Mark Driscoll, Barack Obama, and the Jealous Disciples

Photo credit: Boston Globe

Photo credit: Boston Globe

I pastor a church of strong political opinions, both Republican and Democrat. I have parishioners who support the Tea Party, and parishioners for whom the Democrats are far too conservative. But every Sunday morning, when we pass the peace of Christ in worship, they cross the aisles, shake hands, hug, and sincerely communicate their care for one another.

My parishioners teach me about more than what it means to be a good American. They teach me about what it means to be a real Christian. They never question the sincere faith of those who vote differently than they do. They just accept that we all have different ways of living out our faith in the public arena.

Which is why the national speculation about President Obama’s faith has always bothered me. President Obama is a Christian, by both his own attestation and the witness of many others who know him. He prays. He reads Scripture. And I sincerely believe he tries to act out of his faith beliefs. And yet, there are so many Christians who refuse to take him at his word.

Yesterday a prominent evangelical pastor, Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, took to Twitter to share this: “Praying for our president, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.”

Now, I had a few initial thoughts about Mark Driscoll’s walk with God upon reading that tweet, but I won’t share them because, really, I have no idea what his faith journey is like at the end of the day. But that means that Mark Driscoll has no idea about President Obama’s either. And he has no place using his position of spiritual leadership to make such an arrogant, condescending, and disrespectful statement.

I’m not saying any of those things simply because Barack Obama is the president (though Driscoll couldn’t have picked a more high profile target) but because every person has the right to have their own relationship with God respected. The Christian right has a long history of trying to tell people whether or not they are “really” Christian, and this is just the latest example. And if they are really serious about their rhetoric of “religious freedom” then they need to lead the way and stop trying to define the faith of others.

If Barack Obama says he is a Christian, if he confesses his faith in Christ, that’s where the conversation ends. The same is true for George W. Bush, or Franklin D. Roosevelt, or even Mark Driscoll.

There is a difference between saying to someone “my understanding of Christian faith is different from yours on this issue” and saying “we don’t believe the same thing, so you must not be a Christian.” I often disagreed with George W. Bush’s actions, and struggled to reconcile them with my understanding of Christian faith, but I refused to speculate on the sincerity of his faith. That’s not my place. And I’ve had it done far too often in my life to turn around and do it to others.

And it happens far too often. We forget that some Christian right figures believe that Catholics are not “real Christians”. We forget that “real Christians” used their firm belief that they were right to rail against the faith of those who wanted to end slavery and later segregation. We forget that on an ongoing basis, gay Christians are told by these “loving” “real Christians” their faith is not real.

Some of the most faithful, loving, and sacrificing Christians I know would likely not meet Mark Driscoll’s definition of a “real Christian”. He might tell them, the way he told Obama, that they don’t really know God. That makes me frustrated for them, but it makes me sad for Mark Driscoll. How sad must it be to proclaim the love of God with one breath and to feel the need doubt the sincerity of another’s love for God with the next?

I’m reminded of the disciples who came to Jesus once and told him they had seen a man who they did not know trying to do ministry in Jesus’ name. “We told him to stop, because he was not following us,” they said to Jesus. “Following us” is the key phrase there. The man was a follower of Jesus, but not a follower of the disciples, and that’s what terrified them. Their jealousy must have been overwhelming by the time they reported back to Jesus.

Jesus set them straight, and they didn’t try it again. At least not that with that same man. But through the centuries, the disciples have made the same mistake over and over again. Mark Driscoll may be concerned that President Obama is not following his particular view of Christianity. But Christian faith has never had much to do with following the opinions of the popular crowd, and a best selling book has never granted the author the power to discern the legitimacy of another’s faith. In the end, the only two authorities on Barack Obama’s relationship with God are Barack Obama and God. I’m not either of the two. And so that’s where the discussion ends.

18 thoughts on “Mark Driscoll, Barack Obama, and the Jealous Disciples

  1. Thank you. I don’t know which is more upsetting Mark Driscoll’s tweet or the large number of professing Christians who agree with him and support his statement!

  2. It is my personal belief that the reason many people assume extremists & fundamentalists to be the “norm” is because they are more conspicuous… the very nature of their rhetoric is aggressive, hyperbolic & outspoken. I don’t mean to be presumptuous, but it seems that those who are more balanced or centered in their faith exhibit the fruits of the spirit as described in Galatians 5:22-23…. “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

  3. Emily,
    I’m asking this out of love. Doesn’t Jesus say repent and turn to me? I hear you saying worshipping creation and not the Creator is ok (read Romans 1 and you will know exactly what I mean). I hear you say disregard the instruction of Paul to Timothy on the qualifications of an elder. Please do not disregard the parts of the Bible you do not agree with because they do not fit in with what you want. Are you in Adam or in Christ? I love you and want to remind you of that which is of first importance, the gospel. Read 1 Cor 15:3-4. Repent of your sin before it is too late.

  4. If you confess Jesus as your Lord, you join the ranks of a family of high stature. If they both, Mark and Barack, confess Jesus, this makes them brothers. While I don’t endorse judgement, we, as brothers and sisters, are called to hold each other accountable and to a higher standard of living. Mark didn’t pinpoint any particular area in Barack’s life, rather generalized. If you are upset with him for this, I would be very careful as to the words you choose to use in opposition of YOUR brother in Christ. Speak the truth in love, please.

    • First, Mark does not believe that Obama is his brother in Christ, as he has made very clear. Second, my words to Mark were spoken in love. Third, I don’t take anonymous comments on my blog. If you choose to respond again, please do as the comment form asks and use your full name.

      • And I didn’t sense a hint of love in your post, more of a judgemental spirit, which is what you were pointing out about Mark’s post. I understand he said something people could determine as a risky statement, but isn’t that being bold? Rather than conforming to the patterns of this world and keeping everything to ourselves so as not to offend anyone just pushes your beliefs further down. I’m all for Obama living his life in God’s light, but I’m not going to assume that just because he say’s “I believe in God”, means that he is a Christian. Demons believed Jesus was the son of God, that did nothing for them. What fruit is he bearing as a Christian? What fruit are you bearing, or myself? Faith alone does not save you.

    • Disagreeing with Mark’s claim that President Obama does not believe in the Bible and probably does not know God is not attacking Mark’s faith. It is holding him accountable for presuming to be in a position to judge President Obama’s faith. If you and I were to make a long list of sincere beliefs which we hold, chances are you would have a reason to disagree with me on several such points and I would have a reason to disagree with you. Neither of us would be in a position to declare that the other does not believe in the Bible or that the other probably does not know God. That is the issue here.

  5. samstar3 You still are posting anonymously. If your name doesn’t come through the way you are posting; could you include your name with your comment?

  6. I’ve found this article very timely and well reasoned. When I reposted it I almost immediately got negative responses, not as much to the article as to it’s subject (Obama, not Driscoll, sorry). This came after I criticized a friend for posting a sub-60 second video claiming that Obama is a Muslim because he said “the Holy Koran” three times. It seemed that there was absolutely no way he would accept that Obama was a Christian, that the “truth” would tell otherwise. I think that’s the rub here – I don’t think that there would be as strong a response to Romney’s faith if he were President from the conservative right, although it could be considered just as far off theologically from that point of view. Republican heterodoxies are more acceptable than Democratic ones maybe. There’s just so much anger and eagerness from both extremes to push the other out into the outer darkness, I am doubting whether honest dialogue is possible at all.

  7. God bless you for this timely and sensitive article! I was reared in the deep south in an uber-religious community where people had to look, act, think and worship a specific way in order to be “Christian” enough. It wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I discovered that God actually loves people who don’t fit that narrow mold, and let me tell you, it was liberating! The religious right are people I know well.They are my friends, they are my family, they are my neighbors, and they are breaking my heart. After my divorce, a well-meaning pastor friend came to me to suggest that perhaps I wasn’t a Christian because, after all, isn’t divorce a sin? Rather than make me bitter (well OK, just a little bitter…) he made me more determined to see others as Christ sees them, not as I see them or as the church sees them. Even those who are intolerant deserve my tolerance. We simply weren’t placed here to judge the salvation of others, especially when we make those judgments so publicly and harshly. So today, I will pray for our President (whom I love and pray for daily, anyway) but I will also pray for Mark Driscoll and his disciples who are littering my social media timelines with their ignorance and intolerance. I think it’s what Jesus would do.

  8. From another displaced LBGT Southerner living in the north, I would totally go to your church if I lived in your area. You rock girl. Thanks for the article.

  9. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? — Mathew 7. My question is, does Barry Soetero (barack Obama) bear the fruits of a Christian? I don’t know about you guys, but for the most part, I can tell what an orange is and what an apple looks like.

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