A Pew Research Center national survey found that nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) believe President Obama is a Muslim and 43% don’t know what religion has our president’s allegiance. The study goes on to say that 34% of Conservative Republicans believe the president is a Muslim as do 30% of those who disagree with his policies. Amazingly it also shows that only 46% of Democrats believe Mr. Obama is a Christian. After more than two years campaigning and two years in office this confusion about the spirituality of the leader of our nation is without precedent.
As a retired pastor and a continuing follower of Jesus Christ I have often been accused of practicing an exclusivist belief that discriminates between believers and is intolerant of opposing views. I have often had other believers and non-believers beat me about the ears with Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
The problem with this is that it is addressing the believer who judges non-believers. In a more related passage I Corinthians 1 5:12 Christians are taught, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” Therefore when the President goes on record declaring why he became a Christian it is appropriate for others who profess to be Christians to weigh in, offering their considered judgments and reactions. I say “converted to Christianity” because according to Islamic tradition President Obama as the son of a Muslim Father was born a Muslim. As a youth in Indonesia he attended an Islamic school and ostensibly lived as a Muslim and was accepted as a Muslim by those around him. His official records from Indonesia list him as a Muslim, so I don’t believe it is inaccurate or partisan to say he converted to Christianity.
Moving on to the statement which has opened this door for a Christian to render and express a judgment. Reacting to the many questions concerning his faith, President Obama shared why he became a Christian, telling a group of residents in New Mexico that he had become a “Christian by choice.” The reason for that choice being “the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead – being my brother and sister’s keeper.”
Not to be doctrinaire, there is an answer to the question, “Why have I become a Christian?” that is Biblically sound and universally accepted by those of an Evangelical, Pentecostal or (dare I say it) Fundamental view of the Bible and of faith, and the one our President shared is not that answer. The answer, which directly addresses the belief that Jesus is THE Way is found in Acts 4:12, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” This exclusivity, this belief that salvation is found only in the acceptance of Jesus, in the belief that He is God from all eternity, that He came to Earth to bear the burden of our sins, that He died, rose again and ascended into Heaven to come back again one day for those who have chosen Him is the source and the summit of the faith.
It all relates to the fact that human beings have been separated from God. Most of us notice along the way that there is something out of phase in this world, something not quite right. As in, “Why do bad things happen to good people,” or “What’s it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live?” Personally I spent thirty years wandering about in a fog thinking, “There’s got to be something more” until I came to the end of myself, read the Gospels, and had to decide whether this good news that there is a way back to God is either true or a lie. I decided it is true, confessed Jesus as my risen Lord, and began a new life.
This “something’s not quite right” situation is aptly expressed in Romans 5:12-14, “You know the story of how Adam landed us in the dilemma we’re in— first sin, then death, and no one exempt from either sin or death. That sin disturbed relations with God in everything and everyone, but the extent of the disturbance was not clear until God spelled it out in detail to Moses. So death, this huge abyss separating us from God, dominated the landscape from Adam to Moses. Even those who didn’t sin precisely as Adam did by disobeying a specific command of God still had to experience this termination of life, this separation from God. But Adam, who got us into this, also points ahead to the One who will get us out of it.”
The Bible doesn’t leave us hanging. It shows us the way home too. How are we supposed to get across this gulf that exists between us and God? Someone has to pay the price. And in Romans 5:6-8 it tells us “Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.”
That’s it. He paid the price and we get the benefit. Any other answer than one which conforms to this is “Another Gospel.” How do we know this and where does Dr. Owens get off saying this is the one, the only answer? The ancient creeds (or statements of belief) of the Church testify that this is the Gospel as received by the Apostles and as delivered to the Church.
Paul the principal author of the New Testament warns us in Galatians 1:6-8 when speaking to believers who were wandering from this simple Gospel, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.”
And this is what the narrative of our President tells us: he believes another gospel a gospel based on collective rather than individual salvation. He spent more than twenty years sitting in the pew listening to Reverend Wright. I know he claimed to have never heard anything like the Reverend’s famous “God Damn America” tirade, but is that believable? The President has said Rev. Wright is the one who led him to the Lord. Rev, Wright performed the President’s wedding ceremony, and baptized his children. Most telling of all Mr. Obama’s book The Audacity of Hope is named after one of Wright’s sermons, so it strains credulity to believe he sat there for twenty years and never heard his Pastor preach week in and week out the tenants of Black Liberation Theology, which is a variant of Liberation Theology.
Liberation Theology was condemned by the Catholic Church, whose South American priests developed it as a heresy and not as a true reflection of the Gospel as received by the traditional church. Pope Benedict went so far as to say, “the visible consequences’ of the ‘deceitful principles’ of liberation theology have been ‘rebellion, division, dissent, offense, anarchy [that] are still being felt.’” And it is this gospel our President follows.
The question that needs to be asked is: do you believe in personal salvation based upon the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus? Or do you believe in a collective salvation which is diametrically opposed to the truth who was born in a manger, lived a perfect life, died on a cross in payment for sin, and rose from the dead. President Obama has said he believes his salvation is impossible without a national collective salvation. Christ tells us salvation is possible for all who believe in Him. Paul tells us that whoever confesses Jesus as Lord and believes in his heart that God has raised Him from the dead will be saved. I don’t know about you, but I know in whom I believe.
Celebrate the season and remember the reason.
Dr. Robert R. Owens teaches history, political science, religion, and leadership for Southside Virginia Community College. Dr. Owens is the author of “America Won the Vietnam War,” “The Asuza Street Revival,” and called “The Constitution Failed.” He is available for speaking engagements.