Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Is the President a Muslim?

Most of you probably saw or heard the results of the Pew Forum’s poll about the President’s religion. An incredible 18% of all those surveyed and 31% (!) of Republicans surveyed say the President is a Muslim.
On the one hand, we might say, What difference does it make? The nation (and especially all the nay-saying Protestants) found out after the presidential election in 1960 that it doesn’t particularly make a difference if the President is a Roman Catholic. Moreover, the Constitution declares that there is no religious test for public office.
But the fact is, the President is a Christian—in spite of the fact that only 34% of those polled (and only 27% of the Republicans) think so. Comedian Jimmy Kimmel got it right the other day when he said, “A new poll finds that more and more Americans believe that President Obama is a Muslim. . . . Which is crazy. Remember . . . during the election, when all anyone could talk about was his crazy friend, Reverend Wright, and how he couldn't be trusted because he belonged to this guy’s church for 20 years? What happened to that?”
Some of my first blog entries were about Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who had been Barack Obama’s pastor at the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago for twenty years. (To see those postings, click on the “Jeremiah Wright” label on the right.) Do some people really think Obama became a Muslim after (or because) criticism caused him to leave the church where Wright was pastor?
In contrast to Kimmel, political satirist Stephen Colbert made this inane and highly misleading statement the other day: he said the President “endorsed jihad!” and then quoted the President’s statement: “I believe that Muslims have the right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan.” Then Colbert said, “You know what? I’ve been wrong, and I owe the President an apology. You’re not a secret Muslim.”
Colbert, of course, was just trying to get a laugh. What worries me is the people who are serious in labeling the President a Muslim. In her August 20 blog posting titled “Are One-Quarter of Americans Freakin’ Morons?” Time senior editor Amy Sullivan points out that “calling Obama a Muslim has become a way for some conservatives to express their distrust of and opposition to him. The idea that ‘Muslim’ is being used as that kind of pejorative shorthand is a disturbing development on its own.” I think that is certainly true.
I am particularly disturbed by the many conservative Christians who seek to denigrate the President by labeling him a Muslim even though they claim to uphold the Ten Commandments, one of which, of course, is “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”
The late senator Daniel Moynihan (1927-2003) made an important point when he famously said that people are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. Even those who have a negative opinion about the President have the responsibility to get their facts straight about his religion.


  1. What amazes me is the number of people who apparently serve as gatekeepers of the Christian faith. I've seen far too many post online, "well, he isn't a Muslim -- but he definitely isn't a Christian." Since he has a different political view than they do, he can't be part of their religious club. Why do we have the right to decide those things for anyone else? Can someone label me a Buddhist because I have a book on the subject and a couple of yoga mats?

  2. Thanks again Leroy for hitting the nail on the head (Hm, maybe not a good image, but you get it).
    Knowing Wright and knowing Obama's background people are wrong on both things. Some of the most powerful witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus the Christ came from brother Jeremiah in my journey. Now many of us know he is always on the edge, and was taken terribly out of context by the media and right wing nuts of the church and republican party. This think about Obama is beyond understanding for me. Your article helps us all to see how out of context this all is. Thanks Leroy, hi June!

  3. Who sets the definitions?

    I have a Muslim friend who is considering the change to Christianity by reading the Injil and his observation of Christians who focus on loving God and others rather than being good, and a Christian friend who became a Muslim at gun point. Are they still Muslim?

    Having been in a Indonesian Muslim school, and having Muslim family made Barak Obama, no doubt, a Muslim at one point, by definition. Western rationalism and opinion polls make poor theology.

    Feeling at home at a Muslim wedding feast, a Jewish seder, participating in an Anglican Eucharist service, and taking homeopathic products leave me looking like a post-modern religionist. An eastern perspective would have me Christian because of where I live and my family. Orthodoxy would point to baptism and chrismation/confirmation. I would point to a commitment to actively seek and follow Jesus Christ (Isa al-Masih) (John 17:3).

    What definitions would the President and the opinionists use?

  4. It seems to me that a public profession of faith in Christ and years of membership in a Christian church ought to make it clear that one can be accurately said to be a Christian.

    On August 16, 2008, Pastor Rick Warren said to then Senator Obama, "Now, you've made no doubt about your faith in Jesus Christ. What does that mean to you? . . ."
    Here is Obama's answer: "Well, as a starting point, it means I believe in — that Jesus Christ died for my sins, and that I am redeemed through Him. That is a source of strength and sustenance on a daily basis."

    With a statement like that on nationwide TV and with more than twenty years as a member of a Christian church, how is the matter of definition an issue?

  5. Why do we forget the background of questioning a person's Christianity? Hundreds of years ago the Inquisition famously questioned the Christianity of professing Christians. More recently the good folks in Salem conducted a famous witch trial. In recent years Evangelicals have questioned whether Catholics, Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses were "really" Christians. This is why the definition of Christianity really is involved in this issue. If the participants in this blog were put under a similar public microscope, many of us might be found to be "not" Christians, too.

    A second level of the question is overtly political. The politics of personal destruction has become very popular in America. We tend to look the other way when the CIA "destabilizes" a foreign government. Yet those same tactics can be very effective right here at home, with certain political forces substituting for the CIA. Which suggests another way to define a Christian. The person carrying the cross may well be a Christian. The person driving the nails certainly is not.

  6. I am sorry to be so slow to post this brief, insightful comment received from a local TF several days ago:

    "This anti-Muslim crusade has echos of the anti-Jew scare tactics in Germany in the 1930's."