Everyday there seems to be some new outrageous charge leveled at Barack Obama. One of the most pernicious is that he is a Muslim who is dishonestly masquerading as a Christian. This charge is so malicious - and so untrue - that it is time to set the record straight.
Barack Obama has never been a Muslim. He has never attended a Muslim school. From about age eight to age nine Obama lived in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country on earth, with more Muslim schools than one can count, yet his parents chose to enroll him in a secular, non-religious school comprised of teachers and students of all faiths. Nor can it be said that during his brief sojourn in Indonesia that his worldview was tainted by Islamic extremism; when Obama lived there, the practice of Islam in Indonesia was still among the world's most moderate.
Another false charge is that rather than using a Bible to be sworn into his elected office, Senator Obama instead used the Qur'an, the holy book of the Muslim faith. That is also a falsehood. The most cursory check of the facts shows that it was not Barack Obama who was sworn in with a Qur'an. It was Keith Ellison, the proudly Muslim congressman from Minnesota.
But by far the ugliest charge is that Barack Obama is lying about his Christian faith. The truth is that for years now, Barack Obama has been a baptized, fully confessed and practicing Christian, not only with his lips inside a church but, more importantly, with his limbs out in the community - striving to help the neediest and the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters of all creeds and colors.
It is correct that Obama was not born into the Christian faith. Rather, Barack Obama made a conscious decision as a mature adult to become part of the body of Christ. One measure of the seriousness of his faith is that he has been an active and faithful churchgoer since he embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ as his own.
Dr. Jeremiah Wright - his pastor - a wise, sensitive Christian freedom-fighter (in the very best sense of the word), and a man deeply committed to his faith in Christ, whole-heartedly attests to this, as does every fellow parishioner who has encountered Obama in his home church - the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. (By the way, the United Church of Christ is a predominately white mainstream Christian denomination.)
But what is also troubling about all the false information being spread about Obama is its obsession with doctrines and creeds to the apparent detriment of any sense of the spirituality of service. This tragically flawed understanding of Christian faith is apparently more concerned with the fleeting testimony of one's mouth than with the abiding testimony of one's walk in the world. If this was not so, if what was really the concern of those seeking to discredit Obama was that one be a Christian rather than simply bearing the name, then why do they not attack the people "of faith" who tell every listening ear that they are Christians, yet everyday spit on the very tenets that Jesus taught by making greed, self-aggrandizement and treating poor people as children of a lesser God their de facto religion? Why not equally publicly indict the rapacious "prosperity preachers" and fake healers who appear in pulpits and on television weekly to steal from the poor so they themselves can live in imperial luxury like the Roman Caesar, the same Caesar whose empire tortured Jesus to death? According to the teachings of Jesus, transgressions like these are what believers should be exposing and denouncing. Indeed, in Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus makes it clear that betrayal of the poor and the vulnerable is among the worst sins possible. Moreover, there Jesus reveals that if nothing else will get one banished to Hell, hurting - even ignoring - those he calls "the least of these" surely will.
Also in that Matthew 25 passage, Jesus teaches that if we are to judge each other at all, it must be by the standard of whether we are trying to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless. That is the gospel's paramount measure of faith, not how much one shouts Jesus' name or how often and how loudly one can recite doctrine and creeds. Jesus taught - and modeled - that what is most important for those who follow him is to spend their time and treasure in this world, engaging in loving, self-sacrificial actions with the express purpose of manifesting God's love and justice on earth as in heaven.
For me, that is the standard by which all those who seek to lead or govern us must be judged.
Obery M. Hendricks, Jr., Ph.D. is a professor of biblical interpretation at New York Theological Seminary, the author of The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Teachings of Jesus' Teachings and How They Have Been Corrupted