Reading about the President’s remarks at the White House Easter Prayer Breakfast Wednesday morning, I suddenly realized why right wing fanatics think he’s not Christian. Barack Obama is more Christian than they are.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew, 6:5-14, Christ told his followers, “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Verily, I say unto you, They have their reward. But, thou, when thou prayest, enter into they closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do; for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them, for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner, therefore pray ye: Our Father, who art in Heaven….” You probably know the rest, with or without the Protestant addendum.
President Obama does not make a show of his faith. The First Family decided that their presence at a Sunday service in a Washington church would be disruptive to the congregation, a very Christian decision, to put others before themselves. The President prays daily. He just does it quietly, in the privacy of the family quarters, not in front of an audience. He does exactly what Christ told us to do. With the exception of The Lord’s Prayer, there are no formal prayers in the Gospels, no ceremonies, no rituals, no titles of bishops or cardinals or even priests. Christianity, in its beginning, was a faith of the people. Over time, the Roman Church wiped out all branches that practiced a simple faith of the people. The Protestant Reformation was supposed to restore that pure church. Instead, it has given us megachurches and televangelists and predictions about the future that verge on soothsaying.
During his remarks, the President spoke simply of how he draws strength from his faith, and how the life of Christ helps him put our lives and times in perspective. He said, “It was only because Jesus conquered his own anguish, conquered his fear, that we are able to celebrate the resurrection. It helps us provide an eternal perspective for whatever temporal challenges we face. It puts in perspective our small problems. It gives us courage. It gives us hope.”
Hope is what Easter is all about, isn’t it? The hope of eternal life, the hope of redemption. It has always been about hope, when it was the pagan festival of spring and when it was the Jewish festival of Passover. They are all bound together in a simple set of rituals celebrating renewal and life, and they frequently overlap on our modern calendars.
Those who trade in hate and fear have spread the lie that the President is a Muslim, from some anonymous woman at a McCain rally who called him an “Arab” to Rev. Franklin Graham who still has not recanted his lie that Muslims become Muslims through their father’s sperm. President Obama is a Christian by choice. Exposed to every manner of religious thought in the world, he chose to be baptized as a Christian as a adult. Admitting that would diminish those who spread the lies. They didn’t make the same choice in the same way.