Virtual Voices

Obama before he was famous

Religion

Cathleen Falsani interviewed then-State Sen. Barack Obama on March 27, 2004, for "The God Factor," a series in the Chicago Sun-Times that later became a book by that name. God's Politics, the Jim Wallis/Sojourners blog, republished the interview last week with a note from Falsani:

"Because of the seemingly evergreen interest in President Obama's faith and spiritual predilections, and because that 2004 interview remains the longest and most in-depth he's granted publicly about his faith, I thought it might be helpful to share the transcript of our conversation. …"

Below are excerpts. Question: How would you describe Obama's faith in 2004, based on what he said then? How often did he miss Jeremiah Wright's preaching? Do you agree with his description of Jesus and his response about heaven?

Cathleeen Falsani: What do you believe?

Barack Obama: 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 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.

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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. … [O]ne of the churches that I became involved in was 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.

Falsani: Do you still attend Trinity?

Obama: Yep. Every week. Eleven o'clock service.

Ever been there? Good service. …

Falsani: Who's Jesus to you?

(He laughs nervously)

Obama: Right. 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. …

Falsani: Do you have people in your life that you look to for guidance?

Obama: Well, my pastor is certainly someone who I have an enormous amount of respect for. …

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.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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