A couple of days ago, President Obama was on the campaign trail in New Mexico. At a “backyard conversation” (an informal setting in which the president answered regular folks questions), a woman asked him “Why are you a Christian?” His answer: “I’m a Christian by choice. My family didn’t – frankly, they weren’t folks who went to church every week. And my mother was one of the most spiritual people I knew, but she didn’t raise me in the church. So I came to my Christian faith later in life, and it was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead – being my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, treating others as they would treat me.” He also said “And I think also 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 and we make mistakes, and that we achieve salvation through the grace of God. But what we can do, as flawed as we are, is still see God in other people and do our best to help them find their own grace.” And finally, “One thing I want to emphasize, having spoken about something that obviously relates to me very personally, as president of the United States I’m also somebody who deeply believes that part of the bedrock strength of this country is that it embraces people of many faiths and no faith,” he said. “That this is a country that is still predominantly Christian, but we have Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, and that their own path to grace is one that we have to revere and respect as much as our own. That’s part of what makes this country what it is.” As one of my favorite bloggers, Jason Boyette, tweeted the other day, “HA! Sounds EXACTLY like a secret Muslim.” Okay, the man has answered the question of his faith unequivocally. Let that be the end of it. Please???
As I read the president’s words, I was struck by his explanation of why he believed what he does. It’s a very intentional faith. Sometimes, I think people who come to faith later in life have an advantage over those of us who grew up in the church. For us, being a Christian is something we’ve always done; even those who, like me, left the church for a while before coming back. It’s easy for us to take our faith for granted, letting it morph into a pale imitation of what it should be. I wonder if it’s different for those who come to it later in life. Something that really stood out was that, when asked why he was a Christian, Obama didn’t say “So, I can go to heaven”. In fact, the reasons he gave were about others, not himself. Which fits with what I’ve come to realize about the Christian faith: It ain’t about me. I’m not comfortable with notion of becoming a Christian because of where I might go when they die. For me, it’s not about some afterlife; it’s about what I can do here and now. I’ve come to believe that what Jesus wanted was for us to work on bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. In all my reading, I don’t ever recall Him instructing anyone to look after himself first or to do something because it would benefit that individual. No, he preached about loving and doing for others. So, our faith needs to have that at its core, not some picture filled with mansions on streets of gold.
I’m never been a great fan of the President, heck, I didn’t even vote for him. Sometimes, he’ll do something I really like. Then, he’ll turn around and do something that just pisses me off. But, the answer he gave to the question “Why are you a Christian” is going to stick with me for a while. I like that.