Obama’s faith should be a non-issue. Here’s why it keeps coming up.

On Saturday, Wisconsin Governor and soon-to-be presidential candidate Scott Walker added another item to the growing list of noncontroversial questions he refuses to answer.

This time, it concerned President Obama’s religion.

Asked by The Washington Post if he thinks Obama — who has gone out of his way for six years to inject his Christian faith into his rhetoric, largely due to conservative conspiracy theories that he’s actually a secret Muslim — is in fact a Christian Walker responded: “I don’t know.”

Per the Post:

“I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that,” Walker said, his voice calm and firm. “I’ve never asked him that,” he added. “You’ve asked me to make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with about that. How [could] I say if I know either of you are a Christian?”

Walker’s office, in full fire drill mode, quickly called the Post to clarify his answer:

“Of course the governor thinks the president is a Christian,” [Walker spokeswoman Jocelyn Webster] said. “He thinks these kinds of gotcha questions distract from what he’s doing as governor of Wisconsin to make the state better and make life better for people in his state.”

Setting aside for the moment that Webster’s follow-up completely contradicted Walker’s original answer, she came close to making a good point: President Obama’s faith shouldn’t be a serious question posed to a potential presidential candidate during the run-up to an election that Obama won’t be running in. It doesn’t matter. At all.

But Walker’s office should expect journalists to keep asking as long as they aren’t sure what the answer is going to be.

If you’re curious, or perhaps frustrated, as to why every Republican candidate is probably going to be asked about Obama’s faith this week, look no further than the people they have to pander to for the next year and a half: Republican primary voters and activists, who run the gamut from uncertain about Obama’s Christianity to absolutely convinced that it doesn’t exist:

The funny thing is, nonbelievers such as myself have had similar suspicions. Here’s Christopher Hitchens in 2009, laying out the case for why he didn’t think President Obama was a Christian in, as Erickson would put it, “a meaningful way”:

Said Hitchens:

Our new president, I’m practically sure, is not a believer. In the book he wrote before he realized he was going to run for president, which is a good test, he writes in a very convincing way that his mother explained to him that religion was essentially baseless. He later explains that if you’re going to be in politics in Chicago you had better have a church to go to — that’s a different point from faith. He made a very, very secular — highly secular — inaugural address, and he’s made some very interesting remarks since then about the dangers of establishing faith in politics.

Based on that, I’ll at least entertain the idea that President Obama might not practice the same flavor of Christianity as Scott Walker (although, to be fair, I’ve never talked to Scott Walker about his faith, so I can’t say for sure that he’s really a Christian…). Wouldn’t the real problem be, then, that “nonbeliever” is the one demographic group in this country that is practically (and in some cases legally) barred from holding elected office? The fact that you can’t get elected as a state senator in Chicago, let alone president, if you don’t wear belief in God on your sleeve says something about a nation that was founded on the idea that it didn’t matter what you believed so long as you worked hard and didn’t try to force your religion on other people.

But, regardless as to what the Constitution says, the Republican primary still includes a religious test. That test has lots of questions on it, and apparently one of them is “Do you think President Obama is a Christian?” As Matt Lewis at The Daily Beast noted, the correct answer to that question definitely isn’t “I don’t know.”

So no, what President Obama believes about the afterlife has no bearing on American domestic or foreign policy. But as long as Republican primary and general election voters care, and as long as Republican candidates like Scott Walker squirm when answering, journalists are going to keep asking.

After all, no one’s wondering about Hillary Clinton’s beliefs. She’s got all of those bases covered.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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9 Responses to “Obama’s faith should be a non-issue. Here’s why it keeps coming up.”

  1. cleos_mom says:

    ***Wouldn’t the real problem be, then, that “nonbeliever” is the one demographic group in this country that is practically (and in some cases legally) barred from holding elected office?***

    I don’t think so. If the Religious Reich’s rhetoric is any indication, that includes anyone who doesn’t self-identify as Christian. And I’m guessing it also refers to the “Nones”, who are not necessarily atheist or agnostic. If these people got the “Christian nation” they want, I doubt anyone in any of these groups would be able to vote.

    The overheated fantasies about “the unbeliever”, now that’s another story.

  2. BillFromPA says:

    The repugs have been looking for a substitute for n****r since he was nominated. They keep upping the ante and they’re extremely angry that they can’t just say what they mean. I wish they’d just come out of the closet and say it.

  3. judybrowni says:

    Because it’s dogwhistle for : “Obama, still black.”

  4. Strepsi says:

    Obama’s faith should be a non-issue. Here’s why it keeps coming up.

    He’s Black.

    The end.

  5. rmthunter says:

    Ran across this: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/polltracker/poll-57-percent-republicans-christianity-national-religion

    “A majority of Republicans nationally support establishing Christianity as the national religion, according to a new Public Policy Polling survey released Tuesday.

    The poll by the Democratic-leaning firm found that 57 percent of Republicans
    “support establishing Christianity as the national religion” while 30 percent are opposed. Another 13 percent said they were not sure.”

    Tell you anything about why it’s an issue?

  6. rmthunter says:

    I don’t really care about Obama’s religion, as long as he’s not some wild-eyed theocrat. But of course, that’s what the right wants.

  7. Indigo says:

    What is it to be “meaningfully” Christian? and why does it matter?

  8. Houndentenor says:

    This isn’t about religion. This is about painting Obama as not a “real” American and therefore not the legitimate president. They can’t attack him for being black. They know better. Only someone as out of touch with reality as Ted Nugent would make the “mongrel” attack. No, they attack him with lies about where he was born and his religion.

    The reality is that politicians are with virtually no exceptions advised and coached on how to answer questions about religion. If anyone thinks they are hearing their actual beliefs, they are delusional. In fact, I’m not sure that after a decade or more of being “handled” even the politicians themselves know what they believe about much of anything.

  9. Bill_Perdue says:

    Obama’s superstitious beliefs led to this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6K9dS9wl7U

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