Is Obama Afraid of the J-Word?
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
According to a new national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 11 percent of Americans still believe President Barack Obama is a Muslim. Seven percent of Democrats believe it. And nearly 20 percent of evangelicals do.
What I find fascinating is that the same study shows only 55 percent of Democrats know or believe Obama is a Christian, even after Obama spent nearly two years on the presidential campaign trail spouting his views and beliefs on everything under the sun.
Moreover, about 1 in 3 people don't have any idea what his religious convictions are. Should the percentages be that high? Religion might be a private choice, but should it be a secret one, too, even for leaders?
While those stats say something about Obama's neutrality and respect for representing our nation's religious melting pot, they also say something about the politically correct climate across our land, in which people are afraid to stand up for their convictions so as not to be branded as intolerant or bigots. We have become a nation that fears opinion. Even Holy Week, once celebrated in the corridors of the Capitol, is now a clandestine commemoration full of holy hesitations.
America's Founders built this nation upon religious freedom. They valued denominational pluralism. They were unified in their diversity. They all believed in a Creator. And they were almost all vocal about their Christian beliefs. They certainly weren't ashamed. And neither should we be, especially during this week.
I believe in God, just as our Founders did. As Benjamin Franklin noted in his 1787 pamphlet for those in Europe thinking of relocating to America: "To this may be truly added, that serious religion, under its various denominations, is not only tolerated but respected and practiced. Atheism is unknown there."
I also believe in the First Amendment, which reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The American Civil Liberties Union and like-minded groups are not preserving First Amendment rights; they are perverting the meaning of the Establishment Clause (which was to prevent the creation of a national church, such as the Church of England) to deny the Free Exercise Clause (which preserves our right to worship as we want, privately and publicly). Both clauses were intended to safeguard religious liberty, not to circumscribe its practice. The Framers were seeking to guarantee a freedom of religion, not a freedom from religion.
I agree with John Jay -- the first chief justice of the United States, appointed by George Washington -- who wrote to Jedidiah Morse Feb. 28, 1797 (the same year the Treaty of Tripoli was ratified): "Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers. And it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers." I believe that we should not fear religious diversity, but we never should forget we were born a Christian nation.
Under Article VI, Section 3 of the new Constitution, denominational tests for public office were prohibited, but the idea that Judeo-Christian ideas and practices must be kept separate from government would have struck our Founders as ridiculous because the very basis for the Founders' ideas were rights that were endowed upon all of us by our Creator.
Many may not realize there was an active clergyman (Presbyterian minister John Witherspoon) among the signers of the Declaration of Independence. And two others had been ministers previously. Others were sons of clergymen. Virtually all were Protestants.
Even signers of the Constitution included Abraham Baldwin, a minister. Others had studied religion but never were ordained. And again, most signers of the Constitution were also Protestants. Two, Charles Carroll and Thomas Fitzsimons, were Roman Catholics.
I, too, respect all religions but adhere to one. I believe what Benjamin Rush -- a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a member of the presidential administrations of Adams, Jefferson and Madison -- wrote: "Such is my veneration for every religion that reveals the attributes of the Deity, or a future state of rewards and punishments, that I had rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mohammed inculcated upon our youth, than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles. But the religion I mean to recommend in this place is that of the New Testament."
Like George Washington, I don't believe we can maintain morality and civility apart from a religious foundation: "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. … Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
Mostly, I believe in the collection of beliefs stated so poetically in the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and buried; he descended to the grave: the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from where he will come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy Christian church; the fellowship of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and eternal life. Amen."
No Holy Week hesitations here. His name is Jesus, and I believe he was born into this world to die for the sins of mankind, that whosoever believes in him shall have eternal life -- just as I chose to do decades ago at a Billy Graham crusade in Los Angeles.
Is Obama afraid of the word "Jesus"? I'm not, and maybe that's where my heart and mind should dwell during this period, in which 1 billion people around the world are commemorating his Via Dolorosa. Rather than asking what we believe about Obama's religion, maybe we should be answering what we believe about ours.
Whatever your religious persuasion, don't be ashamed of it. And don't hesitate to let others know where you stand, but do so with respect. This is America. And that's one of the things that still make us a great nation. In God we trust.
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