The one-hour interview by Cathleen Falsani was conducted when Obama was running for U.S. Senate, several months before he was introduced to the country during his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech. At the time, Falsani was a religion reporter for the Chicago-Sun Times. Although the interview formed part of a book ("The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People"), much of Obama's answers were not included in it. She calls the interview the "longest and most in-depth he's granted publicly about his faith," and she made the transcript available at the Sojourners website in February.
Among Obama's most intriguing answers, he says he believes there are many paths to God. His answers on heaven and sin, though, have drawn the most discussion:
FALSANI: "Do you believe in heaven?"
OBAMA: "Do I believe in the harps and clouds and wings?"
FALSANI: "A place spiritually you go to after you die?"
OBAMA: "What I believe in is that if I live my life as well as I can, that I will be rewarded. I don't presume to have knowledge of what happens after I die. But I feel very strongly that whether the reward is in the here and now or in the hereafter, the aligning myself to my faith and my values is a good thing. When I tuck in my daughters at night and I feel like I've been a good father to them, and I see in them that I am transferring values that I got from my mother and that they're kind people and that they're honest people, and they're curious people, that's a little piece of heaven."
FALSANI: "Do you believe in sin?"
FALSANI: "What is sin?"
OBAMA: "Being out of alignment with my values."
FALSANI: "What happens if you have sin in your life?"
OBAMA: "I think it's the same thing as the question about heaven. In the same way that if I'm true to myself and my faith that that is its own reward; when I'm not true to it, it's its own punishment."
Obama said he is a Christian but that he also draws beliefs from other religions.
"I am a Christian. So, I have a deep faith," he said. "So, I draw from the Christian faith. On the other hand, I was born in Hawaii where obviously there are a lot of Eastern influences. I lived in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, between the ages of six and 10. My father was from Kenya, and although he was probably most accurately labeled an agnostic, his father was Muslim. And I'd say, probably, intellectually I've drawn as much from Judaism as any other faith."
He added, "So, I'm rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people."
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said after reading the transcript, he views Obama as being a "typical 21st century National Council of Churches, mainline Protestant."
"He would be quite at home at Vanderbilt Divinity School, Perkins School of Theology, Yale Divinity School, Union Theological Seminary," Land said of a series of schools that embrace liberal theology. " ... He certainly is someone who views the Bible as a resource, not as ultimate authority. And so he is a cafeteria Protestant. He certainly is not putting himself under the authority of Scripture."
Obama's answer on sin, Land said, is well off target.
"An orthodox Christian answer would be 'being out of alignment with God's values,'" Land said. "The contrast is stark."
But Land won't say that Obama is not a Christian.
"You can't know that without talking to him," Land said. "I wouldn't say that about anybody without talking to them personally, because Christianity is first and foremost a personal relationship between the individual and Jesus."
Asked who Jesus is to him, Obama answered, "Jesus is an historical figure for me, and he's also a bridge between God and man, in the Christian faith, and one that I think is powerful precisely because he serves as that means of us reaching something higher. And he's also a wonderful teacher. I think it's important for all of us, of whatever faith, to have teachers in the flesh and also teachers in history."
Obama was not asked about his beliefs on the deity of Christ or the resurrection.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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