularly attended church.


The president gets Bible verses on his Blackberry. EVERY DAY. Reading this, you’ve got to wonder. Does Pope Benedict have a Blackberry? I think not. So if he doesn’t have a Blackberry, he can’t receive daily Bible verses. If he can’t receive daily Bible verses…is he as devout as Obama?

As I’ve said, I don’t really care what Obama believes. What bothers me is that the press only seems to think a president’s religion is important when his faith can be used to question his policy priorities. If those priorities go against the views of those in the media, then Christianity is a scary fringe faith that needs examining. If the president is progressive, then his faith is pure and he’s only trying to do what’s best for the country. No reason to ask uncomfortable questions.

If Obama says he’s a Christian, that’s perfectly okay.

Just so long as he doesn’t become one of those ‘Christianists.’