PRUDEN: The lonely lives of fruit inspectors

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

 

You don’t have to be a “mainline” Christian cleric who preaches to empty pews to think the angry skepticism of Barack Obama’s faith has gone a rant too far. But it helps.

A group of these clergypersons got together this week to sign a letter to their congregations and whoever else might read it to stop “misrepresenting” the president’s faith. Brave as these worthies are, they can’t quite say what it is, exactly, they object to, since to say it plain might offend the followers of Muhammad. But they’re talking about the claim that the president is a secret or not-so-secret Muslim. (At this point the politically correct thing to say is, “not there’s anything wrong with that.”) One recent poll suggests that one in five Americans say Mecca is where the president’s heart is.

“As Christian leaders whose primary responsibility is sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with our congregations, our communities and our world,” the clergypersons wrote, “we are deeply troubled by the recent questioning of President Obama’s faith. We understand that these are contentious times, but the personal faith of our leaders should not be up for public debate.”

Well, almost. The right of a president to believe anything he pleases should not be up for public debate, but any president understands, or learns to his pain, that the people he asked to elect him are entitled to ask anything and everything. Boxers or briefs, girlfriends or golf scores, paper or plastic. There are no dumb questions, only dumb answers. The debate over Mr. Obama’s faith is not even unprecedented. Many of our presidents left questions about their faith unanswered, even whether they had any.

Several of our most revered founding fathers professed a lack of faith that should disappoint some of Mr. Obama’s severest religious critics. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and Abraham Lincoln, for examples, held Jesus Christ in reverence but not in sovereign majesty as the Son of God. John Quincy Adams was a founding member of the First Unitarian Church in Washington but preferred Presbyterian and Episcopal sermons. He called himself “a church-going animal.” But at the end of his life he wrote to a friend: “I reverence God as my creator. As creator of the world. I reverence him with holy fear. I venerate Jesus Christ as my redeemer; and as far as I can understand, the redeemer of the world. But this belief is dark and dubious.”

Mr. Obama, on the other hand, has offered testimony to his Christian faith that could pass muster at an evangelical prayer meeting, where believers are often invited to “give your testimony.” To an interviewer from Christianity Today magazine only two years ago, Mr. Obama spoke of his most intimate beliefs and how he came to hold them: “I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life. But most importantly, I believe in the example that Jesus set by feeding the hungry and healing the sick and always prioritizing the least of these over the powerful. I didn’t ‘fall out in church,’ as they say, but there was a very strong awakening in me of the importance of these issues in my life. I didn’t want to walk alone on this journey. Accepting Jesus Christ in my life has been a powerful guide for my conduct, my values and my ideals.”

Many believers, passing lightly over Christ’s admonition not to judge others lest they be judged, but eagerly embracing the Scripture that a tree is known by the fruit it bears, are ready to become fruit inspectors. They think some of the fruit is strange indeed. Exhibit No. 1 is Mr. Obama’s affiliation with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright in Chicago, where the president sat in the pew of Trinity United Church of Christ for 20 years listening to the pastor’s rants against white folks, Jews and his native land. Exhibit No. 2 is the president’s obsession with abasing himself, and the people who elected him, with craven apologies to the Islamic world for sins he imagines America to be guilty of.

However, he has offered an eloquent description of his faith, which is neither dark nor dubious. There are enough arguments over politics, policy and the alien agenda for changing America to keep us busy from now until Nov. 6, 2012. Weighing Mr. Obama’s job performance is right and proper, but measuring his faith is God’s business, and God doesn’t need any help from us.

  • Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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