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August 20th, 2010
10:00 AM ET

Letter to the President #578: 'A show of faith'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

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.

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.


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.

Regards,
Tom

Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Boomer in Mo

    Americans are ignorant about the rest of the world. They are particularly ignorant about religions other than their own and refuse to find out anything about religions other than their own. They are intentionally ignorant. I went to a public university. One of my dorm roommates was Jewish. There was a Croat and and Serbian on the same floor, and they did not talk to each other (this was in the 1970s). What happened in Serbia decades later was no surprise to me because of that. I had Muslims in many of my classes and in some of my study groups. They were not rabid killers. My exposure to different people and different religions has been helpful for more than 40 years. Too bad most Americans hide their heads in the sand, afraid to learn anything new.

    August 20, 2010 at 11:55 am |
  2. Rebecca

    Listening to "John" ? filling in for Anderson last night was very disappointing. I can see how easily swayed he is. Anyone who believes Obama is a Christian is a Fool!! He is a self-declared Muslim,..his heart is with the Muslims,...he was reared as a Muslim,...wake up CNN and see how it walks like a duck,.....etc. By the way....what Sunday School are his children attending?? Never heard a thing about that?!
    Also, John, you are so transparent, smiling and nodding your head in agreement with the black woman Dr. Laura supposedly insulted, (must have some relatives of sort in your own background). Dr. Laura is blunt and to the point....and has a right to say whatever she wants. And, by the way, so do I ! So be it!!

    August 20, 2010 at 11:27 am |