Columnist Cal Thomas, writing on the Fox website, unearths a 2004 book in which Obama was interviewed about his faith. And he doesn't like what he finds. Thomas snidely observes that Obama "has declared himself a Christian," but quotes the senator saying “I believe there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people.” Uh-oh, says Thomas -- universalism!
Worse yet, Obama is guilty of "work salvation," (sic) because he isn't sure that he or his children will go to heaven, but is nonetheless proud to have raised them well, and tucks them in at night.
Thomas claims that "any first-year seminary student could deconstruct" these remarks, and concludes that "Obama can call himself anything he likes, but there is a clear requirement for one to qualify as a Christian and Obama doesn’t meet that requirement."
Err. Hmmm. Sorta. Obama certainly doesn't meet the requirements for fundamentalist Christianity, nor even rigid Evangelicalism. But then, we never thought he did. He is, after all -- or was until last week -- a member of the United Church of Christ, the most theologically flexible of the mainline Protestant groups.
But here's the thing. Obama says nothing, at least as quoted here, that Father Anonymous doesn't hear on a regular basis from members of his church. A great many devout and thoughtful Christians have wrestled with the issues surrounding the ultimate destiny of non-Christians.
In a seventeenth-century sermon, John Donne addressed the question by saying (and this is from memory, so the details may be off) "I don't know what provision God may have made for saving souls in China or India; I only know the provision he has made for saving mine." During the 20th century, this line of thought was pursued more aggressively, especially among those with a special interest in missiology. Robert Jenson, a hero to many Lutheran theologians, has written that evangelical theology according to the Augsburg Confession permits the possibility (although it cannot declare the fact) of universal salvation. The Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner devised the theory that "anonymous Christians," good people who have not heard or even have rejected the Gospel, may nonetheless be saved by the merits of Christ. Rahner's far more conservative student, Joseph Ratzinger, appears to have been taken with this idea. At a papal audience in 2005, commenting on something by Augustine, Pope Benedict XVI said "Whoever seeks peace and the good of the community with a pure conscience, and keeps alive the desire for the transcendent, will be saved even if he lacks biblical faith." (Note the works-righteousness here, far more piquant than anything Obama says!)
So, while Thomas may be correct from one narrow perspective, it is important to recognize that from the same perspective most Anglicans, Lutherans and Roman Catholics, along with virtually all liberal Protestants, are not Christians any more than Obama is. If Cal's church won't have him, then one of ours certainly will.
The real question for us is why Fox feels that it should be in the business of theological analysis as part of its campaign coverage. After all, America doesn't have any religious test for office ... does it?