Barack Obama’s remarks at yesterday’s Easter Prayer Breakfast at the White House represent an extraordinary expression of religious faith by a sitting president speaking on the record. So far as I know, no recent president–including evangelicals Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush–ever addressed an audience in the White House as “brothers and sisters in Christ,” and went on to speak of grace and redemption “by faith in Jesus Christ.” Indeed, I’d be interested in learning whether any president in history was ever moved to give such testimony while in office.
In part, Obama only did what African-American church folk do when they talk about their religion in public. Complex as his religious background is, his Christian witness was formed in the black church. But one can’t overlook the possibility that the president was impelled by the persistent conviction of a significant number of Americans that he is not really a Christian at all. This issue was addressed by one of the attendees, Houston megachurch pastor and presidential spiritual adviser Kirbyjon Caldwell, speaking to RNS’s Daniel Burke:
For those who are wondering or have doubts about whether he is
authentically Christian, I think today’s message puts all doubts to
rest…Never in modern history has a president said: “I am a Christian,” and
others said, “No, you’re not,”
As the birthers have proved, doubts about Obama are not so easy to put to rest. In the meantime, presidential religion marches on.