By Elizabeth Tenety
Like millions of Americans, President Obama and his family attended church this weekend. Unlike the millions who worshiped this Sunday, the first family’s religious behavior was then scrutinized by the public and the press.
Some press reports characterized the president’s attendance at the service, held at the base chapel at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, as ‘rare,’ although the Obamas, like George W. Bush and his family, attend services at Camp David.
(Michelle and President Obama leave Easter worship services at St. John’s Episcopal Church near the White House in Washington.)
The president’s religious beliefs and behavior have been the subject of enormous scrutiny and misinformation. The campaign outcry over his controversial Chicago pastor Jeremiah Wright led the Obamas to avoid hitching their spiritual horse to a single religious leader. But, perhaps as a result of going underground with their faith, the public is largely unable to identify the president’s religion: In a recent Pew poll, only one-in-three Americans reported that they believe the president is a Christian and one-in-five believe he is a Muslim.
Today, some White House watchers see Obama’s recent displays of faith as part of a strategy to more clearly communicate what he believes to a skeptical public.
Religion News Service’s Adelle Banks’ story titled “Obama, in shadow of worrisome polls, embraces `Christian’ label” details several recent instances where the president’s behavior and language describing his faith has been “more open, more personal” than before. From Banks’ report:
When President Obama lit the National Christmas Tree behind the White House last year, he spoke of a “child born far from home” and said “while this story may be a Christian one, its lesson is universal.”
This year, Obama referenced that same “child born far from home,” but added a more personal twist: “It’s a story that’s dear to Michelle and me as Christians.”
Three days later, at a Christmas benefit concert, the president again talked about how the story of Christmas “guides my Christian faith.”
In September, when asked why he is a Christian at a campaign event in New Mexico, the president responded by calling himself a “Christian by choice” and gave a personal testimony to the crowd (and gathered reporters):
“Understanding that Jesus Christ dying for my sins spoke to the humility we all have to have as human beings, that we’re sinful and we’re flawed, we make mistakes . . . And that we achieve salvation through the grace of God.”
In reading his more recent comments, do you think that President Obama is changing his public approach to his faith? Should his religion matter?
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Panel question: Obama’s Muslim dilemma