Obama's private path to salvation

sand footstepsAs I promised in that earlier post, I have kept my eyes open for any additional material about the closed-door meeting in Chicago between Sen. Barack Obama and that group of 40 or so Christian leaders. It seems that much of the gossip about it has moved into more private forums. Far and way the most interesting short report in the second wave of coverage was the story from veteran scribes Adelle Banks and Daniel Burke at Religion News Service. It included some new debate about that edgy salvation question by the Rev. Franklin Graham. Here is that piece of the report:

"They focused on abortion, gay marriage, and then Franklin Graham tried to get Senator Obama saved," said the Rev. Eugene Rivers of Boston.

Rivers, who was representing the presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ, Charles E. Blake, at the June 10 meeting, said Graham asked about the Illinois senator's Christian conversion and his father's connections to Islam. Rivers, who supports Obama, said the senator said of his father: "The least of the things he was was Islamic."

When asked about whether he believed Jesus is the only way to salvation, "Obama said, brilliantly, 'Jesus is the only way for me. I'm not in a position to judge other people,' " Rivers recalled.

The Rev. Romal Tune, a Washington pastor with ties to the Democratic National Committee, said Graham's line of questioning was inappropriate for a politician running to represent a religiously pluralistic country. ...

Graham spokesman Mark DeMoss responded: "I believe religious leaders are certainly entitled to ask such questions, particularly of candidates who talk openly about their faith."

Previously, DeMoss had confirmed the content of Graham's question, but had declined to give any piece of the answer. Thus, Rivers has become -- as far as I can tell -- the first person to openly break the embargo around the meeting, with his claim to be quoting the actual words of Obama's answer.

I, of course, think it's interesting that this hot-button issue -- the role of Jesus in salvation -- is one of the "tmatt trio" questions, which just keep coming up in public debates. Please put me down, however, as someone who doesn't think that this was a crucial question to ask Obama. Perhaps it would have been appropriate to ask him if he thinks that religious groups that deliver any kind of message on salvation should be eligible to take part in government-funded civic programs.

However, Obama's answer is interesting, if that second-hand quote is accurate.

It is very similar to the answer that Billy Graham has given for years, when asked about the eternal salvation of non-Christians, but with one crucial difference. Graham would say that the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is "the Way, the Truth and the Life," but that ultimately only God can judge.

Obama's reported response -- "Jesus is the only way for me. I'm not in a position to judge other people" -- makes this a simple matter of personal, private belief with no reference to scripture or centuries of Christian doctrine. Still, evangelicals in the meeting would have noted that he -- a faithful member of the liberal United Church of Christ -- did not openly affirm a universalist position on the issue.

Stay tuned. Obama's open appeals to religious believers on the left and right are sure to continue to kick up some controversy. The Divine Ms. MZ Hemingway will have a report shortly on the thunder and lightning coming from Colorado Springs.

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