Faith

TRANSCRIPT: Barack Obama and The God Factor Interview

Obama at an April 4, 2004 Palm Sunday mass in Chicago. Via Getty Images.

Obama pictured at Palm Sunday mass in Chicago where Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke, April 4, 2004. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Editor’s Note: At 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 27, 2004, when I was the religion reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, I met then-State Sen. Barack Obama at Café Baci, a small coffee shop at 330 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago, for an interview about his faith. Our conversation took place a few days after he’d clinched the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat that he eventually won, and four months before he’d be formally introduced to the rest of the nation during his famous keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Conventio.

We spoke for more than an hour. He came alone. He answered everything I asked without notes or hesitation. The profile of Obama that grew from the interview at Cafe Baci became the first in a series in the
Sun-Times called “The God Factor,” which would eventually became my first book, The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People, in which Obama and 31 other high-profile “culture shapers” — including Bono of U2, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, the author Anne Rice and President George W. Bush's speechwriter Michael Gerson — are profiled.

Because of the seemingly evergreen interest in President Obama’s faith and spiritual predilections, and because that 2004 interview remains the longest and most in-depth he’s granted publicly about his faith, I thought it might be helpful to share the transcript of our conversation — uncut and in its entirety — here on
God’s Politics.

~ Cathleen Falsani


Gotham is No Gomorrah: New York's New Cardinal Timothy Dolan

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. Photo by Getty Images.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York hugs an American journalist outside St. Peter's Basilica Saturday. Photo by Getty Images.

VATICAN CITY — On the eve of his elevation to cardinal, New York's Archbishop Timothy Dolan said he would like to change the caricature of his city as a modern-day Gomorrah.

"New York seems to have an innate interest and respect for religion and I'm going to bring that up because I don't like that caricature that New York is some neo-Sodom and Gomorrah," Dolan told Reuters after celebrating Mass here on Friday (Feb. 17).

"I have found the New York community to be very religious and innately respectful of religion, interested in religion," he said.

Jeremy Lin and the 'Messiah Formula'

Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Fans show their support for Jeremy Lin during the game against the Timberwolves 2/11/12.By David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

No, he doesn't go down on one knee every time he nails a dunk or a perimeter shot. And as far as I know, he’s not building any hospitals in far-off countries. But the 23-year-old point guard for the New York Knicks suddenly finds himself in a spotlight familiar enough to Tebow that the pair should consider a face-to-face lunch to compare notes.

Like Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin “rode the pine” as a bench-warmer for years. Unlike the star quarterback, Lin was cut by two other NBA teams before landing a supporting role on the Knicks bench.

So why do we know about him all of a sudden? Although Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni would love to claim credit, he admits the only reason the American-born player of Taiwanese parents got his shot was because so many players ahead of him were injured.

Then, as if storing up his energy for months in anticipation of his big break, Lin lit up scoreboards, followed by sports talk shows and endorsement deals. Eleven days ago, he was a relative nobody. But it seems all it takes is leading your team to a six-game winning streak, posting 38 points against Kobe Bryant and snagging a buzzer-beater three-pointer against the Raptors to get the public’s attention.

So long Tebowmania; enter “Linsanity.”

Company Touts 'Medical Tourism" in Israel for Sick Pilgrims

Tourists pray at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Via Wylio http://bit.ly/wsudSt.

Pilgrims and tourists pray at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Via Wylio http://bit.ly/wsudSt.

JERUSALEM — Every year, thousands of Americans travel abroad for less-expensive fertility treatments, hip replacements and other medical procedures. Now, an Israel-based tourism company is offering a package that combines medical care with a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. 

IsraMedica plans to unveil the initiative Thursday (Feb. 16) at the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Nashville, Tenn.  

Eli Knoller, the company's vice president of operations, said IsraMedica already brings about 6,000 nonmedical tourists to Israel every year, the majority of them Christian pilgrims.

Just Say It: Be God's Love, Grace and Mercy Today

"Get Together in the Village." Image via Wylio, http://bit.ly/z9esUG.

"Get Together in the Village." Image via Wylio, http://bit.ly/z9esUG.

"You and I have the power to change someone’s day. And so I am going to challenge you, on this Valentine’s Day, to not only tell family members you love them, but also others whom you care for. 

"In a world where people are beat up and put down, God gives us the ability to completely turn negativity, criticism and rude opinions around. “Encourage one another and build each other up,” says 1 Thessalonians 5;11. That is one of the most significant verses in all the Bible because when we do this it sets off a chain reaction of blessing.” You become the voice of God’s mercy and grace in the lives of others."

Remembering "Nippy": Houston's Church Mourns the Death of a Famous Daughter

Whitney Houston sings at a 2011 pre-Grammy Awards event. Photo via Getty Images.

Everybody has a favorite Whitney Houston song, a memory that makes them stand still and think about how this soulful pop superstar made them feel when they heard her sing.
   
Remember the chill when she sang the national anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl, or how "I'm Every Woman" empowered women, providing confidence and inspiration?
   
But anyone who knew Houston understands that her talent came from one place, the God she served at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark. This is where it all started for its daughter, where she was the darling of the choir as a child who left people speechless, belting out gospel songs and hymns.
   
What she did through song on Sunday mornings, the members of her home church returned the favor on Sunday (Feb. 12) the only way they know how. They prayed.
   
They prayed for Emily Cissy Houston, Houston's mother, the minister of music for 54 years at the church.

No Pews, No Suits, No Problem.

RNS photo by Mandi Wright/USAToday

Pastor Steve Bentley of "The Bridge" church in Flint, Mich., has a Jesus tattoo on his back. RNS photo by Mandi Wright/USAToday

Ron Williams is the pastor of Church at the GYM in Sanford, Fla. As the Baptist church's name implies, Williams' congregation meets, well, in a gym.
   
Williams said the goal is to remove the "stained-glass barriers" for people who might not be comfortable in traditional church settings.
   
"I think all the trappings of traditional religion can make it difficult for people to start coming," he said. "You can invite someone, and they will say, 'I don't have any clothes to wear to church.'"
   
To make people feel more comfortable, Williams wears jeans. In the warm Florida climate, some members wear shorts. Other clothing types, from urban wear to biker gear, also are welcome.
   
Sanford native Sandy Adcox, 38, had not been to church in 18 years before she attended Church at the GYM last March. She hasn't missed a service since.
   
"I've never in my life felt more comfortable in a church," she said. "It's so warm and welcoming."

In Memory of Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston performs onstage during the 2011 Pre-Grammy Gala. Photo by Getty

Whitney Houston performs onstage during the 2011 Pre-Grammy Gala. Photo by Getty Images.

The Bible teaches us: “A good name is better than precious ointment and the day of death, than the day of birth.” (Ecclesiastes 7:1)

On this day, as the world morns the unexpected passing of legendary singer Whitney Houston, this wisdom reminds us that when we grieve death, we grieve our own loss.

Ms. Houston has passed from time into eternity, from this veil of tears to a place where there is no more pain and no more tears, where the only relevant judgment is the judgment of God Almighty.

As a girl, Ms. Houston sang in church, and in her last public performance she sang, “Yes, Jesus Loves Me.” In the time and space between, she lived a life of wealth and fame, of joy and pain.

Today in God: Feb. 10, 2012

Photo by Getty Images.

Photo by Getty Images.

Nuns vs. strippers. Oprah and Hasidim. A Christian TMZ.com? Muslim tweeter is in trouble. Female backlash against the GOP. Catholic television network EWTN files a lawsuit against the contraception mandate. Santorum says the contraception fight has "nothing to do with women's rights." Did Cardinal Bevilacqua die of foul play? A plot to kill the pope. Drive-thru funerals and more...inside the blog.

Til Death (or Dementia or Illness) Us Do Part?

Philip & June Weeks have been married for 58 years. RNS photo/The Weekses

Philip and June Weeks have been married for 58 years. RNS photo courtesy Philip and June Weeks.

Philip Weeks fondly remembers the days when his wife of 56 years, June, was a nurse and an artist whose paintings were compared to Rembrandt's.

Her paintings still hang in their home in Lynchburg, Va., but almost everything else has changed for the couple after she was diagnosed with possible Alzheimer's and then an abrupt form of dementia.

In one moment, the retired Charismatic Episcopal bishop said, she would lean over to kiss him. "An hour later, she looked at me and said, 'Who are you?'" he recalled.

When the person you married goes through a dramatic change, what's a spouse to do? As Valentine's Day approaches, clergy, ethicists and brain injury experts agree: There are no easy answers.

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