Sunday, August 22, 2010

How Would We Know

According to the news, Americans are more and more convinced that President Obama is Muslim.  According to Islam, he is.  He had a Muslim father and it matters not if he renounced the faith, he is Muslim -- maybe a bad Muslim but a Muslim.  There is something here in common with Judaism and its mix of active faith and genealogy in determining religious identity.  Nevertheless, in the interest of accuracy, I must remind folks that the President has firmly and steadfastly affirmed that he is a Christian.  Some of us might have qualms about the identification of a former member of a United Church of Christ congregation now afloat without a church harbor as Christian but that is a matter for another post.  The point is that the people making this mistake are looking for cues in the language and habits of the President to define his religious identity and they find few cues to point them in any real direction.

He says that he has chosen not to join a local congregation because of the interruption and interference a President in the parish might cause.  Well, we can understand that.  Reagan did not attend a congregation much in the eight years he was in Washington but his membership remained active in his home congregation in California.  Yet Reagan emoted a religious sense to his person and identity that Obama does not.  Why?  Perhaps it is due to the family values and social conservatism of Reagan.  That could be, but I think it is more.

The Obamas have two children.  Every religion and especially Christianity speak clearly of the role of parents as faith models who raise their children in the faith and in the Church.  If there is one significant difference between Reagan and Obama it is that Reagan had no children at home.  We tend to judge faith matters in part by the way parents attend to their spiritual duty of raising their children in the faith.  While it might be enough for Obama to pray privately and focus on his emailed devotions, is it enough for this to communicate and nurture the Christian faith in his daughters?  I wonder if this is not part of the problem of the public's confusion over his religion.

Certainly no one would say that all there is to religion and faith is going to Church on Sunday morning but this remains a strong indicator of what is going on in the heart.  The heart of faith yearns for and is strengthened by the community in which that individual faith was born, is nurtured, is given direction, is challenged and held accountable, and is fed.  We all understand that there are self-proclaimed Christians out there who eschew the Church or the communal nature of the faith.  But what an adult might choose for himself or herself is a very different thing than what a parent chooses for the child (children) they are raising.

This is one of the things that every Pastor of a congregation struggles to remind folks... the people who made promises to raise their children in the faith when they carried them to baptism and the people who know some of the Bible stories because of their own experience and yet who fail to see the need to teach them to their children.  I must admit that in my personal experience of more than 30 years as a Pastor I have found only a very few parents who did this instruction with their children at home.  Now, maybe I am just plain wrong about the Obamas and about those who choose to remain home on Sunday morning, but I don't see or hear much to challenge the notion that private religion leaves out the children.

And that is the problem with a private faith.  It might appear to be quite enough for the adult who reads and prays and gets devotions on his Blackberry but it is not enough if it does not impart the knowledge of God and His Word to his or her children.  It is not enough to pass on to those children a solitary faith that not only leaves them vulnerable but without a suitable faith support system in which to judge, challenge, and discern what is legitimately of the faith or not.

So I am not sympathetic to the Obamas in the confusion Americans have with his religion.  They do not have to prove anything to me.  I am not their Pastor.  But parenting is not a private relationship or role; it is very public.  Teaching values and imparting the faith from which these values come is one of the central roles and functions of parents.  So, I challenge the idea that you can do this well enough on your own without the agencies and assistance of the Church and other Christians.  I challenge it for the Obamas and for all those others out there (including Lutheran) who have stayed away from the Church for whatever reason with the end result that it weakens their children's faith and life.

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