It’s probably impossible to understand President-elect Obama without knowing his spiritual biography. From his birth to a mixed-faith couple to his faith-based community organizing to his decision to distance himself from longtime pastor Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s story speaks to the rewards and challenges of being a believer.
Born to an Interfaith Couple
Obama was born in 1961 in Hawaii to a white mother from a Protestant Christian background-Obama later called her a “lonely witness for secular humanism”-and a black father from Kenya. His father was raised a Muslim, but Obama has said that “by the time he met my mother he was a confirmed atheist, thinking religion to be so much superstition.” Obama’s parents divorced when he was two and his dad returned to Kenya. He saw his dad only once more, for a month-long visit when he was ten, before his death.
A ‘Spirituality Awakened’ Mom
“[F]or all her professed secularism,” Obama has written “my mother was in many ways the most spiritually awakened person that I’ve ever known….. Without the help of religious texts or outside authorities, she worked mightily to instill in me the values that many Americans learn in Sunday school: honesty, empathy, discipline, delayed gratification, and hard work. She raged at poverty and injustice.”
Faith-Based Community Organizing
After graduating from Columbia University, Obama took a job as a community organizer for a group of churches in Chicago that were grappling with economic fallout from nearby factory closures. “The Christians with whom I worked recognized themselves in me,” Obama has written. “They saw that I knew their Book and shared their values and sang their songs. But they sensed that a part of me remained removed, detached, an observer among them. I came to realize that without an unequivocal commitment to a particular community of faith, I would be consigned at some level to always remain apart.”
By the time he reached his late 20s, Obama wrote, “I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and be baptized. It came about as a choice and not an epiphany; the questions I had did not magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.”
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