Barack Obama says he is a Christian. The rest of us can only take him at his word, but for a believer, he seems remarkably ignorant of both Christians and Christianity. At the Weekly Standard, Mark Hemingway writes on “Obama’s Casual Slander of American Christians.” Hemingway begins by talking about sociologist Robert Putnam, who said:
[O]ver the last 30 years, most organized religion has focused on issues regarding sexual morality, such as abortion, gay marriage, all of those. I’m not saying if that’s good or bad, but that’s what they’ve been using all their resources for. This is the most obvious point in the world. It’s been entirely focused on issues of homosexuality and contraception and not at all focused on issues of poverty.
I’ve met Putnam, and he is a decent guy, but here he is in outer space. Hemingway notes that Putnam recently participated in a panel at the Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty at Georgetown University discussing this topic with, among others, Barack Obama. (I wrote about that event here.) In the course of that program, Obama said:
Despite great caring and concern, when it comes to what are you really going to the mat for, what’s the defining issue, when you’re talking in your congregations, what’s the thing that is really going to capture the essence of who we are as Christians, or as Catholics, or what have you, that this [fighting poverty] is often times viewed as a “nice to have” relative to an issue like abortion.
Obama’s comments are odd. They certainly aren’t based on his own experience; the only church Obama has belonged to is the one run by Jeremiah Wright. Did Wright devote a lot of attention to abortion? I doubt it. To be fair, though, Wright’s congregation may not have done much about poverty, either, other than complain (“God damn America!”).
So Obama sounds like all he knows about Christianity is what he reads in the newspaper. Hemingway rightly takes him to task:
Nice to have? What would be nice to have is a president who’s not so divorced from the reality of American Christians that he thinks he has the moral authority to more or less slander millions of well-intentioned Christians. …
Just to give you an idea, a single Christian Charity, World Vision, spends about $2.8 billion on anti-poverty efforts. “That would rank World Vision about 12th within the G20 nations in terms of overseas development assistance,” World Vision President Richard Stearns noted in Christianity Today a few years back. Fagan and Schwarzwelder do a lot more number crunching, but the upshot is that Christians spend billions and billions fighting poverty. Even the most generous estimates of the resources devoted to pro-life causes and organizations defending traditional marriage are just a few hundred million dollars. By contrast, the budget of Planned Parenthood alone is just over a billion dollars.
Check out the Catholic Charities web site. This is what you see across the top of the page; click to enlarge:
I have no doubt that Catholic Charities has done more good for poor people than any government program. I happen to be a Lutheran. My denomination is not necessarily opposed to abortion (“This church recognizes that there can be sound reasons for ending a pregnancy through induced abortion”) and is not at all opposed to homosexuality. Make of that what you will, but we certainly do our part to help the poor. Check out Lutheran World Relief, which is active in 35 countries and, according to its web site, helped close to five million people last year. Then there is Lutheran Services In America, which serves around six million Americans each year.
Every other Christian denomination could tell a similar story. The evangelical churches are, if anything, more focused on poverty and on uplifting lives mired in drug abuse and other pathologies. Does Barack Obama really not know this? His casual slander of Christians–70% of all Americans–suggests that he has little idea what goes on outside the political bubble in Washington, D.C. It’s not just that Obama doesn’t know much about Christians. He doesn’t know much about America.