At a backyard town hall in Albuquerque, NM, Tuesday, President Obama was asked “Why are you a Christian?” The question, from teacher’s assistant Elizabeth A. Murphy, 42, was one of three “hot topics” she raised with the president.
“I’m a Christian by choice,” the president said. “My family didn’t -- frankly, they weren’t folks who went to church every week. And my mother was one of the most spiritual people I knew, but she didn’t raise me in the church.”
The president said he “came to my Christian faith later in life and it was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead -- being my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, treating others as they would treat me. And I think also understanding that Jesus Christ dying for my sins spoke to the humility we all have to have as human beings, that we’re sinful and we’re flawed and we make mistakes, and that we achieve salvation through the grace of God. But what we can do, as flawed as we are, is still see God in other people and do our best to help them find their own grace.”
The president said “that’s what I strive to do. That’s what I pray to do every day. I think my public service is part of that effort to express my Christian faith.”
As is his wont, the president didn’t proselytize, but rather chose to say that he “deeply believes that part of the bedrock strength of this company is that it embraces people of many faiths and of no faith -- that this is a country that is still predominantly Christian. But we have Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, and that their own path to grace is one that we have to revere and respect as much as our own. And that’s part of what makes this country what it is.”
Because of his Muslim roots – his father was born Muslim, though was not observant – the president’s religion has long been a topic of conversation and false smears. Last month a poll indicated that a growing number of Americans mistakenly believe that he’s a Muslim.
In his second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” from 2006, then-Sen. Obama wrote that “the particular attributes of the historically black church” – Trinity United Church of Christ, the congregation he has since left after the controversy involving Rev. Jeremiah Wright – “helped me shed some of my skepticism and embrace the Christian faith.”
The president wrote that he was “drawn to the power of the African American religious tradition to spur social change…I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death; rather, it was an active, palpable agent in the world.”
In the African American church, he wrote, “the lines between sinner and saved were more fluid; the sins of those who came to church were not so different from the sins of those who didn’t, and so were as likely to be talked about with humor as with condemnation. You needed to come to church precisely because you were of this world, not apart from it; rich, poor, sinner, saved, you needed to embrace Christ precisely because you had sins to wash away – because you were human and needed an ally in your difficult journey, to make the peaks and valleys smooth and render all those crooked paths straight.”
The president wrote these “newfound understandings” led to him “finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and be baptized. It came about as a choice and not an epiphany; the questions I had did not magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.”
Murphy also asked the president if he would accept some homegrown "Right from the South Valley" chili peppers from her husband, Albuquerque Fire Department Lieutenant Kerry Murphy.
“I will definitely check out these chili peppers,” the president said. “I like spicy food to go with your spicy questions.”