President Barack Obama got it right on Tuesday.
When he was asked about his Christian faith at an event in Albuquerque, N.M., he said he has his own personal religious beliefs but recognizes that other Americans have theirs.
The question was posed by a woman at a backyard conversation, one of a series of meetings Obama is holding to talk informally with Americans. She asked him, “Why are you a Christian?”
Obama, who has been continually grilled about his religious beliefs, said, “I’m a Christian by choice. 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.
“So I 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,” he continued.
Obama then took his answer in a different direction, extending it to address the importance of religious freedom and diversity in the United States.
“One thing I want to emphasize, having spoken about something that obviously relates to me very personally, as president of the United States, I’m also somebody who deeply believes that part of the bedrock strength of this country is that it embraces people of many faiths and no faith,” he said. “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.”
“That’s part of what makes this country what it is,” Obama concluded.
President Obama has answered a lot of questions as he has traveled around the country speaking to Americans in these “backyard conversations.” But according to The New York Times “Caucus” blog, “the religion question was perhaps the most revealing for the president – and also perhaps the most welcome, given that polls show that the public appears confused about his religion, with some 18 percent of Americans believing, erroneously, that he is Muslim.”
I won’t hold my breath that Obama’s straightforward answer will put a stop to the controversy over his religious views. But I do appreciate that he recognizes that faith commitment is a “choice.” Our Constitution guarantees us the “choice” to follow a particular faith or no faith at all.
Americans United may not agree with President Obama on every issue – we’ve been disappointed in how he has handled the faith-based initiative – but he clearly gets the basic constitutional concept of religious liberty for all. And he doesn’t mind saying so publicly.
That’s something he deserves credit for.