Tom Foreman | BIO
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/POLITICS/08/19/obama.jobs.bill/smlvid.obama.jobs.gi.jpg caption="As much as Americans like to talk about separation of church and state, it seems to me that it can be very hard being president if voters don’t think you are Christian." width=300 height=169]
Reporter's Note: President Obama has long fought false accusations that he is Muslim. And it’s happening again…
Dear Mr. President,
As much as Americans like to talk about separation of church and state, it seems to me that it can be very hard being president if voters don’t think you are Christian. I suppose that is patently unfair, but that pretty much seems to be the case. And as I’m sure you know, a new survey from the Pew folks says you have a problem on that front. To wit: A startling number of Americans either think you are a Muslim, or don’t think you are a Christian, or aren’t sure what you are.
Look, I know you’re a Christian, because you’ve said so many times, you’ve spoken in an easy and familiar style about Christian teachings, you’ve given me no reason to doubt your professions of faith, and who am I, btw, to say someone is not of the belief he or she claims?
But I also know a thing or two about American politics. And while voters may quibble over the details of faith (whether a candidate is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or an atheist) they seem to really like to see occasional evidence that the faith a politician claims is one that he or she practices, at least now and then. Note that I said “see,” not just hear from the White House Press Office. It’s all very good that they say you pray every day and consult with ministers, but you and I know that has nowhere near the impact of a single picture of you and your family in a pew.
Now, I’ll grant that this is tricky territory. If you went to church every week and the cameras caught you coming and going, undoubtedly two things would happen. 1) Every single thing said from the pulpit of that church would be scrutinized and you would be pilloried over each and every statement that could even possibly damn you by association. And 2) Your opponents would be laying into you over “false piety,” and “making political hay out of your faith.”
But when voters never see you worship, which has been largely the case ever since the inauguration, well that opens you to another type of criticism; the kind that leaves people doubting whether you really believe anything, or if you believe something quite different from what you profess. (And I know, you’re wondering why I’m not talking about other presidents who didn’t show up in church much… fair point… but they were never accused of being Muslim. I know that’s not right, but it’s the way it has played out.)
My advice? It is hard for me to tell anyone to be a hypocrite; to pose about their faith, which seems to be what politics demands. So I’ll just say this: Be aware that talking about faith is sometimes not enough, especially in the public sector. And sometimes showing it… at least now and then… can make a big difference in how much faith people place in you.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with