While vacationing in Hawaii over the weekend, President Barack Obama and his family attended a church service Sunday, capping off a "steady rebirth" of his faith in recent months, marked by frequent public expressions of his Christianity. According to Politico, President Obama has publicly mentioned his "Christian faith" more times over the past three months than he has over the past year.
Though some people have always harbored questions about the president's personal beliefs, Obama's Christian faith became a hot-button issue in recent months after the commander-in-chief repeatedly failed to mention "our Creator" in recitations of the Declaration of Independence and mistakenly identified "E pluribus unum" as America's national motto instead of "In God We Trust" during a trip overseas.
In addition, the change in messaging comes weeks after an August Pew Research poll showed that one in five Americans believe the president is actually a Muslim, not a Christian -- a rumor his campaign vehemently denied during his campaign for president in 2008. But in just two years, the president has not attended church as regularly as he did as a presidential candidate and has openly emphasized his own family's Muslim roots more since taking office in 2009.
Politico noticed the recent change:
[Obama] has more frequently cited passages of the Bible, including repeated references to the spirit of Genesis 4:9 — “I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper” — which was a mainstay of Obama’s 2010 campaign stump speech. And he’s taken his family to church twice, a shift for a president who has preferred to worship privately since the end of the 2008 campaign.
“He presents his Christianity as an important aspect of his identity but one he doesn’t want to foist upon anyone else, and he would rather risk downplaying it than offending somebody,” said Jeffrey Siker, a theology professor at Loyola Marymount University, who has studied Obama’s use of the Bible in his speeches.
“One recurring phrase — and I’ve noticed this frequently of late — this notion that we are our brothers’ keepers, which is kind of a mantra for him,” Siker added, noting that Obama “would see the notion of being our brother’s keeper as something that crosses all religious lines.”
Obama has used the reference, which was a regular feature of his on the 2008 campaign trail, in two dozen speeches since September. Before then, he’d used it just four times as president. References to his “Christian faith” also have appeared more times in Obama’s speeches since September than they did before.
But despite the noticeable change, the White House insists nothing has changed in the president's public remarks. Obama "has consistently talked about his Christian faith, and the role of faith in America, over the course of his public life," deputy press secretary Bill Burton says.
Instead of being a part of his person, Obama seems to have incorporated his faith into his politics. In explaining his stance for government programs such as Democrats' landmark health care overhaul legislation passed earlier this year, the president frequently used religious phrases in pushing his political agenda, including being his "brother's keeper" -- a Biblical lesson from the story of Cain and Abel.
“We believe in a country that rewards hard work and responsibility, a country where we look after one another, a country where we say, ‘I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper, I'm not just thinking about myself,’” Obama said during his election campaign. “That's the choice in this election. That's what we're about. That's why we're Democrats.”
The president again cited his "core ethical and moral obligation" to be his "brother's keeper" and help his fellow man during the debate over health care and called on a group of Jewish rabbis to help him push his agenda in 2009, calling them "God's partners in matters of life and death." Opponents to his health plan, however, were accused of spreading "misinformation" and "bearing false witness," a direct accusation of violating God's laws -- the Ten Commandments.
In August, Obama’s aides downplayed the Pew poll. “The president is, obviously, Christian. He prays every day,” Burton said. “His faith is very important to him, but it's not something that's a topic of conversation every single day.” But just days after the poll's release, the president was attending church services with his family and publicly quoting from the book of Job.
“There is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again and that its tender branch will not cease,” Obama said in prepared marks on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. “The work ahead will not be easy, and there will be setbacks. There will be challenges along the way. But thanks to you, thanks to the great people of this great city, New Orleans is blossoming again.”
As the president's poll numbers continue to slip and his beliefs are called into question, expect his faith to become more of a "topic of conversation" and make a significant comeback in time for a 2012 re-election campaign.