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The Faith of Barack Obama by Stephen…

The Faith of Barack Obama

by Stephen Mansfield

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The Faith of Barack Obama was written by Stephen Mansfield (author of The Faith of George W. Bush) before Obama was elected. By and large, it is about his quest for his own personal religious identity, and the various influences in his life, including his folk-muslim uncle Lolo and Jeremiah Wright. In this respect, there are many insights that all Americans, especially white Americans, can gain into the tenets of black protestant and black liberation theology. It is not an academic work by any means, but it remains expository, not critical.

Mansfield takes a positive approach to Obama and believes, like many Americans in 2008, that he would heal the nation's racial and religious ills. That being said, he doesn't speculate into how his religious beliefs would go on to affect his policies and governance, beyond such traditional hot-buttons issues like abortion and gay rights.

Four years into Obama's presidency, we see how Mansfield and others missed how Obama's own religious and ideological views would shape his presidency (over-the-top outreach to radical middle-eastern Muslims, contraceptive mandate and the Catholic Church, etc.) But Mansfield did not write a political book, he wrote a biography that was meant to inspire, even if in the process details had to be sanitized. In the end, that is not in and of itself a bad thing, but a crucial fact to keep in mind while reading. ( )
  Texsain | Oct 9, 2012 |
Let's face it, no political book can be written from an unbiased or from an apolitical perspective; it just can't. An author is either going to write a book extolling "their guy's" virtue and finding no fault or they are going to conduct a scathing hit job of their candidates opponent. The Faith of Barack Obama falls into the former.

This saccharin sweet puff piece was nearly too much to stomach! I don't fault the author for promoting Barack Obama as the smartest, infallible and most politically astute person ever to walk the Earth, but come on. In the introduction to the book we learn President Obama can be all things to all people: be you a disaffected youth, not quite to atheism but ready to fall one-way or the other from the fence of agnosticism; or be you a devout _fill in the blank_ church attendee but come away each Sunday wondering how much of what the _pastor/priest/what-have-you_ said is true. Barack Obama embodies both of these qualities and feels your angst.

Stephen Mansfield takes issues which the Right present in opposition to President Obama head-on. From the Muslim upbringing to attendance at Trinity United Church of Christ and the famous Rev. Wright to earning over a 100% rating from NARAL, he makes no mistakes and despite a lack of political calculation, just by being himself, President Obama unites all but the staunchest Leftist atheist and Right wing evangelist.

The critical evaluation of President Obama by Mansfield comes through with lines like: "To be a member of a church is not necessarily to descend into mindlessness, and a mind as fine as Obama's is less likely to accept ideas unexamined than most." And in an apparent attempt to sanitize President Obama's attendance at Trinity, a chapter is spent explaining the vitriol preached in the church and Black liberation theology only to ultimately treat it as valid ideas that have no need to be questioned. The chapter is filled with racial animosity, unashamed explanation of how a Black Jesus should rid religion of the modern White Jesus - as it was manufactured to maintain slavery and oppression. Never mind the incendiary language used during sermons to espouse (physical?) destruction of "White" religion, but God forbid crosshairs are used on a political map.

I picked up this book for two bucks to see how the Left would defend a man who "clearly had some sense of his own destiny." ( )
  HistReader | Mar 21, 2012 |
Courtesy of Thomas Nelson publishing, one of the political/election books I've read recently is The Faith of Barack Obama by Stephen Mansfield (also available for in Hardcover and as an Audiobook). I read the first two chapters on my Kindle (after converting the PDF to the Kindle format, free courtesy of Amazon's email conversion service, since I started before the book was officially released), and you can too. Get the intro and the first two chapters in PDF form here or for those with a Kindle, download the free sample here.

While once we obtained our information about candidates thru newspapers, campaign speeches and gossip at the town store or barbershop, today's candidates seem to be required to publish at least one (and apparently preferably more than one) book about their life, their views and, now, their religion. Not to mention the obligatory spousal autobiography for presidential candidates (although you only get a print copy if your more political half is actually elected). In a country founded by those escaping religious persecution, where a primary tenant is a basic human right includes a freedom from state sponsored religion (at least in theory, if not in practice), we have become a people obsessed with the religion of our politicians and eager to enact or preserve laws we see as preserving our religious beliefs. At a time when our country is at war with two countries run by conservative religious factions, the religion of the future leader of our land has become one of the hottest topics of the race (even while the issue of race itself hides behind the objections of religion).

In past races, simply getting a few articles (and later pictures) of the candidate and his family attending a church (of any kind) was sufficient to establish that they too shared all the same values as the "average American." With Kennedy, however, his religion became an issue in that it was believed the Catholic Church would hold too much influence over his decisions (after all, they had thousands of years of practice at it, even if it wasn't going so well for them in recent years) and candidates were obliged to add that although they, of course, were deeply religious, that no particular church would unduly influence their governance. Fifty years later, voters seem to want a diametrically opposed philosophy - they want their candidates to vote their religious views no matter what the Constitution might have to say on the issue and Catholics and Protestants alike have aligned into a unified Christian Right. What many now appear to be afraid of is someone with a "different" religion, now no longer defined as a different branch of Christianity, but as any non-Christian religion, especially the one that rules those countries with which we are at war. Many early campaign questions were about the religion followed by Barack Obama and were usually dodged in the same manner as in campaigns past - but those answers were no longer sufficient for those seeking reassurance that he shared the same religious beliefs (especially as they were and are still barraged with various emails scare warning that if Obama is elected the country will be converted to an Islamic state). But answering questions about religion in press conferences is a losing proposition, a lesson McCain learned in his first Presidential campaign. Instead, one must now write a book - not only does it allow a more thought out and in depth answer to the question, it forestalls it in the first place, implying the journalist hasn't done his research. Obama didn't have his treatise on religion prepared up front, nor did he publish it under his own byline, as his biography and campaign platform have been. Instead he relied on a writer who has published an in depth look at the faith of George Bush and a history of religion in the United States, a shrewd move that instantly lends the book greater credibility and less of the appearance of a campaign brochure.

In The Faith of Barack Obama, Stephen Mansfield attempts to present a fair picture of Obama's religious beliefs (or at least actions and experiences). Perhaps too fair, as far as those looking for assurance that Obama is a devout Christian, as he claims, as the early part of the book paints a picture of a religious chameleon - raised by an atheist mother and grandparents disenchanted with the hypocrisy of the churches they had attended, his religious exposure ranges from nil to smatterings of various teachings popular with students in the 60's. Taken to Indonesia as a child, where all persons must register their religion, he was registered as a Muslim, but first attended a private Catholic school, where he observed all their religious practices as if they were his own. Later switching to a Muslim school, he then observed their religious practices in the same manner. At home, his father urged him and his mother to be embrace Islam, yet he believed and followed superstitious practices rooted in earlier pagan religions (eating tiger meat no doubt made those who had to also catch and kill them braver, assuming the survived the hunt, but only subjects those who buy it in the market to high costs and risks exposure to diseases from eating a carnivorous animal and unregulated, poached meat) and tolerated personal behavior by servants in his own home that no conservative Muslim would allow. Moving back to the States, Barack resumed his non-religious existence and only "embraced" a formal religion after getting involved in politics in Chicago. No doubt, the reality of attempting a political career without at least the appearance of a religious grounding were pointed out to him there and he promptly started attending and later joined the most powerful black churches in Chicago (and one he has had to distance himself from in the campaign).

The section of the book covering his religious conversion seems the most weak - it is almost as if the author wishes to convince himself that Obama had a religious void in his life (thus the one time visit to a church in NY) and found it filled while in Chicago. Yet that doesn't seem the case in books with Barack's own bylines or even in later sections of the book. And the selection of the church is nothing if not political - no young black politician could hope to get the support needed for his career without belonging and no doubt that need is one reason he stayed (at least so one hopes) despite the extremist, racist and violent views espoused by the church's leaders. Indeed, the church's leaders regularly preached against other religions and mainstream Americans after 9/11, yet was only denounced by Obama six years later during his campaign. Yes, as an adult, no doubt he could separate the religious message of the church from the racial and religious hatred coming from the pulpit -- but there is little doubt that his or any children would not be able to do so and the church's viewpoint meshes perfectly with his wife's statement of being proud of her country "for the first time" only after his nomination. If you listen to the same message over and over, even if you started out knowing it is wrong, it colors your thinking and a desire for continued association with those of a certain viewpoint will always color at the least your actions. A church that was an asset during the early part of his career became a liability for a presidential candidate and was eventually shed, just as previous religious trappings had been discarded earlier in his life, but it's lasting effect on his views remains to be seen.

The last third of the book tries to explain how a nation founded on a don't ask, don't tell religious stance now finds itself obsessed over the details of it's politician's religious beliefs and experiences. Additionally, a comparison of the beliefs and backgrounds of what where at the time the frontrunner candidates fills one chapter (at the time of publication, Barack's nomination was not assured). A well researched (complete with endnotes) book, the author's own religious views do peek out now and then.The author concludes that "Americans are used to religious insincerity from their political leaders, [yet] Obama seems to be sincere in what he proclaims", seeing faith infusing Obama's public policy, while holding up Clinton and Carter as examples who separated their faith and practice. In the end, however, there is only one person who can ever know the true faith of Barack Obama. Everyone else can only judge whether his past actions agree with their own religious viewpoints and if that is sufficient. ( )
  koland | Nov 30, 2008 |
This book is...written in the belief that if a man’s faith is sincere, it is the most important things about him, and...it is impossible to understand who he is and how he will lead without first understanding the religious vision that informs his life... –Stephen Mansfield

I think reading The Faith of Barack Obama by Stephen Mansfield after the 2008 election is over has allowed me to better absorb the wealth of understanding this book provides. Mansfield, who has also written of Churchill, Booker T. Washington, George W. Bush, et. al. has a gift for honing in on, and creating a well-documented text that speaks directly to and clearly presents the defining points of the person about whom he has written.

It is not the first time Mansfield has written about the faith of men. It perhaps, though, is the first time that his book is published immediately before the election of that man as president elect. Obviously, the biography may well become a must-read for all Americans, as we look toward the time of change that Obama has promised. I believe the book covers essentially all of the issues that drove this year’s election and helps lay a foundation that will guide our understanding of the future.

One of the major highlights of the book was a comprehensive, comparative analysis of the “Four Faces of Faith” for those individuals who were the primary participants in the 2008 election: George W. Bush as the individual who was leaving the office and then Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain as the leading candidates. Each of these individuals has openly discussed their faith during the election. Reading the comparison however, clearly focuses on how the candidates’ profession of faith may have been perceived by citizens.

Mansfield begins his book, naturally, with a look at Obama’s early life. Considering the diversity of influences from his major role models—his parents, grandparents, and his stepfather¾it is somewhat amazing that he was able to intellectually work through the breadth of his experience and arrive at a point where he chose to follow Christ. Then, as various political campaigns were undertaken, Obama was constantly attacked from a faith standpoint; however, being under fire, actually worked to forge his beliefs into both rhetoric as well as actions that in turn fired his growing numbers of followers.

“We worship an awesome God in the Blue States,” declared Obama at the 2004 Democratic Party Convention speech. Quite willing to claim that democrats were Christians too, Obama has in essence “founded” a Religious Left that has met the needs of the millions who soundly rejected that only the Religious Right were true Christians. “We, too, have faith...Those of us who believe in a woman’s right to choose an abortion, who defend the rights of gays and who care for the poor... It was a conscious attempt to reclaim the voice of the American political Left.”

Mansfield clarifies issues regarding Obama’s early teachings in Islam, and his relationship with Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., as well as a discussion of the black church experience, which historically has provided a method for hearing the news, dealing with issues and planning for the good of the community. His inclusion of a perhaps little-known issue, of the “Tuskegee Syphilis Study,” lends credibility to his discussion and forces us to better understand the fear and anger of a large part of our population!

In closing, Mansfield highlights a number of healers—those who are able to bring about change for the good. Will Obama be such a healer? Mansfield seems to imply that he just might be. He has been forced to share and has willingly stood on what he believes, while at the same time, admitting, for instance, when he is unsure of his position on abortion, that “I don’t believe such doubts make me a bad Christian. I believe they make me human, limited in my understandings of God’s purpose and therefore prone to sin.” (From The Audacity of Hope) May this reviewer add her personal “Amen” to that!

Needless to say, I highly recommend The Faith of Barack Obama by Stephen Mansfield!

No matter how religious they may or may not be, people are tired of seeing faith used as a tool of attack. They don’t want faith used to belittle or to divide...Because in the end, that’s not how they think about faith in their own lives. --Barack Obama

Respectfully submitted,

G. A. Bixler
For Thomas Nelson ( )
  GABixler | Nov 16, 2008 |
Review at Fashionista Piranha, my book blog:
http://fashion-piranha.livejournal.com/27646.html?mode=reply ( )
  makaiju | Aug 31, 2008 |
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Mansfield presents an insightful portrait of Obama that shows how his faith motivates him as a Senator and as a Presidential candidate.

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