While I don’t normally respond to posts and tweets of others, after the recent, well publicized “Tweet “of a popular Evangelical pastor denying President Obama’s Christian faith, I felt compelled to update and share an article I wrote in 2009.
As a clergy person who ministers to people throughout the political spectrum, I very rarely comment on political issues or formally express political opinions. With The recent talk and speculation throughout the country and media regarding the authenticity of President Obama’s Christian profession this issue has breached into the area of faith and I believe comment is not only appropriate but mandated. Whether questioning President Obama’s faith because of suspicions he may have been, or “really is,” Muslim, or President George W Bush’s faith being an exercise in political expedience rather than faithful relationship with God, one is participating in an activity that is contra to faithful living.
It should seem obvious to persons of faith and scriptural literacy that we are not to judge the faith of others as only God can judge what is in a person’s heart and behind their profession. Scripture plainly teaches us that we are not to judge others in areas of faith, Matthew 7:1-5, Luke 6:37. In the tenth chapter of John, Jesus states that such judgement is for him and him alone. Jesus is the shepherd. Jesus is the gatekeeper. Jesus is indeed the gate by which all enter into faith and relationship through God. We simply are not qualified to know if one’s profession of faith in, and commitment to, Christ is genuine. Paul states this fact applies even to himself in First Corinthians 4:4. It is God who judges and determines the genuineness of faith. Taking on such a task is above the faith-grade of anyone but God.
Not only is judging another person’s faith impossible and scripturally incorrect, to engage in such behavior, especially in relation to persons who convert from other faiths, undermines New Testament teaching. Such speculation and judgment calls into question the very purpose of the Church which is to witness the Gospel of Jesus Christ, make and baptize disciples from all nations in the name of our Lord and Savior.
Some have challenged the President’s Christian “credentials” because his father was Islamic and that he may have been a Muslim at one time. Some believe and have stated that even if he was not officially a practicing Muslim; the connection with his father makes him Muslim by blood if not spirit. What do these challenges say about the power, or lack thereof, of the Holy Spirit in the conversion process? Is blood stronger than the Holy Spirit? Does God not have the ability to change people’s beliefs? The reality is that it was common for members of the early church, empowered by the Spirit, to break from the faith of their families, the when they accepted Christ and became members of a new family of faith in Christ.
While there is no evidence that the President is Muslim there is much evidence of his Christianity including his baptism, church membership and attendance, and certainly the baptism of his two daughters. But, let’s say for the moment that he had been an active follower and participant of the Muslim faith. What does it say about the nature and efficacy of evangelism, converting the unchurched to Christ, if one’s profession of Christian faith is viewed with any degree of suspicion because one has converted from another faith? The effect of such hesitancy to recognize one’s profession results in not truly accepting the convert as a member of the faith, and more importantly, the Body of Christ.
Again, my concern is not the politics of the “faith-gate” but the implications regarding faith that accompany the discussion, accusations, and even tepid defense of some against such attacks. The questioning and demanding proof of faith in Christ, or disproving prior membership in another faith, is an affront to Christ’s Commission to make disciples and calls into question the possibility of “true” conversion.
If conversion is possible then the argument is moot. If it is not then Christ’s central teaching and final commission to all disciples, to make disciples of ALL nations / faiths, baptizing ALL in the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is fraudulent. While some Christians, including unfortunately some seminary trained pastors, accept this limited understanding of conversion as well as limited acceptance of others into the Kingdom of God, the Apostle Paul is not among their number.
The issue of the validity of profession from another faith has been asked and answered by Paul who argued on behalf of gentile converts against Jewish Christians who questioned the Gentiles’ culturally driven difference, conversion without the physical proof of circumcision. Paul declares in Galatians that in Christ there are no longer divisions such as Jew, Greek, slave or free. In today’s parlance that means in the Kingdom of God, there are no modifying labels such as Muslim-Christian, Jewish-Christian, or Christian-Christian. One is only designated as Christian and a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Hesitancy to recognize one’s profession of faith also challenges the efficacy of the sacrament of baptism. While participating in the sacrament, who am I to ask anyone, “did you really mean it and can you prove it when you said you accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior, and do you really renounce the forces of wickedness and sin in the world?” The fact is if we question the profession of one, we must question it of all. If we deny the validity of anyone’s conversion, we must deny the validity of everyone’s conversion, because if we go by evidence, everyone is found lacking as all remain fallen and sinful even after our baptism and profession of faith.
The reality is that all Christians are converts when we are baptized and confirmed. Whether one grew up a Muslim or a Methodist, whether one converts from Islam, Judaism, agnosticism, or just plain old sin, we have all been separated from God and are all only reunited with God through Christ by God’s grace. We are all saved and made one in Christ by Christ, and there is no reason to suspect or deny the genuineness of faith because of one’s background. To allow such thoughts or speculation to go unanswered weakens the Gospel as well the Body of Christ.