Dear Time editors: Why couldn't Obama talk about his liberal Christian faith in 2008?

Well, here is a real shocker. Not.

Still, this Time headline is precisely the kind of thing that creates water-cooler buzz here inside the D.C. Beltway:

Axelrod: Obama Misled Nation When He Opposed Gay Marriage In 2008

The key words in this story are, of course, "misled," "conceal," "modified," "evolving" and "deception." The word "lied" is not brought into play. Here is the top of the story, leading up to the soundbite that everyone will be discussing:

Barack Obama misled Americans for his own political benefit when he claimed in the 2008 election to oppose same sex marriage for religious reasons, his former political strategist David Axelrod writes in a new book, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics.

Axelrod writes that he knew Obama was in favor of same-sex marriages during the first presidential campaign, even as Obama publicly said he only supported civil unions, not full marriages. Axelrod also admits to counseling Obama to conceal that position for political reasons. “Opposition to gay marriage was particularly strong in the black church, and as he ran for higher office, he grudgingly accepted the counsel of more pragmatic folks like me, and modified his position to support civil unions rather than marriage, which he would term a ‘sacred union,’ ” Axelrod writes.
“I’m just not very good at bullshitting,” Obama told Axelrod, after an event where he stated his opposition to same-sex marriage, according to the book.

Now, three cheers for the Time team for using quoted material that cited the specific hook -- it's a religion hook, of course -- that led to this political decision.

Obama could not go to black churches and explain to the people in the pews why he believed the vast majority of them were wrong about 2,000 years of Christian doctrine. That worked with his natural theological choir, which would be liberal mainline Protestants on the left side of overwhelmingly white-church sanctuaries. However, Obama needed mainstream black church support.

This leads us to one of the subjects that your GetReligionistas have been stressing ever since we opened our cyber doors 11 years ago. This hot-button subject is, once again, treated as a totally political matter. Why is it so hard for the mainstream press to cover the faith content of the lives of religious liberals? Why is the faith element boiled down to politics, alone?

The story does make it clear that the future president was violating his own theological convictions:

The admission of Obama’s embrace of deception also calls into question the President’s stated embrace of a new kind of politics in 2008, when he promised to be unlike other politicians who change their views to match the political winds. “Having prided himself on forthrightness, though, Obama never felt comfortable with his compromise and, no doubt, compromised position,” Axelrod writes.

Were Christians on the theological left uncomfortable, as well, at the time? After all, as the Time article shows, Obama had actually stated his stance on this issue -- in a public document -- in 1996. It was also consistent with the doctrinal views of his chosen denomination, the ultra-progressive United Church of Christ.

Yet, as a candidate, he, well, lied.

But 12 years later as a candidate for president, Obama told Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church that marriage could only extend to heterosexual couples. “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman,” Obama said at the time. “Now, for me as a Christian -- for me -- for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God’s in the mix.”

So what is missing from this story?

Once again, it's easy to predict what conservative Christians think of all of this. What I really wanted to know more about was what Obama believed and when he believed it and what people on the religious left thought about this tactic. How does Warren feel about this? That's relevant, but not hard to guess.

So where to start? How much trouble would it have been for a reporter to call someone at Sojourners, with the UCC or the Metropolitan Community Church?

First question: Did Obama "sin" -- there's another missing word -- when he hid his actual beliefs, the content of his own personal Christian faith? Was he sinning to order to achieve a higher theological good?

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