Gentle readers, I have spent much of the day dodging tornadoes and hail on the interstate from Jackson, Tenn., to Guitar Town and I am exhausted. It will take all the energy I have left to type a few paragraphs that will point GetReligion readers toward one of the must-read journalistic items of the day. It will be very interesting to see how much hard-news coverage this item gets, as opposed to blogging and editorial columns. I know it will draw coverage from religious websites -- right and left. I am curious to see what coverage it gets in the mainstream.
It's an interview in which a younger Barack Obama describes himself as precisely what your GetReligionistas have called him all along. He is, of course, a Christian. He is a liberal, mainline Protestant Christian who is a perfect fit in the United Church of Christ, the freewheeling, free-church, highly congregational denomination that -- in its elite leadership class -- defines the candid left edge of church life in America. We're talking out there a notch to the left of the Episcopal Church hierarchy.
Is Obama Trinitarian? Hard to tell. Is he a Universalist? Totally. What is his ultimate standard for doctrinal authority? What's where this interview could make news.
The one-hour interview by Cathleen Falsani was conducted when Obama was running for U.S. Senate, several months before he was introduced to the country during his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech. At the time, Falsani was a religion reporter for the Chicago-Sun Times. Although the interview formed part of a book ("The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People"), much of Obama's answers were not included in it.
The Baptist Press overview of the contents ends with this edgy comment:
Obama was not asked about his beliefs on the deity of Christ or the resurrection.
I noticed that, too. Well, some might see the following quotation as a comment on Christology.
Jesus is an historical figure for me, and he’s also a bridge between God and man, in the Christian faith, and one that I think is powerful precisely because he serves as that means of us reaching something higher.
Obviously, different journalists are going to focus on different quotes in this flashback session. However, here are the quotes that strike me as the most newsworthy, the ones that could produce the most interesting debate.
It really isn't news that Obama believes that all of the world's religions are paths to the top of the same mountain. However, here is the younger Obama -- as he steps onto the national stage for the first time -- discussing "sin." This discussion grows out of a question about heaven, which follows a discussion of hell.
Falsani: Do you believe in heaven?
OBAMA: Do I believe in the harps and clouds and wings?
Falsani: A place spiritually you go to after you die?
OBAMA: What I believe in is that if I live my life as well as I can, that I will be rewarded. I don’t presume to have knowledge of what happens after I die. But I feel very strongly that whether the reward is in the here and now or in the hereafter, the aligning myself to my faith and my values is a good thing.
When I tuck in my daughters at night and I feel like I’ve been a good father to them, and I see in them that I am transferring values that I got from my mother and that they’re kind people and that they’re honest people, and they’re curious people, that’s a little piece of heaven.
Falsani: Do you believe in sin?
Falsani: What is sin?
OBAMA: Being out of alignment with my values.
Falsani: What happens if you have sin in your life?
OBAMA: I think it’s the same thing as the question about heaven. In the same way that if I’m true to myself and my faith that that is its own reward, when I’m not true to it, it’s its own punishment.
It would be very, very hard to find a perspective that would mesh better with sociologist James Davison Hunter's concept of the personal, interior, evolving, experiential concept of a "progressive camp" concept of morality and religious authority (as opposed to the camp of the "orthodox").
Rather than post comments arguing about the content of Obama's faith, please discuss whether or not you think mainstream reporters will cover this interview AS NEWS. Why "yes" or why "no"?