Last August I wrote about President Obama's faith, his assertion that he is a Christian versus those who question his true allegiances. Included was a statement Obama made at the lighting of the national Christmas tree in 2009. Having attended that ceremony, I remember being a bit surprised at the president's theologizing when he said that Christmas, "represents a tradition that we celebrate as a country--a tradition that has come to represent more than any one holiday or religion, but a season of brotherhood and generosity to our fellow citizens."

Though I didn't attend this year's ceremony, I came across the transcript of the speech, one that highlights an overtly Christian sentiment. He said:

More than 2,000 years ago, a child was born to two faithful travelers who could find rest only in a stable, among the cattle and the sheep. But this was not just any child. Christ’s birth made the angels rejoice and attracted shepherds and kings from afar. He was a manifestation of God’s love for us. And He grew up to become a leader with a servant’s heart who taught us a message as simple as it is powerful:  that we should love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves.  

That teaching has come to encircle the globe. It has endured for generations. And today, it lies at the heart of my Christian faith and that of millions of Americans. No matter who we are, or where we come from, or how we worship, it’s a message that can unite all of us on this holiday season.  

So long as the gifts and the parties are happening, it’s important for us to keep in mind the central message of this season, and keep Christ’s words not only in our thoughts, but also in our deeds. In this season of hope, let’s help those who need it most –- the homeless, the hungry, the sick and shut in. In this season of plenty, let’s reach out to those who struggle to find work or provide for their families.  In this season of generosity, let’s give thanks and honor to our troops and our veterans, and their families who've sacrificed so much for us. And let’s welcome all those who are happily coming home.

What do you make of this shift from pluralistic to sectarian language? Is it appropriate for a secular head of state to espouse so openly his own faith? Do you think this kind of language is used for political expediency, especially in the current context of a GOP nomination dominated by overtly religious candidates? Is there an appropriate balance the president should strike when talking about Christmas, celebrated by believers and nonbelievers alike?

Michael J. O'Loughlin


Comments

Des Farrell | 12/8/2011 - 3:48pm
I'm ashamed to admit that I swallowed the 2nd post without irony, hook, line and sinker! I forgot where I was and thought I had stumbled back into the madness of the blogosphere! Oops! 
T BLACKBURN | 12/6/2011 - 3:58pm
David and Robert, yes, of course, I was reporting on the emails I get in an ironic sense. thought the nonsense that keeps cropping up in my mail box helps to make the point that Mr. Obama can't be publicly "religious" in the same way our past presidents were. They could honor (as Oliver Jensen expressed it in a brilliant parody of Dwight Eisenhower) "a God of their own choice," and no one would get upset. There is a whole industry devoted to denying Mr. Obama a God of anyone's choice.

I do get the emails I cited; I am not making them up.

(And Beth, it is good to see you here, too.)
david power | 12/6/2011 - 2:39pm
@Robert,

 I am  not sure what you mean by "partisanly supportive".
At 32 years of age I have never voted in my life and am completely apolitical
in the narrow sense of the word. 
I also think that Tom Blackburn was using it in an ironic sense.

Pax
 
Beth Cioffoletti | 12/6/2011 - 1:45pm
I am not comfortable with my President needing to self identify himself as "Christian" - as he did above - in order to appease the segment of our populace who need to know they are being led by one who shares in thier form of faith.

But Obama also spoke about Christian values during this Christian holiday.  I would hope that he could elaborate on Jewish truths if he were speaking during Rosh Hashana, or (god forbig) Muslim virtues if speaking on a Muslim holy day.

But we live in strange "Christianist" times, and, as noted above, Obama is a politian.  It would be political suicide if he didn't publicly claim his faith, especially since so many people, like Tom Blackburn's Catholic friends, want us to believe that he is a Muslim socialist.

My problems with the President identifying himself as Christian stem from the corruption of Christianity that happens whenever it becomes a rallying cry for the ruling party.

(PS to Tom Blackburn - Tom, I'm a long ago reader of your columns in the PBPost, and delighted to find your insights in this comment section.)
ROBERT NUNZ MR | 12/6/2011 - 1:20pm
Mr. Blackburn's description of thePOTUS as a Muslim socialist with anti-colonialist tendencies" is the kind of ugly brainwashed generalization that inhibits  reasonable conversation in blogdom.
Mr. Powers,as usual, is partisanly supportive.
I think POTUS is a nondenominal Chrtistian who supports Christian values broadly.
He also acts in his governnace role for all the people.
Some of us think happy holidays or holiday tree or wreath or whatever is too politically correct, but I guess if we have to really think of others'feelings, maybe we should be a little more modest about how brillinan and right we are.I think Obama having a  prayer gathering at this time of year is NOT hypocritical and much like many POTUS who go off to whatever Church on certain holidays.
david power | 12/6/2011 - 12:51pm
John,
I can fake it pretty well and I have to say that I am far from having it made.
I think the original was when someone asked what Bill Clinton's gift was one journalist said "Sincerity, when you can fake that you have it made".
The arena being politics.
The problem with that thinking is that we only believe  that a politician can ba a nasty so and so and if he shows anything beyond that then it is only acting.
I think Tom Blackburn did a good job of describing the issue.
But the question could also be asked does Obama have a philosophy?.Is he just a gangster like like the last two Presidents or does he actually have a core?.I think he does.
He may lack the practicality of Clinton or the down to earth charm of George Bush but he probably has more of a worldview than either.
I would read the transcript above from that angle.
Maybe I am being naive.
I also think that he represents America and the exceptionality of that country in a more attractive and winning way than Bubba or W ever did. 
John Barbieri | 12/6/2011 - 7:43am
"When you can fake sincerity, you've got it made."
                                                                -Author Unknown 
JIM MCCREA | 12/5/2011 - 8:15pm
Friends, on the grounds of the nation's capital, that tree IS a holiday tree.  The capital is the capital to Christians, Jews, Moslems, Hindus, secularists, atheists, agnostics, Wiccans - et all.

You are free to view it as any form of tree you want.  But don't forget that a Christmas tree has been adopted from pagan practices - so don't get your knickers in too big of an uproar, OK?
T BLACKBURN | 12/5/2011 - 7:45pm
Mr. Obama coiuldn't mean what he said the second time because, even though the media won't report it, he is a Muslim socialist with anti-colonialist tendencies, as at least one of my Catholic friends will remind me via email within the next week.

That said, I detect the difference the between the two themes, as reported in this post. It may be simply a case of where Mr. Obama's faith journey had him last year compared to this, and of no global significance. At the same time, the president's employment of faith symbols and thoughts is always a little bit problematic under the First Amendment, yet he is forced to say something on occasions like the Christmas tree lighting.  (You know, he ordered that the tree be referred to as a "holiday tree," not a Christmas tree. I get that email annually from all my Catholic friends.) I think that in the end a person's reaction will be determined more by how sincere the listener thinks the president is in his faith, and not by any standard of appropriateness that can be applied from outside the act and the actor.

This year's theme is closer to what those who apply a religous test probably woud prefer, but at the same time it gets away a little from the "American exceptionalism" that was clearer last year and that the religious testers think has to be an article of faith. (I'll get emails about that from the usual sources, too.)
david power | 12/5/2011 - 5:38pm
First off, these are very warm words from the President of America.Christ and his image and words are mostly used as a weapon in our culture.
Most Christians see Jesus as a Judge over others and not as one who loves the very same.
How many Democrats would concede that Jesus  loves W and wants the best for him and will forgive his failings?.The same with Republicans and Obama.
Your question about the propriety of his words are interesting.If he had said the same about MLK or Gandhi there would be no problem.
If he had cooed about Lincoln or Roosevelt or Washington there would not be a murmur .He spoke of Jesus and  I think he would quite rightly shrug off any flak he gets for it.
Is he merely posturing as it is election year in 2012?I don't know.
What I do know is that he said in a very languid way that he would protect Americans.He did not bare his chest and holler it but simply said that he would hunt down terrorists.
Did he stay true to his words? To the dismay of both parties he did.
He said he was a Christian.Is he?Read the above transcript.