Obama Faith Moments: Faithfulness vs. Faithiness

Readers question whether Obama's faith is real—or deeper than other recent presidents.


By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

Lots of comments about U.S. News's new gallery of 10 Top Obama "Faith Moments," and most aren't kind. Many of you think it's unfair to credit Obama for having greater faith than recent presidents, from Carter to Reagan to Clinton to George W. Bush (which, as I explain below, I didn't do). Even more of you question the legitimacy of Obama's purported faith, given his liberal positions.

Regarding the first charge, one reader writes:

Surely the past few presidents have expressed faith in a real and positive way. I cannot understand how you could make such an opening statement in your article. President Obama's faith may or may not be real but surely is not representative of greater faith than Reagan, Clinton, Carter, Bush 1, Ford, and Bush 2 expressed during their presidential terms.

I never said Obama had a greater faith than recent presidents. I only said that he had embraced it in a more visible way. To wit: opening events with public prayers, convening a council of faith advisers, expanding George W. Bush's office of faith-based initiatives, etc.

I'm talking about what I call "faithiness"—the symbolic expression and embrace of faith—as opposed to faithfulness, which is not for me to judge.

I talked recently with William Martin, a religion and politics scholar at Rice University who has studied modern presidencies' use of religion more thoroughly than perhaps anyone. He told me, "It has been the case from Reagan onward that [faith's role] in the White House is less substantive than symbolic." Has there been another recent president who's given faith the kind of visible platform that Obama has? If you think so, make your case in comments.

The second major theme of comments in the gallery is the allegation that Obama's faith is a farce. As one reader writes puts it:

His faith is as phony as teleprompter.

I find it hard to believe that so many people buy that line.

Obama has written at length about coming to Christianity in the 1980s and the huge role it played in his life. He titled one of the two books he has authored after a sermon that his longtime pastor wrote. His association with his pastor was Obama's single biggest stumbling block to winning the Democratic nomination last year. And people still need more evidence that he's genuinely faithful?

Folks on the left sometimes do the same thing when I write about politically conservative Christian figures—they go beyond differing with the figure's political views to questioning whether that person is "truly" Christian. I think it's a cheap and offensive line of attack, no matter which side it comes from.