DES MOINES, Iowa — Following release of interview footage with Barack Obama and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson, some are expressing concern about Obama’s remarks regarding those of the Christian faith.
“Tell me a little bit about how your interest in Christianity converges with your concerns about democracy,” Obama asked Robinson, being the interviewer.
“Well, I believe that people are images of God. There’s no alternative that is theologically respectable to treating people in terms of that understanding,” the novelist replied. “It seems to me as if democracy is the logical, the inevitable consequence of this kind of religious humanism at its highest level. And it [applies] to everyone. It’s the human image. It’s not any loyalty or tradition or anything else; it’s being human that enlists the respect, the love of God being implied in it.”
Obama then cited some of Robinson’s concerns about Christians.
“But you’ve struggled with the fact that here in the United States, sometimes Christian interpretation seems to posit an ‘us versus them,’ and those are sometimes the loudest voices,” he said. “But sometimes I think you also get frustrated with kind of the wishy-washy, more liberal versions where anything goes.”
The president then asks a question regarding his view that those who take religion seriously are “suspicious” of those with different beliefs.
“How do you reconcile the idea of faith being really important to you and you caring a lot about taking faith seriously with the fact that, at least in our democracy and our civic discourse, it seems as if folks who take religion the most seriously sometimes are also those who are suspicious of those not like them?” Obama asked.
“Well, I don’t know how seriously they do take their Christianity, because if you take something seriously, you’re ready to encounter difficulty, run the risk, whatever. I mean, when people are turning in on themselves—and God knows, arming themselves and so on—against the imagined other, they’re not taking their Christianity seriously,” Robinson replied.
Some note that Obama has made critical statements about Christians on a number of occasions during his presidency, including a comment during a prayer breakfast in April.
“I do reflect on the fact that as a Christian, I am supposed to love. And I have to say that sometimes when I listen to less than loving expressions by Christians, I get concerned,” he said.
“Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ,” Obama also stated in February.
“The Crusades were a defense against Islamic aggression and takeover of [Catholic]-held lands. These were bloody wars that went on for centuries, but not because the [Catholics] liked war—but because the Islamic aggressors would not stop waging war, much like they do today,” Martin Mawyer of Christian Action Network wrote in response at that time.
“Did Obama mention the Islamic aggression during the Crusades during Ramadan? Did he ever take the opportunity at a Muslim holiday or gathering to chide the Muslims for getting up on their ‘high horse; about their religion?” he asked. “Of course not. He only tells it like (he thinks) it is when there is a Christian gathering, and only in strident anti-Christian tones.”