In Theory: Does president's religion matter?

The American public's questions and doubts about President Barack Obama's religion continue to dog him nearly two years after his election. For example, a new poll by the Pew Research Center shows that nearly 1 in 5 Americans believe that Obama is a Muslim, although in fact he is a Christian. According to the Pew survey, the percentage of Americans thinking that he is a Muslim increased from 12% to 18% between March 2008 and August 2010, while the percentage of those thinking that he is a Christian dropped from 47% to 34% during that period. As a religious/spiritual commentator in the community, does it alarm you that so many Americans are ignorant about Obama's faith, and should it really matter whether the commander in chief is Muslim, Christian or religious at all?

The statistics reported by Pew Research should cause a certain fright because a healthy democratic country requires an electorate that is well-informed and of serious intent. But in this case there is abysmal ignorance. Worse yet is that there are persons and entities that are deliberately propagating not only misinformation but are calloused in their disregard for truth and are manipulative of the public.

"If you live according to my teaching, you are my disciples; then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free," said Jesus.

The person who sets aside truth is enslaved in ignorance.

In politics it is fair and necessary to engage in vigorous debate. One can choose to disagree or disagree with platforms, policies and laws — and should be able to provide cogent reasons for positions taken. But character assassination, such as is being engaged in by some in disagreement with our president (or anyone else), is ethically and morally wrong. It is the tactic of small-minded persons.

If the president were a Muslim, which he is not, would that mean he is inclined to terrorism? This is an absurdity. Choosing to live in darkness and venality is asphyxiating.

Msgr. Wilbur Davis

Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church

I recall a bumper sticker that read: "Humpty Dumpty was pushed." In our culture of suspicion, visions of conspiracism dance in hyperactive, gullible imaginations. Is the president a stealth Muslim? Here is my theory: President Obama genuinely believes himself to be Christian, but at the right moment his handlers will trigger a device they implanted in him, upon which he will declare himself to be the spearhead of Islamic world conquest. Such Manchurian Candidate "cabal-istic" thinking is a litmus test for paranoia akin to the grassy knoll, Roswell, the Elders of Zion, or Ariel Sharon's orchestration of 9/11.

While not sharing the preposterous view that the president is faking his Christianity beliefs, I, of course, do believe the Da Vinci Code's premise that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' wife and God's daughter-in-law. She obviously fled to France with their daughter. Anyone who does not understand this is part of … well, you know.

Rabbi Mark S. Miller

Temple Bat Yahm

Newport Beach

There will always be some Americans who don't like the president's religion. But I think that any president, who is different from what the country is used to, is going to raise people's suspicions. He says he's a Christian, but I don't see him attending church or hanging out with known Christian leaders. While I am OK with this, I'm sure there are many who would be comforted if they saw him with known religious leaders. Maybe a potluck at the White House, say every other month, with religious leaders from all faiths to offer support, prayers, suggestions, and a tuna casserole.

Regarding the poll numbers, I guess I'm guarded about how they asked the question. The president is trying to lead our country through amazingly difficult times. While some might be concerned with his religion, I think most of us are more concerned that we get our economy back on track. I sure do wish the institutions and individuals who are hoarding money start lending it to small businesses so we can put a dent in the unemployment problem.

Jim Turrell

Center for Spiritual Living Newport-Mesa

Like clergy, public servants can be lightning rods for unrealistic and unjust speculation: if they are liked, superhuman attributions are too easily given; if disliked, pejorative judgments are too spontaneous and common. Most truly regrettable is that calling President Obama a Muslim seems to be depreciatory sniping, saying that he is untrustworthy.

Our president would be untrustworthy if he were lying about his faith commitment, which I do not think he is. Comments he made on 1 Corinthians 13:11 in his inaugural address touched me as I agree that one of our most important challenges is to be childlike, not childish. I think those who do not trust another's stated faith commitment are being childish, immature, irresponsible, thoughtless, and even malicious. Jesus calls us to be childlike, creative, joyful, humble and trusting.

The Very Rev'd Canon Peter D. Haynes

Saint Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church

Corona del Mar

What the president believes affects how he will govern the country. So, yes, it is important that he be a man of faith who is less concerned with power but rather one who empowers citizens. Is it possible that some people believe him to be Muslim because of his middle name? Perhaps. Since he is seen less than previous presidents attending Sunday services, this may place a doubt in people's minds as to what religion, if any, he practices. It is also possible that given his stance on moral issues such as abortion, participants in the survey see this as distancing himself from core Christian values, and as a result, fewer consider him to be Christian.

Fr. Stephen Doktorczyk

St. Joachim Church

Costa Mesa

We have a president! His name is Barack Obama! Regardless of how he grew up, he was elected by the citizens of our country. While many disagree with his policies, we need to spend our time praying for his success in establishing policies to bring a fractious nation together rather than trying to destroy his ability to govern.

Latter-day Saints believe that God actually "raised up" our founders to establish a system of government that would guarantee religious, economic and personal freedoms. We have become a refuge for tens of millions of people who have arrived seeking liberty and opportunity – from all faiths and with no faith.

President Obama has suffered from widespread misinformation by those whose goal is to undermine his public office. In our daily prayers and worship services, Latter-day Saints join other Americans from all faith traditions in praying for our President and for his success in leading our great nation.

Tom Thorkelson

Director of Interfaith Relations

Orange County Council

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

It alarms me that people question Obama's faith and seem to "accuse" him of being Muslim, as though Islam is somehow a bad thing. He has stated he is Christian and he attended a Christian church for nearly his entire adult life. This is not benign ignorance about his faith — it is a calculated move designed to incite fear and further divide and polarize the nation. His religious beliefs would not even be an issue except that people view Islam as worthy of criticism.

The negative image of Islam is rising due to the radical right Christian fundamentalism that is stirring up the nation, and we see it rearing its ugly head all over the media. Of course it does not matter whether Obama is Christian or Muslim — but the reality of the uncertainty regarding his faith is a product of Islamaphobia endorsed and promoted by the radical right. As people of faith we should work to promote tolerance, acceptance and religious pluralism.

The Rev. Sarah Halverson

Fairview Community Church

Costa Mesa

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