Friday, February 4, 2011

The Faith of the President

Recently I had heard that President Barack Obama made a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast regarding his personal faith. While searching online for the transcript of the speech, I came across an article which said the following:
It’s been more than two years since President Barack Obama took office and yet there are widespread misconceptions about him. Chief among these: Despite his clear identification as a Christian (as evidenced by his membership to Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and his tumultuous relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright), many believe that our president is a Muslim. [source; emphasis in original]
A transcript of the entire speech itself can be found here, from CNN's website.

Now, I am not going to debate whether or not the president is a Muslim, but what I do want to review is whether or not he has truly accepted Christ. The author of the previously quoted article stated that the president must be Christian, as he attended Trinity United Church of Christ and had an ongoing relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Of course, herein lies a problem: simply attending a building with the word "church" in the title, or simply known someone in the position of "pastor," does not make you a Christian.

Trinity United Church of Christ is itself a member of the wider United Church of Christ. This church ordains openly gay pastors and supports homosexual marriage (they even boast about it on their website), all of which directly contradicts scriptural teachings. Christ Himself identified marriage as being between a man and a woman (Matt 19:4-5) and homosexual activity is condemned in various parts of scripture (Lev 18:22; Rom 1:26-27). The United Church of Christ likewise said in an interfaith document (source) that Christians and Muslims share "worship of the same God," as well as "a common tradition of revelation through God's prophets as told in sacred scripture," both of which are clearly and undeniably false (I touched on the subject in greater detail here). All in all, the United Church of Christ does not seem to adhere to the words of scripture or the commands of God - in fact, it seems to abandon both for the name of being relative and appealing to the world rather than to the Lord. It therefore cannot be considered an orthodox Christian church.

As for Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his language and demeanor were seen ad nauseum during the 2008 elections, so I don't think I need to talk about that too much. There are passages of scripture which speak of the error in using the Lord's name alongside profane language (James 3:10), as well as passages which identify the deeds of the flesh (Gal 5:19-21) in contrast to the fruit of the spirit (Gal 5:22-23), the former list being more in line with what Wright preaches behind the pulpit. Whatever is driving Mr. Wright to preach, it is not the Spirit of God, and therefore one cannot say that someone is a Christian because they are a follower of Wright.

Of course, most of this is in the president's past, and it's possible for man to have changed. In regards to the president's testimony at the National Prayer Breakfast, as I read I noticed that there didn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary. Indeed, the president declares that shortly after college: "I came to know Jesus Christ for myself and embrace Him as my lord and savior." He also states: "My Christian faith then has been a sustaining force for me over these last few years." Near the end he even says:
When I wake in the morning, I wait on the Lord, and I ask Him to give me the strength to do right by our country and its people. And when I go to bed at night I wait on the Lord, and I ask Him to forgive me my sins, and look after my family and the American people, and make me an instrument of His will.
The phrase "I ask Him to forgive me my sins" interested me, and one thing I couldn't help but notice overall in the speech is that sin seemed to play a relaxed part. Yes, the president talked of his complete reliance upon God and spoke of how his faith is important, all of which are certainly vital. Yet what merit is there of a savior if we do not emphasize the very thing from which we needed saving? The truth is that the president's definition of "sin" needs to be analyzed, and later on in this post we will find out just what it is.

One comment that perhaps stood out for me the most:
Fortunately, I'm not alone in my prayers. Pastor friends like Joel Hunter and T.D. Jakes come over to the Oval Office every once in a while to pray with me and pray for the nation. [emphasis mine]
T.D. Jakes? Of the Word of Faith, Health and Wealth, Trinity Broadcasting Network T.D. Jakes? The T.D. Jakes who associates with other Word of Faith preachers such as Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Paula White and Creflo Dollar? You mean the heretical T.D. Jakes? He's a "pastor friend" of the president that comes over to pray with him "every once in a while"?

At the risk of sounding judgmental, this does not sound like the president learned anything from his fellowship with Jeremiah Wright. The apostle John warned us:
Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds. [2 John 1:9-11; NASB]
The president not only allows a false teacher into his house, and not only gives him a greeting, but prays with him. He engages in spiritual fellowship with a false teacher, something scripture warns us not to do. We are even told that if we do so, we are considered equals with the person's evil deeds.

Despite this, the speech might overall sound innocent to the average person. Yet I couldn't help but feel there was something under the surface. It is not that I especially dislike Barack Obama personally, but I recognize that politicians, by and large, often give us much rhetoric and little substance. I couldn't help but think: isn't this president calling himself "Christian" the same president who is supporting homosexual activity and abortion? Sometimes, there is something deeper to a person's theology that is more caught than taught.

What I found was that, in an earlier interview, Obama had downplayed his faith...and, in essence taught universalism:
I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people. [source]
Many paths to the same place? Is that why Christ said, "No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6)? That those who deny Him before men will be denied before the Father (Matt 10:33)? The apostle Peter outlined: "there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Many paths to the same place? Scripture clearly teaches us otherwise!

In the same interview, when asked if he believed that those who do not accept Christ will go to hell, Obama replied:
I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell.

I can't imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity.

That's just not part of my religious makeup. [ibid]
"Not part of my religious makeup"...since when do our personal beliefs trump the teachings of scripture? "My God"? One can only ask the blunt question, "Just who is your God, Mr. Obama?" If it is not the God of scripture, then it is not the one true God, and we are clearly instructed that "you shall not follow other gods" (Deut 6:14). This is idolatry - perhaps idolatry without statues and incense, but idolatry nonetheless, for it is such idolatry in which we worship a god of our own mind.

When asked if he believed in heaven, Obama replied:
What I believe in is that if I live my life as well as I can, that I will be rewarded. I don't presume to have knowledge of what happens after I die. But I feel very strongly that whether the reward is in the here and now or in the hereafter, the aligning myself to my faith and my values is a good thing. [ibid]
One can only imagine how the president intends to live his life as well as he can. For we are told "whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all" (James 2:10). We are also told "by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight" (Rom 3:20) and "no one is justified by the Law before God" (Gal 3:11). This idea of "I do this, then I'll be rewarded" is a very works-based minded opinion of heaven and eternal reward, something very foreign from the gospel of scripture. Where can one fit room for grace and Christ if I just need to "live my life as well as I can"?

This brings us to the most important part. Obama was then asked if he believed in sin, and he said yes. Remember that earlier I had mentioned the complete lack of mention in sin within the president's testimony. What is Obama's definition of sin?
Being out of alignment with my values. [ibid]
My head spun at this comment. Sin is "being out of alignment with my values"? Is it our values that we are told to live up to? Is this what sin is? The people of the old covenant had been told: "You should diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and His testimonies and His statutes which He has commanded you" (Deut 6:17). The Psalmist wrote to God: "How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word" (Psalm 119:9), and likewise, "Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You" (Psalm 119:11). We are sinning when we act against God's word; we are not sinning when we are in accordance with God's word.

I am, again and again, always reminded of King David who lusted after a married woman and had her husband killed off so that he could marry her. Yet when David repented, what did he say? That he was untrue to his values? No, he said: "Against You, You only, I have sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight..." (Psalm 51:4). A sin is a transgression against God and His commands, not our personal values and opinions. Sinning is not being untrue to ourselves, but our Lord God. To hold our personal values higher than God's values (or to make the two equal) is to put ourselves higher or equal with God.

When asked what happens if you sin, Obama replied:
I think it's the same thing as the question about heaven. In the same way that if I'm true to myself and my faith that that is its own reward, when I'm not true to it, it's its own punishment. [ibid]
This sounds remarkably like the Emergent Church crowd, who believe that "hell" and "heaven" refer to how we make the earth in the here and now - in other words, if we help society we make it (figuratively) heaven, if we don't help society we make it (figuratively) hell. Note again the emphasis on ourselves: hell only comes about if we're not true to ourselves - again, is that the emphasis found in scripture?

When asked when it is that he feels "the most aligned spiritually," Obama replied:
I think I already described it. It's when I'm being true to myself. And that can happen in me making a speech or it can happen in me playing with my kids, or it can happen in a small interaction with a security guard in a building when I'm recognizing them and exchanging a good word. [ibid; emphasis mine]
The closest he feels most aligned spiritually is when he's being true to himself? And this involves things he personally does? One can't help but notice that in the president's explanation of his spirituality, there is a constant direction towards himself. In a testimony before faith leaders there is a half-hearted attempt to show his reliance on God, but in a previous interview Obama makes it clear that his spirituality is much more vague and is entirely man-centered, with sprinklings of Christian terminology mixed in. In responding to critics of his faith, Obama made the remark, "Folks haven't been reading their bibles" (source). Unfortunately, I think it's clear that the only person who hasn't seriously read their bible is Mr. Obama himself.

I know that some reading this might immediately label me a Tea Partier, a Republican, a right-wing nut, etc. Personally, I do not care. Those who know me personally know that I'm fairly apathetic in regards to political parties and personalities, and that I have just as much to say about those on the right as those on the left. However, in times like these, when public figures begin to put on the hat of religion - especially when they are claiming to be followers of Christ - we have to be discerning. It is too common that, when someone makes a proclamation of faith, that those on both sides of the spectrum declare, "Hurrah, he's one of us!" or "That's so sweet, I appreciate that!" We are commanded to "examine everything carefully" (1 Thess 5:21), and if someone makes a claim to have come to know Christ they should bear some sign that they have done so. "If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness," the apostle John wrote, "we lie and do not practice the truth" (1 John 1:6).

It is so common these days to treat our faith the same way we treat our political ideologies, and this is where many stumble. They assume that faith is simply a matter of personal opinion, and that to be saved is to live by their personal values. That, however, is not the case - for everyone, by their own personal opinion, is justified. As the apostle Paul wrote: "if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged" (1 Cor 11:31). Yet Christ is "judge the living and the dead" (2 Tim 4:1), and "God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus" (Rom 2:16). If we have saving faith in Christ as the judge of our souls and the master of our being, then we "have died" and our life "is hidden with Christ in God," and "when Christ, who is our life, is revealed," then we will also "be revealed with Him in glory" (Col 3:3-4).

We are not justified by ourselves; we are justified as a gift from God through faith in Christ. I pray that all men - from the president to the janitor - have a chance to seriously ponder this, and, by God's will, be saved. The last word shall go to the apostle Paul:
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe... [Rom 3:21-22]