The fact that Barack Obama is a presidential candidate puts a little higher profile, than might normally exist, on the topic of his understanding of religion. But that is not really the most important matter at hand. The thing that is even more critical is that his point of view is so prominent among a very large segment of American culture. While it is good to know what our presidential candidates believe, it is even more critical to have our finger on the pulse of society in general. And since Obama is such an eloquent spokesman on this particular topic, we will use his explanation of religious belief as a means of understanding a larger range of belief.
Not too long back, Barack Obama lashed out at Dr. James Dobson because of some comments that Dr. Dobson made about him. He actually accused Dr. Dobson of “making stuff up.” Dr. Dobson then retorted that he had made nothing up, and that he was actually responding to a speech that Obama himself had given in 2006 painting a false picture of Dobson’s beliefs.
As it turns out, the text and video of the original speech that Obama gave is available on the internet for anyone to view. Going through the speech piece by piece, it is possible to hear Obama’s understanding of religion and its role from his own mouth. (You can hear this for yourself at http://www.citizenlink.org/content/A000007770.cfm.)
The speech was given to an organization called “Call to Renewal” on June 28, 2006 (the organization has since changed its name to Sojourners). This was part of a conference called “Covenant for a New America.” The organization claims to be a faith based group, and its mission is to articulate the Biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world. It is primarily supported by the black community with an emphasis on social justice in this world, rather than focusing on the eternal elements of faith.
The following are some of the key points which Obama made in his speech.
- Obama specifically gives support to homosexuals and to abortion. He claims that he does not personally support their agendas, but he does not feel that he can “impose” his religious beliefs on others. Thus, he will not oppose those particular agendas in the political arena.
- The Bible is not authoritative. One person’s interpretation is as good as another.
- He was specifically drawn to participation in the black church because of its power to create social change (in the temporal world).
- Faith is an agent for hope in the world. His focus in this regard is strictly on temporal matters rather than eternal.
- The main problems in the world are temporal matters: racism, poverty, etc.
- Religious people don’t have a monopoly on morality. Secular morality is equivalent to the religious, and secular people need to bring their morality to the table where it should be fully accepted.
- Social change in this world is the most important purpose of religion.
- We need morality in our political debate. (He doesn’t acknowledge, however, any objective basis for morality. One person’s moral beliefs are as good as another’s.)
He goes on to list three ground rules which need to be acknowledged between religious and secular people.
1. Separation of church and state. By this, he explains that we must not mingle government and religion – that is, we must not allow religious belief to affect the secular arena. He states that we are no longer a Christian nation and we must include everyone. He goes on to share that even if we were all Christian, we would have to fight over which version of Christianity we would use.
2. Democracy demands that religiously motivated people translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion specific, values. He explains that this means we can’t use religion to argue for Christian values – since he believes that there is no objectively true set of values and no objective truth. Because of that, we must be willing to compromise our values with non-Christians when it comes to public policy.
3. Any reconciliation between faith and democratic pluralism requires some sense of proportion. What he means here is that we have to discern between what is central to the faith and what is culturally derived, and be willing to compromise our positions. Interestingly, religious values are considered to be culturally derived.
As we look at Obama’s religious point of view, it quickly becomes evident that he is a relativist and a pluralist. Basically, rather than acknowledging an objective set of truths and values which are given by God, he believes that there is no such thing as objective truth, and that the people in society have to negotiate with each other to come up with a set of moral values that everyone can live with. This ultimately takes morality to the lowest common denominator in that we cannot accept any moral value which someone else disagrees with. For Christians, this means we must to be willing to compromise every belief that non-Christians would not agree with.
Where Does this Point of View Come From?
Barack Obama is very adamant that he is a Christian. He joined a Christian church and has been a member there for over twenty years. But the really important question is: What really makes a person a Christian? Is it calling yourself one, or is there some objective standard which determines it?
In fact, there is an objective criteria. Just because a person self-identifies as a Christian does not mean he or she really is one. Jesus was very clear on this point in Matthew 7:21when he said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (NIV). And in the case of determining who is a real Christian, “doing the will of my Father” means that a person has entered into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Being a Christian is not simply a matter of being a member of a church which self-identifies with Jesus. It is having a personal relationship with God.
Obama identifies his Christian faith through his church, not through his relationship with God. To him, serving mankind, based on his personal understanding of what that means, is made to be equivalent to serving God. This approach to understanding faith is actually straight out of Naturalism, not out of the Bible.
This is particularly evident as you evaluate the theology of his church. Black Liberation Theology is based on socialist economic and social principles. Evil in the world is not seen to be a spiritual concept, but rather the worldly expression of prejudice and oppression. The key to solving it, then, is not to seek God, but to solve the problems of society as they see them.
We must be clear at this point. It is not that Obama does not believe in God. However, the God he believes in is not the one described in the Bible. As such, God is not seen to be a person who has revealed objective truth. The result is that truth is considered to be relative based on the needs of society (as understood by the ones creating the agenda). While this is not pure Naturalism which completely denies the existence of anything supernatural, the concept of relativism as it is applied to morality is borrowed from Naturalism.
How Should Christians Consider this Point of View?
So, as Christians, how should we consider this information. First of all, this is not a political issue. Sure it has political implications as people who hold these views serve in political office. A relativistic understanding of religion will play out in the policies that a president Obama would implement.
But it also has implications in the workplace, in our educational institutions, in the media, in the entertainment industry and in every other part of life. We need to understand that this is not simply a problem with Obama. It is part of the very fabric of the society we live in.
This entire approach to life is one hundred and eighty degrees contrary to the Christian worldview. Our Christian faith teaches us the there is an objective personal God who has a will concerning morality and who has shared that will with us in a definitive and concrete way. There is such a thing as right and wrong and God is that one who defines it, not ourselves.
Additionally, it is not this physical world and its social and economic problems which are the most important issues in life, as important as they are. The most important thing relates to whether or not individuals establish a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This spiritual dynamic is foundational to life, not the physical.
As Christians, we need to be active in countering the spiritual and moral relativism which is so prominent in our society, and share the true gospel that Jesus is the Christ, that God is personal, and that we can know God and overcome evil by our relationship with him.
But in order to do this, we must take ourselves to a higher level in our faith life than we currently are. And this must happen not only on a personal, individual level, but must begin to take hold of all of us as the body of Christ. This will not happen simply by believing in the Bible and having Jesus in our hearts. We not only have to know what we believe, but why we believe it. It is this “why” element that is so missing in the Christian community. We simply will not be able to counter the relativism which is so prominent in society until we know why it is wrong and why our belief in an objective God who has revealed an objective morality is right.
At this point, you need to be encouraged to begin gaining an intensive understanding of worldview – what it is, what the possibilities are and why the worldview revealed in the Bible is the truth. In doing this, you will put yourself in a position to be effective in countering the societal corruption that relativist religion represents.
© 2008 Freddy Davis