During the past few weeks a shocking amount of media coverage has been committed to the argument about whether President Obama is a Muslim. This battle was ignited by aggressive comments from a handful of high profile Christian leaders, followed by a letter signed by 70 Christian pastors asking the media to stop giving coverage to such claims. That letter, of course, only served to provoke additional attention to the issue, producing media hysteria about specific pastors who had not signed the note, particularly Rick Warren (who had prayed for Mr. Obama at his inauguration ceremony). The fact that Pastor Warren reportedly gave a “no comment” in response to this matter raised new questions in some quarters. Finally, a Pew survey kept the flames burning by reporting that almost one out of five American adults believes Mr. Obama is Muslim and about two out of five say they do not know.
Several things strike me about this absurd situation.
First, Mr. Obama ran for the office of President of the United States, not President of Christianity, not President of Heaven. Given the biblical injunction that none of us are to judge the heart and soul of others, it strikes me as personally irrelevant and biblically beyond my call of duty to ascertain whether he is or is not a Christian. If he claims to be a Christian and actually is, that’s wonderful; but, in the end, he answers to God, not us. If he claims to be a Christian and is not, that’s too bad; but, in the end, he answers to God, not us.
The aggressive judgmentalism surrounding this matter is suffocating. Call me naïve, but I am convinced that God can defend Himself and His territory; He doesn’t need me to cast doubt on the integrity and stated commitments of others in order for Him to retain control of the universe. My job is to pray for the president, regardless of what his faith is, and as Paul reminds us in Romans 13, to obey the leaders the Lord allows in public office.
Second, once again Christians are being portrayed – with some justification – as people who are against things. I think the world is now sufficiently appraised of what we stand against. Perhaps it’s time to put up a positive front and show them what we are for by demonstrating the love of Christ in all that we think, say, and do.
Third, we’d better figure out how to handle concerns about the potential of people who believe differently than us becoming president. (No, that’s not a sly way of insinuating Mr. Obama is not a Christian.) Once the mid-term elections are behind us and the 2012 presidential race begins in earnest (i.e., November 10), Mitt Romney will likely be the early frontrunner for the Republican nomination. If you don’t already know, you will hear plenty about how Mr. Romney is a devout Mormon. While our surveys suggest that even in this post-everything culture Mr. Romney is unlikely to make it to the White House (largely because of his choice of faith), he will be a formidable presence and his faith will emerge as a bigger issue than it was in his 2008 bid. It is ironic that the Republican Party – i.e., that which is most closely associated with evangelicals and other conservative, Bible-believing people – is the one that must ponder what to do about a legitimate candidate who is associated with a faith group that most evangelicals and many conservative Christians consider to be a cult.
How will Christians respond to Mr. Romney’s candidacy? I think the answer to that question may wind up being more important than who gets elected president in 2012.
I don’t know about you, but all of the wasted energy and public anguish that we Christians devote to pursuing marginal concerns is awfully tiresome. When do we get to the part where we focus on cleaning up our own house and demonstrating genuine humility? At what stage do we impress the world with the abundance of our love, generosity, and tenderness? When do we abandon the witch hunts and the lust for power in favor of justice, service, and compassion?
I guess I don’t really care if Mr. Obama (or Mr. Romney) is Christian, Muslim, Jew, atheist, Hindu, Mormon, or Scientologist. I simply want a true leader who honestly reveals what he/she believes, offers a full-blown vision for the future, makes good on his/her promises, and serves the people in harmony with the values that have made this country great. All things being equal, I’d probably prefer a genuine Christian to someone who is not a devoted follower of Christ. But, then again, all things are never equal and past experience has shown that being a committed Christian is not necessarily a recipe for successful political performance.