Both Sides

December 16, 2011

As 2012 nears and the presidential campaign heats up, the issue of religion keeps popping up in both parties. President Barack Obama continues to represent both sides of confessional politics. As during the 2008 campaign, he both uses confessional politics and is the victim of it. In October, the Democratic National Convention chose a Baptist pastor in Washington, D.C. to lead its faith outreach. Derrick Harkins, pastor of Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, also serves on the Board of Directors for World Relief and the National Association of Evangelicals, and has served as a vice president of the North American Baptist Fellowship (a regional body of the Baptist World Alliance). These connections place him in a unique position to be able to help Obama and the Democrats reach out to the Christian community in the upcoming campaign. Joshua DuBois, who led this effort during the 2008 campaign, now leads the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Patrick Gaspard, Executive Director of the Democratic National Committee, called the hiring of Harkins "a clear sign to everyone that Democrats will be making our case to voters motivated by their faith and values in 2012." Some liberals, however, are upset because Harkins has been for some pro-life efforts and against same-sex marriage. Adding to this new staff hire, Obama continues to voice his personal faith. For instance, during the ceremony for the lighting of the national Christmas tree, Obama stated:

More than 2,000 years ago, a child was born to two faithful travelers who could find rest only in a stable, among the cattle and the sheep. But this was not just any child. Christ's birth made the angels rejoice and attracted shepherds and kings from afar. He was a manifestation of God's love for us. And He grew up to become a leader with a servant's heart who taught us a message as simple as it is powerful: that we should love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves. That teaching has come to encircle the globe. It has endured for generations. And today, it lies at the heart of my Christian faith and that of millions of Americans. No matter who we are, or where we come from, or how we worship, it's a message that can unite all of us on this holiday season. So long as the gifts and the parties are happening, it's important for us to keep in mind the central message of this season, and keep Christ's words not only in our thoughts, but also in our deeds.
Obama clearly is not ready to cede the topic of religion to the Republicans in the upcoming election.

However, Obama continues to not only use religious-political rhetoric but to be criticized by those using confessional politics. For instance, the chancellor of the fundamentalist Bob Jones University expressed his opinion last month that Obama was not a Christian. Bob Jones III stated:
I've no reason to think he's a Christian... Anyone can say he's a Christian. Some people will say whatever they think the politically helpful thing would be. I say, 'Where is the evidence that he is a Christian?'
Jones, whose school has figured heavily in the creation of confessional politics, also refused to say if he thought Obama was a Muslim or born in the U.S. Such rhetoric is often used to try and suggest that Obama--because of religious concerns--should not be president. Earlier this month, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry attacked Obama for supposedly waging a "war on religion" (see post here). Fox News also claims Obama is against Christmas and is not a Christian. The issue, of course, is not merely that they are making inaccurate claims but that these complaints are leveled in order to suggest Obama is not Christian enough to be president. Clearly, both sides--Obama and his critics--are using confessional politics.