The Faith of Barack Obama
We are coming to the end of the Democratic National Convention and Denver, and no matter what you might think and believe politically, the fact is that we have witnessed a historic event. For the first time in the history of our country, a major political party has nominated an African-American as their party’s candidate.
Even though Barack Obama has received overwhelming acclamation and support, many people are still wondering, “who is this man?” And one of the key issues being asked about is Barack’s faith. Stephen Mansfield in his newly released book, The Faith of Barack Obama, attempts to address that question. Mansfield has written an honest and balanced account of Barack’s faith addressing the many questions and concerns people have about Barack’s life and faith.
Knowing a candidate’s faith is essential. According to Mansfield, the book is written in the belief “that if a man’s faith is sincere, it is the most important thing about him, and that it is impossible to understand who he is and how he will lead without first understanding the religious vision that informs his life.”
Barack’s story of faith isn’t typical of the American experience. For instance, if Barack ascends to the presidency he will be the first American president to do so having not been raised in a Christian home. Instead, he spent his early years under the influence of an atheist mother, a step-father’s folk Islam, praying at the feet of a Catholic Jesus, and influenced with a humanist’s understanding of the world that sees religion merely as a man-made thing.
In Barack’s adult life, his spiritual journey toward Christianity also defies pattern and refuses to fit in a clean theological box, although his coming to faith typifies the pattern and process that many Americans have journeyed. He came to faith not so much to join a religious tradition, but rather to find belonging among a people. In Barack’s memoir, Audacity of Hope, he describes his religious conversion as such: “it came about as a choice and not an epiphany; the questions I had did not magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.”
Barack’s beliefs are tailored to and reflect the diverse religious experience of America. For Barack, “Christianity is but one religious tree rooted in the common ethical soil of all human experience.”
Within the book, Mansfield effectively addresses the lingering questions of Barack’s brush with Islam and whether or not he is a secret Muslim. Mansfield’s answer is a unequivocal NO. Also Mansfield dissects and seeks to understand the religious soil of Trinity United Church of Christ and Jeremiah Wright, the environment where Barack’s faith first took root. Mansfield discovered from first hand experience that Trinity’s a mixture of both good and bad. According to Mansfield, his experience transcended more than just the couple of Jeremiah Wright bombastic video clips on YouTube that have come to define the religious culture at Trinity.
Barack not only forged and developed his faith during his adult years, but he also allowed his faith to intersect with his political life. What became distinct of Barack Obama was that he unapologetically brought his faith into the public square and within Democratic politics. Mansfield writes about Obama’s speech to Jim Wallis’s progressive Sojourners organization, “With the speech’s tone of moderation, its welcome of faith into the public square, and yet its insistence that people of faith conduct themselves in public debate according to democratic values, it became what Obama had intended: a call to reform, a redefinition of religion’s role in American political life. Soon, his words were debated on cable news programs, heard by tens of thousands on YouTube, and argued fiercely on Web sites from every political perspective.”
Mansfield’s book takes a fair and balanced tone to the discussion of Barack’s faith. Mansfield is honest with some of the lingering questions and concerns that still swirl around Barack, especially concerning Barack’s view of abortion and his voting record on partial birth abortion.
As you take the time examine both candidates this election year, I would encourage you to pick of a copy of The Faith of Barack Obama, and take the time to get to know a facet of a man that you may have not have already known.
Sounds like an interesting book—thanks for the review. I would however question what you point out is a central tenet of Mansfield’s purpose, namely that “knowing a candidate’s faith is essential.”
So far as I can tell, while the intricacies of one’s ideologies and worldview do shape the way one acts and interacts with the world around, those ideologies often have little to do with faith.
After all, there being one faith, hope, and baptism, I obviously share the same faith with you and with Rich and with Ben and with Alan and perhaps even with Bush and Obama. Yet, our styles of governing would be far different. I might even be horrified by the different things that other believers might do, despite our sharing the same faith.
This is because our ideologies inform our actions and ethics more readily than our faith does. For certain, our ideologies are shaped to some degree by the faith to which we hold, but sharing a faith does little to dictate these ideals and even our general worldview.
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