As leader of a Methodist megachurch in Houston and a religious adviser to a Republican president, the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell ought to be a credible witness to attest to the fact that President Barack Obama is a Christian.
Caldwell – who was a close enough friend of George W. Bush’s to officiate at Jenna Bush’s wedding – and Pastor Joel Hunter of another megachurch near Orlando, Fla., were called upon recently to give testimony to Obama’s faith.
Both said they have prayed with the president, given him advice and taken his in turn.
But their word will not be enough for the 18 to 24 percent of respondents to polls last month who want to believe Obama is a Muslim and to use that as an excuse to fear, distrust and hate.
Should any of them be convinced, however, they might still find fault with his brand of Christianity, as did Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
In an interview on public radio, Land, who was a guest at a Washington event last weekend put on by talk show host Glenn Beck, acknowledged that the president is "a very typical, mainline, liberal, Protestant Christian."
His beef is that Obama comes to Christianity influenced by the idea that faith can be a means to help people in need of help themselves, what’s known as liberation theology. For Land, that’s too close to socialism for comfort so he’s not buying it. And by the way, Land doesn’t consider Beck’s religion, Mormonism, as orthodox Christian either.
I don’t know where it’s written that one has to be a Christian, and a certain kind of Christian at that, to be president, governor, legislator or groundskeeper. But that seems to be the message from Hawaii Republican Party Chairman Jonah Kaauwai.
In a letter he wrote to pastors that was posted on the Hawaii Christian Coalition website, Kaauwai warned against voting for Mufi Hannemann in the Democratic primary for governor.
I can understand why. Hannemann, who is a Mormon, has been trying to win over religious conservatives, an appeal that could erode support in the November election for the Republican, James "Duke" Aiona, who is a devout Catholic.
That’s not how Kaauwai framed his missive against Hannemann and the other Democrat in the primary, Neil Abercrombie. He evoked a touch of fire and brimstone, saying neither of them are "righteous," and that voting for them would be "succumbing to fear and advancing unrighteousness!"
Wrapping religion and Republicanism isn’t exactly unprecedented, and I wonder if Aiona concurred with Kaauwai’s message. Though he noted that he would "serve all the people of Hawaii – regardless of their religion," the lieutenant governor’s reaction was less than robust. He would have been more convincing had he not turned the tables on those who might have been offended, characterizing Kaauwai’s message as being "seen by many as divisive."
Being a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, an agnostic or an atheist neither qualifies nor disqualifies a person from political office. Compassion, grace, sympathy, concern and consideration for fellow human beings are far better attributes, regardless of the means of attainment.
Cynthia Oi can be reached at email@example.com.