As President Obama faces harsh criticism for his handling of the Islamic terrorist attack in Paris, a review of his personal statements about religion presents a window into his view of the Muslim faith, which he acknowledged his father was born into.
Obama drew fire for not appearing at an anti-terrorism unity march in Paris after the attack on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that it was “not accurate” to call the Hebdo attack an act of “radical Islam.”
A pre-presidential speech by Obama can offer some insight into the president’s view on Islam. In 2006, Obama acknowledged for the first time that his father was born a Muslim in a speech at the “Building A Covenant For A New America” conference in Washington, D.C. on June 26, 2006. The organization Sojourners, an evangelical Christian group based in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of D.C., co-sponsored the “Call To Renewal” event.
In his speech, in which he criticized white Christian leaders and discussed his own skepticism of faith, Obama explained the appeal of organized religion.
“They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives. They’re looking to relieve a chronic loneliness, a feeling supported by a recent study that shows Americans have fewer close friends and confidants than ever before. And so they need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them – that they are not just destined to travel down that long highway towards nothingness.
“And I speak with some experience on this matter. I was not raised in a particularly religious household, as undoubtedly many in the audience were. My father, who returned to Kenya when I was just two, was born a Muslim but as an adult became an atheist. My mother, whose parents were non-practicing Baptists and Methodists, was probably one of the most spiritual and kindest people I’ve ever known, but grew up with a healthy skepticism of organized religion herself. As a consequence, so did I.”
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But Obama developed his spiritual side later, thanks to his community organizing work.
“It wasn’t until after college, when I went to Chicago to work as a community organizer for a group of Christian churches, that I confronted my own spiritual dilemma.”
Luckily, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright was there to guide him.
“It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street in the Southside of Chicago one day and affirm my Christian faith. (APPLAUSE BREAK) It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. I didn’t fall out in church. The questions I had didn’t magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt that I heard God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.”
“I do not believe that religious people have a monopoly on morality.”
But, look, we all got to band together here, people.
“When we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew…”
“And by the way, we need Christians on Capitol Hill, Jews on Capitol Hill and Muslims on Capitol Hill talking about the estate tax.”
“In other words, if we don’t reach out to evangelical Christians and other religious Americans and tell them what we stand for, then the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons and Alan Keyeses will continue to hold sway.”
But Al Sharpton is a new kind of prophet.
“And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson’s, or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let’s read our bibles. Folks haven’t been reading their bibles.”