(Released Jun 2009)
Remember the iconic portraits of Barack Obama during the presidential campaign? How about the Egyptian storekeeper selling plaques calling Obama the “New Tutankhamon of the World” during his recent Middle East visit?
Despite these messianic assertions, Obama’s behavior implies a lack of genuine spiritual devotion. It seems religious institutions now are a means to enhance his reputation.
Under the tutelage of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s long-time pastor, he most likely learned by example how even a professed servant of the Lord can twist his vocation to promote politics over faith.
Wright’s sermons strayed from God, love and mercy. His “black liberation theology” – a murky concoction of faith and radical hatred, political rhetoric and victimization – sometimes supplanted traditional sermonizing.
Obama followed Wright for about 20 years. Wright appeared to be Obama’s spiritual advisor and mentor. The title of Obama’s book The Audacity of Hope came from a Wright sermon. Yet, during the presidential primaries, when Wright’s vitriol made headlines, Obama declared ignorance and quickly distanced himself from the man and his church.
In an instant, Obama’s religious bedrock was split, crushed and swept away.
This seemed to be the tipping point in Obama’s relationship with religion.
Obama is still quick to invoke Christ’s name, however, and does so with more vigor than his predecessors. Despite this, his interests in doing so are questioned. Family Research Council president Tony Perkins told Politico: “I think it’s a veneer, a façade that covers over a lot of policies that are anti-Christian.”
For example, a speech at Georgetown University raised controversy due to White House demands on the Catholic institution. Prior to Obama’s arrival, school officials were asked to cover prominent Christian symbols. A Georgetown official told CNSNews that “The White House wanted a simple backdrop of flags and pipe and drape for the speech, consistent with what they’ve done for other policy speeches…”
While basking in Georgetown’s prestige, Obama’s needs minimized the faith of the school’s founders.
Obama also chose not to actively participate in the annual National Day of Prayer. He issued an official proclamation but skipped all public observances – the first president in nearly a generation to do so.
Most notable was Obama’s commencement speech and honorary doctorate from Notre Dame – another Catholic university. Hundreds of thousands of people signed a petition protesting the invitation. The local bishop and another honoree boycotted.
While Obama’s supporters called this an opportunity for a dialogue on Obama’s liberal views and the contrary moral and religious beliefs of others, Obama was given the upper hand due to the honorary doctorate. In his short tenure, Obama reversed a ban on funding and promoting abortions overseas with taxpayer money, promised to sign legislation to overturn virtually all domestic abortion restrictions and ended a ban on embryonic stem cell research despite evidence this controversial practice holds no advantage over using adult stem cells.
Is it a dialogue that Obama sought, or the inferred approval of his policies by Catholic leaders? He gave no concessions during the speech.
Since Inauguration Day, Obama only attended Sunday church services on Easter. Like getting a puppy, getting a new church was something Obama said he would do after the election. Some, however, believe his Easter sojourn to the church across the street from the White House was done more to save face than observe faith.
All this implies a devotion to the piety of political opportunity, where religion simply offers a colorful stage for media attention. That’s why it’s not surprising that Obama’s most direct religious statement as President might have been his declaration that “we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation.”