Several years ago, a series of interviews with prominent American leaders, focused on their faith, gave birth to the book, The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People. One of the interviews was conducted with Illinois State Senator Barack Obama at the Café Baci in Chicago on March 27, 2004. This remains his most comprehensive interview on his faith. Here, we will consider some of the most revealing answers Mr. Obama gave to questions about his faith – none of which he has retracted in the 12 years since the interview.
What do you believe?
“I am a Christian. So, I have a deep faith. 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 ten. My father was from Kenya, and although he was probably most accurately labeled an agnostic, his father was Muslim. And I’d say, intellectually, I’ve drawn as much from Judaism as any other faith.”
What is the road to truth?
“I’m rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power. There are values that transcend race or culture.”
Have you always been a Christian?
“I was raised more by my mother and my mother was Christian.”
What denomination were you most influenced by?
“My grandmother was Methodist. My grandfather was Baptist. But my mother, she wasn’t a church lady. We’d go to church on Easter. My mother was deeply spiritual, but I had no structured religious education.”
What church are you a part of now?
“The church I have become involved with is the Trinity United Church of Christ. And the pastor there, Jeremiah Wright, became a good friend. So I joined that church and committed myself to Christ in that church.”
Did you actually go up for an altar call?
“Yes. Absolutely. It was a powerful moment for me because it not only confirmed my faith, it allowed me to connect the work I had been pursuing with my faith.”
When was that?
“1987 or 1988.”
So would you say you were born again?
“Yeah, although I don’t like to think I have a monopoly on the truth or that my faith is automatically transferrable to others. I think religion at its best comes with a big dose of doubt.”
Do you pray often?
“Uh, yeah, I guess I do. It’s not formal, me getting on my knees. I think I have an ongoing conversation with God. I think throughout the day, I’m constantly asking myself questions about what I’m doing, why am I doing it.”
Who is Jesus to you?
“Jesus is a 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.”
Is Jesus someone who you feel you have a regular connection with now, a personal connection with in your life?
‘Yeah, yes. I think some of the things I talked about earlier are addressed through, are channeled through my Christian faith and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Have you read the Bible?
“Absolutely. But I don’t read it as regularly as I would like.”
Do you take time for prayer and meditation each day?
“I’ll be honest with you, I used to all the time, in a fairly disciplined way. But now I don’t . . . just too busy.”
What do you think will happen to the people of the world who aren’t Christians?
“I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell.”
Do you believe in heaven?
“Do I believe in the harps and clouds and wings?”
A place spiritually you go to after you die.
“What I believe 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.”
Do you believe in sin?
What is sin?
“Being out of alignment with my values.”
Let’s go back to that moment in 1987 or 1988. Was that moment – the altar call – an epiphany for you?
“No. I think it was just a moment to certify or publicly affirm a growing faith in me.”