Friday, July 18, 2008

Response to Newsweek, "What He Believes"

To Newsweek magazine;

I appreciate your effort to understand the faith of Barack Obama, but as usual your view of Christianity is simplistic and narrow. Newsweek magazine, along with almost all the dominant public media today, refuses to acknowledge the rich diversity and multiple expressions of Christian faith in America today. You seem only interested in measuring and evaluating Obama’s faith through the lens of evangelical Christianity. By that measure, his journey of faith seems unique and different. But since Obama came to faith and was baptized in the United Church of Christ would it not be more appropriate to see him as standing within the long tradition of mainline Protestantism in America? The tradition of mainline Protestantism is as old as our nation itself and must be distinguished in important but subtle ways from modern evangelical theology. Mainline Protestantism today still represents a huge swath of American Christianity including such classic denominations as the United Church of Christ (and its antecedents), my own Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Lutherans, the Methodists, the Episcopalians and the American Baptists. Of course, we share the same Christian faith with our evangelical brothers and sisters, but the differences in worldview, patterns of faith development and spiritual culture are significant. These differences are especially important when discussing the religious faith of Abraham Lincoln. The Christian faith of the society in which Lincoln lived was dominated by the mainline Protestant churches. Much of Lincoln’s reflection on and response to religious faith can only be properly understood against the backdrop of mainline Protestantism. The same week Lincoln was in Gettysburg to offer his “Address”, he attended worship in the town’s Presbyterian Church. Our Gettysburg Presbyterian Church still marks the pew where he sat. (Decades later, this is the same church where the Eisenhower family was very active.) Since your reporters and researchers seem committed to following every footstep that Obama has walked, it would be convenient for you to walk across the quadrangle from the Law School to the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, chat with the faculty there, and educate yourselves about the fullness of American Christianity today. Barack Obama is right at home in our tradition of mainline American Protestantism, and we are proud to claim him. By the way, John McCain seems very comfortable in our tradition as well, and we are also proud to claim him.