Thomas concludes that Obama is not really a Christian. He says, "Obama can call himself anything he likes, but there is a clear requirement for one to qualify as a Christian, and Obama doesn't meet that requirement."And these final paragraphs sum it up for me.
This puzzles me. When I asked Obama to describe himself spiritually, he said he was a Christian, that he has a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ," and that he believes Jesus was an actual man (a "historical figure," is how he put it) who is "a bridge between God and man . . . and one that I think is powerful precisely because he serves as that means of us reaching something higher."
What I think stuck in Thomas' craw was Obama's elaboration when I asked him whether he was a "born-again Christian." He said, "Yeah, although . . . I retain from my childhood and my experiences growing up a suspicion of dogma. And I'm not somebody who is always comfortable with that language that implies I've got a monopoly on the truth, or that my faith is automatically transferable to others."
Thomas singled out another of Obama's answers as an indication of his falling short of Christian orthodoxy when he said, "The difficult thing about any religion, including Christianity, is that at some level there is a call to evangelize and proselytize. There's the belief, certainly in some quarters, that if people haven't embraced Jesus Christ as their personal savior, they're going to hell."
It's fascinating to me how two people can hear or read the same thing and come away with diametrically different interpretations. I sat with Obama and listened to him talk about his faith and came away believing that he is very much a genuine Christian believer.
Someone once said to me that trying to prove you're a Christian is like trying to prove you're not a pedophile. You can't "prove" it. It's a matter of faith, not (political) science.
I asked Scot McKnight, a professor at North Park University and author of, among many titles, The Jesus Creed, to answer the question: What is a Christian?
"A Christian is a person who trusts in the redemptive work of God in Christ and seeks to live that out," McKnight said. "I do believe that there is an existential relationship with God that transcends even what we say."
Though Jesus never uses the word "Christian" in the biblical accounts, he answered the question many different ways, which can be summarized as, simply: "Believe in me. Follow me. Abide in me."
Obama says he believes, abides and is trying to follow Jesus.
He's a humble believer and doesn't want to give the impression that he has the corner on truth. I respect that, although it makes fielding questions about his faith more complicated and provocative.
It is dangerous to try to judge the quality of a man's faith. That is God's purview, not ours.