To the religious right, the president's faith doesn't matter

How does the religious right manage to say that President Obama is anti-Christian and opposed to religion even though he talks openly about his conversion to Christianity, exhibits a strong family life and thinks out loud about the implications of faith in public policy?

Evidently, it all depends on your "world-view."

Molly Worthen of the University of Toronto reflects on the current meme that the President is hostile to religion and religious freedom.

This obsession with “worldviews” has been a favorite tactic of the Christian right. In the 1970s, Francis Schaeffer and other activists taught evangelicals to organize against the “secular humanist worldview” that was denaturing America’s Christian values in an acid bath of “humanist religion,” “an exclusivist, closed system which shuts out all contending viewpoints” (that’s the “phony theology” that Santorum was talking about).

Schaeffer’s admirers often note that he defends religious freedom in his 1981 book, “A Christian Manifesto.” But after Schaeffer called for “general religious freedom” for all faiths, he went on to lament the left’s manipulation of the First Amendment to encourage a “new concept of pluralism” in which “there is no right or wrong; it is just a matter of your personal preference.”

To recover America’s biblical foundation, Christians had to “do battle on the entire front:” not just in church, but in the courts, classrooms, outside abortion clinics and everywhere else, Schaeffer wrote. The emerging Christian right asserted that this was the true meaning of “religious freedom” in America: freedom to institutionalize Christian dogma in American society and law. Freedom of religion — a phrase that sounds at first blush like a bipartisan nod to our common political heritage — is a weapon of culture war.

Slogans like this have political power. Voters on both the right and the left have little sympathy for politicians who reason through problems and recognize ambiguity (conservatives won’t forgive Romney for his honest struggles with the abortion issue, and Obama faces liberal wrath for his nuanced approach to economic recovery). Wonkish debates are boring and complicated, and not very good for separating the sheep from the goats. What matters are your “presuppositions,” your “worldview.”

Conservatives’ accusations that Obama disrespects religious freedom have little to do with the White House’s actual policy: his administration has a strong track record in supporting faith-based organizations and ensuring that prisoners have access to religious literature, for example. They have everything to do with resurrecting old challenges to the president’s legitimacy and framing the 2012 campaign as a battle between honest Christian Americans and atheist subversives. “Enemy of religious freedom” is shorthand for a deceiver who is not one of us: in Gingrich’s words, one who “played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president.”

Comments (4)

It may be that even to address this question fuels the conservative agenda, gives them power and takes us off-topic from the real problems we face at this time. I am amazed that the president can even think with all the yelling and screaming going on all around him. Yet in spite of all the ugliness, he's managed to inch us forward in spite of the recession (which he did not create), the wars (which he did not create), with the oil situation (which he did not create). In this president we have a gentleman, a calm presence in the midst of a storm, someone who is clear and thoughtful, and who is more openly faith-full than most of the presidents since Jimmy Carter. Obama's faith is obviously not the faith of the Christian Right and therein lies the problem: a small segment of our population does not acknowledge anyone else's beliefs unless they mirror their own and frankly that's not very American.

Conservative Christians, Catholic and Protestant, essentially recognize each other via their socio-political dogma.

Issues re baptism (infant or believer's?), or holy communion (symbolic or Real Presence---and if the latter, how?), ordained ministry (male---but celibate or {opposite!} married?), and even authority (Papal or synodical) all fade into the background. What is UBER-IMPORTANT is (publically acknowledged) opposition to abortion (inc. some forms of contraception, and embryonic stemcell research) and opposition to same-sex marriage (increasingly, memes re "religious liberty" regarding hegemony of the first two in the public square).

LACKING those socio-political signifiers, one should expect to be dismissed as "not a real Christian" [or "gone from the world of Christianity", per Rick Santorum].

JC Fisher

"a small segment of our population does not acknowledge anyone else's beliefs unless they mirror their own..."

You've nailed it there, Peter. And when has THAT situation ever ended well?

Unfortunately, the president has allowed himself to be cowed into not having a visible worship life after the attacks on his pastor in Chicago, which then allows those on the right who DO have a visible membership in a church to continue the stiry that he is either hostile to religion or a crypto-Muslim (which would be the same thing to these people at best).

At its most basic yet vital level, this is about a major cultural war over the core values of Christianity and then living out those precepts. The values espoused by those on the right makes Christianity about destroying your enemies, about enforcing their beliefs on others in the name of their own "freedom," and the idolization of individualism while evincing absolutely no obligation to the poor or to the creation of God save how both of these can be used to enrich themsleves. Nowhere do we see true discipleship, love for others, care for the poor, or stewardship over creation, to name just a few Biblical commands, but boy, do we hear about abortion and birth control and the evils of homosexuals, which has no mention in Jesus' statements.

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