Huckabee Says Obama is “Pretending to Be a Christian”

Somewhere on the floor of the Arctic Ocean there is a titanium flag on a tiny flagpole, dropped in 2007 from a passing Russian submarine. Recalling the Spanish conquistadores’ arrival on a Caribbean beach, that romantic gesture symbolizes Russia’s territorial claim to vast swaths of Arctic seabed.

Caught in the spotlight of a deep-sea robotic submersible, the tiny Russian flag looks ridiculous: a childish, king-of-the-hill gesture on the part of Vladimir Putin. But it embodies something far more ominous.

So, too, with a remark Presidential candidate Michael Huckabee made in a recent radio interview. In charging President Obama with “pretending to be a Christian,” Huckabee is dropping his own tiny flag, staking his personal claim on Christian orthodoxy.

Mr. Huckabee is a Southern Baptist minister, but rarely does he define himself as such. He belongs to a breed of radical Anabaptists who would sooner say they’re “just Christian,” in an aw-shucks sort of way, than admit any denominational allegiance. The allegiance is there if you press them. It’s rather sharply defined. They just don’t lead with it.

On the face of it, the “just Christian” label sounds benign, even ecumenically tolerant. Yet, hidden behind the genial exterior is a conquistadore’s iron will.

The origin of this variety of faux ecumenism can be traced to the evangelical resurgence of the 1950s and 60s, particularly the work of another Southern Baptist pastor, Billy Graham. In his early, Red-baiting years, Dr. Graham hewed to a line similar to that of today’s religious right. Yet, as his ministry style matured over the years, he worked with a broadly ecumenical coalition, including many mainline Protestants. In his own way, he strove to be genuinely ecumenical.

Graham’s modus operandi—leading the circus parade of his “crusade” into town,  supported by volunteers from a broad range of denominations—allowed a great many Americans to assume there is such a thing as generic Christianity, that can exist on its own like a bean planted in a schoolchild’s paper cup of topsoil.

One becomes a Christian as a matter of individual choice, the act of a repentant heart. The next step is to shop one’s spiritual seedling around to various local churches, in search of the one with the best garden soil in which to plant it. Should the seedling fail to flourish, it can always be transplanted elsewhere. (Or not. Some try to go it alone, expecting their plant to thrive in the light afforded by the flickering image of an evangelist on a television screen.)

In time, believers took on the theology of their host denomination, seldom aware that some of the doctrines they were learning from the pulpit were not common to every Christian tradition. It takes a certain spiritual humility to admit that such diversity within Christianity is real. Absent such humility, it’s but a short jump to the sort of intolerance Mr. Huckabee reveals in his accusation regarding the president’s faith.

Barack Obama was a member of the United Church of Christ for 15 years.* Based on biblical interpretations that differ from those of the Southern Baptist Convention, the UCC doesn’t see an inherent ethical conflict for GLBTQ people in committed relationships to marry. When President Obama invited a few marriage-equality activists, including gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, to be part of the large crowd that greeted Pope Francis, the proverbial smoke started emerging from Mr. Huckabee’s ears (I swear I heard it, over the radio).

Pope Francis—he of the beneficent “Who am I to judge?” remark—did not appear to have a problem with the President’s guest list (although Vatican functionaries did issue an official “harrumph”). Conservative evangelicals joined Mr. Huckabee in rushing to the Pope’s defense—a curious turn of events, because a great many of them would not otherwise be quick to include Roman Catholics within the circle of true Christianity. This is not only on account of classically un-Protestant doctrines like the bodily assumption of the Virgin Mary, but also because of certain Vatican social pronouncements that are goads to the religious right: particularly those urging governments to proactively address problems of immigration, climate change and the plight of the poor.

What if Mr. Huckabee had accused the President of “pretending to be a Southern Baptist?” His barb would not have been nearly so sharp.

But he knows that. There is calculation in his choice of words. This Southern Baptist pastor-turned-politician knows perfectly well that there are theological differences between his denomination and the President’s.

He just doesn’t choose to admit it: because there may be territory yet to be conquered by planting his banner on the sea-floor.

*Editor’s note: this article originally implied that Barack Obama currently belongs to the UCC when in fact he parted ways with the Trinity UCC back in 2008. RD regrets the error. 

  • Jim Reed

    This is a great topic and it gets to the heart of the discussion. What is the definition of a Christian? I don’t believe you can actually answer that because there are just too many contradictions in the religion.

    One becomes a Christian as a matter of individual choice, the act of a repentant heart.

    That is a good attempt at a definition, but I think it still leaves some holes. What about Jesus? Does Jesus have to be a part of the equation? And if so, what exactly is Jesus? That is a growing question, and will take some time for people to resolve because they are moving from a system of ancient belief toward a system of dealing with what we actually know. Once you start to see it can’t really be defined, then you have to conclude it is reasonable for lots of self-identifying Christians to accuse lots of others to be pretending. If Obama sat down to describe how he sees Christianity, I imagine he would get just as logically screwed up as anyone else trying to describe it, so the religion only works if it splits into different collections of Christians accusing other collections, which is basically what we have always had.

  • Rmj

    What’s the definition of a “black hole”? Surprisingly, there are quite a few contradictions in that, too.

    To be a “Christian” there must be consistency sufficient to satisfy you? Emerson had a phrase for that; something about hobgoblins, as I recall.

    What does it meant to be an “American”? Birthright? Attitude? Political leanings? Patriotic feelings of a certain nature? Find me a definition, especially of persons, or a label applied to persons, without contradictions; and then we can talk.

    And generally the definition of a Christian is someone who accepts Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. That’s the working definition among Christian ecumenists, anyway. Does that exclude Mike Huckabee from insisting he has the “true” definition, and others don’t fit it? No. But then, gagging the Mike Huckabee’s of the world is not really the task of Christians, either.

  • Jim Reed

    That is probably how you have to define it. Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Load and Savior? That is the basics of evangelism. I think Jesus Christ is also the weak link of Christianity. That accept Jesus as Lord and Savior part normally leads to creating and professing a creed. Does a Christian need to believe in the Trinity? What about heaven and hell? Does the Jesus Savior story only have meaning as relating to sending people to either heaven or hell? Is it possible heaven and hell are only a theological construct, and not real? What about the Trinity? Is it possible that is not real? And if not, does Jesus as Savior not really have any concrete meaning? Flexibility in the theology might be beneficial to Christianity as a religion because whatever you believe can shift as needed as society grows and expands. Is it possible accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior doesn’t really do anything, other than consolidate the authority of the church that is teaching the doctrine, and the pretend Christians are the ones who profess the closest relationship to Jesus because it is a pretend relationship?

  • Well_Read

    Apparently you have to believe in the authority of the bible which means the earth is 6000 years old and any science that disproves the bible is the devils work (carson said that). You have to believe in the deity of jesus and a historical resurrection. They have to suspend their disbelief, (like when you watch a sci-fi movie) except it’s for the rest of your life.

    Those are the standouts that younger ppl point out when rejecting christianity. They believe in science, rational thinking, and learning as you go. Much like our deist founders.

  • Well_Read

    O’reilly told Huckabee on his show that he could never win because the country is too secular now, won’t elect a preacher. Hucklebee rejected that. He thinks he can regulate the length of a woman’s skirt if elected.

  • Rmj

    Don’t know much about the non-creedal denominations of Xianity, I take it? Most of those are “evangelical,” ironically enough.

    And “Jesus Christ is the wink link of Christianity”? Well, I guess, although without the Christ (it’s not his last name), you don’t have “Christianity.”

    So I’m not sure where you’re going with that.

  • Jim Reed

    Other religions can be based on things more obscure. Christianity is based on the reality of an actual man, described in the last third of the first century, and backdated to the start of the century. Once it becomes known they were just making that person up, can they recover? Right now they would probably say they can, but I think it will eventually all fall apart, and make recovery impossible.

  • Interesting rabbit-trail here, but in writing the article I was merely making a quick snapshot sort of comment about HOW one becomes a Christian, according to the tradition of Billy Graham and his later theological progeny. Didn’t have the space to comment comprehensively about the question of what it means to be a Christian. Without giving the question a great deal of thought, I’d probably say it’s “To sincerely seek to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ,” or something like that.

  • Jim Reed

    Interesting rabbit-trail here

    Thanks. It feels good to have someone recognize that.

    I was merely making a quick snapshot sort of comment about HOW one becomes a Christian,

    That kind of comment is always an invitation to expand further. When you say sincerely seek to live as a disciple of Jesus, I think there is a question of what sincerely means. The inclusion of that word might at some point become a reason for splitting off more denominations. I think all the questions about the what or how of Christianity are different starting points for ultimately reaching the same destination, what happens if a modern approach to the Bible ends up showing Jesus was not a real person? All of our Christianities are based on the four gospels. They were written in the last third of the first century, and they are the story of a man backdated to the beginning of the century. In the middle of the century we have the extensive writings of Paul, basically our only writings of Christianity from before the gospels. They describe a Christ who Paul found in old testament scriptures, and in his visions. Everything from the gospel stories seems to be unknown to Paul. Sometimes Paul refers to things he has said in his sermons which in the gospels become sermons of Jesus. Even miracles that Paul works can become greater miracles by Jesus in the gospels. This seems to be the story of a Christianity that was developing from the religious environment of the day, and then was later changed into the story of a man, Jesus of Nazareth. I think it is hard for people to see the issue here after they have spent hundreds or thousands of years developing their Christianity, but this does seem to be evidence that the gospels were just made up, and are not the true word of God. In fact they are totally fiction. This might not mean much yet, but as it sinks in, I think this will have to end up being a critical issue for Christianity as a religion.

  • Erictt

    If anyone know about merely pretending to be a Christian, it is Huckabee.

  • Laurence Charles Ringo

    First,Jim Reed,do YOU know what you call”the true word of God”is? If so,please–feel free to enlighten us.Secondly,you make a dogmatic statement that the Gospels are…”totally fiction”..According to whom? YOU? And beyond your opinion,you make this sure assertion based on…what,exactly? The so-called”scholars”who propagated this long-discredited theory? Sorry,Jim Reed

  • Jim Reed

    So the point of Christianity is believe or die. That was one of the early reasons to question Christianity back before all these other issues got added on. Did God create a world just so people would believe and praise and worship him? And he does this by dividing the world into two parts, believers and non-believers, then wipes out the non-believers so the praise can continue unhindered forever? We might soon be traveling to other planets, so we should probably get this issue resolved before it spreads too far.

  • Laurence Charles Ringo

    If we’re all tossing this particular ball around “Well_Read”, (i.e.”free will”):in what sense are you or anyone else REQUIRED to believe the tenets of the Christian faith?(And by the way,your pseudo-theological ignorance is showing–The Scriptures NOWHERE state that the Earth is 6,000 years old; that’s known as a hermeneutical extrapolate,and said extrapolate doesn’t posit a literal determination,to whit,…”one day is AS a thousand years,and a thousand years is as one day”…,so…)What is more,there are various reasons why Christianity is rejected,and it didn’t begin with so-called “Millenials”Try again.

  • Jim Reed

    Questioning of Christianity seems to be many times more than what it was a few years ago, and that kind of questioning was extremely rare 50 years ago. Many seem to think the millennials are questioning the most, but in any case the side of questioning now seems to have safety in numbers, and they can’t really lose because they have so much to question, and it keeps becoming more clear Christianity doesn’t have answers. Their only hope was to stop the questioning before it started, and they have lost that battle.

  • Well_Read

    no one is required but those three beliefs define an ‘evangelical’ according to other evangelicals. there is no room for common sense. original sin is a required belief in order to need jesus to save you. without the adam and eve story there is no christianity, and most evangelicals believe genesis took place 6-10 k years ago (whether it’s in the bible or not).

    I never said millennials were the first to reject, but at least 30% of them reject as well as 25% of those under 25 reject and are mostly atheist. they are the ones who grew up with the internet and don’t rely on just the bible for that info.

    These are things I found from what I read from objective sources, your sources and ideas are allowed to be different of course. It doesn’t mean either of us are not well read/researched, just reached different conclusions.

  • Laurence Charles Ringo

    The”Questioning of Christianity”can best be described as a pseudo-intellectual parlor game largely engaged in by quasi-theological dilettantes like Spong and the discredited so-called ” Jesus Seminar”.Our “questions”(i.e.,Christians at large.)have been,and are being answered as we encounter the Risen Saviour in our daily walk with Him,and He both reveals Himself and again answers the question,whatever it is,in ways that doubters,skeptics,and unbelievers simply cannot comprehend; it’s much easier and far more satisfying to puff yourselves up with your supposed intellectual superiority as you constantly seek to congratulate yourselves on how much smarter you are than the average Christian believer.Frankly,if your overweening hubris wasn’t so ludicrously pathetic,it would actually be humorous. (And in a certain since it is.After all,how funny can it be when you presume to know everything?)—PEACE IN CHRIST, ALWAYS! !

  • Jim Reed

    Christianity needs to show something real if they want to convince the millennials. The words aren’t going to work any more. If they could show heavens scrolling apart and a giant Jesus head in the sky, or something that really does show divine power, that would make a big difference. Christianity has become a pretend religion with people pretending to have a personal relationship with Jesus, and the millennials won’t buy it. What worked in the past won’t work now.

  • Laurence Charles Ringo

    Thanks,Jim Reed…you just proved my point. By claiming that…”Christianity has become a pretend religion with people pretending to have a personal relationship with Jesus”…you’ve careened from assuming that you and those of your ilk actually know what you’re talking about regarding the Christian Faith to proving beyond doubt that you have NO IDEA what,or who,The Christian Faith is really about.Tell me,Jim Reed,do you actually know any Christians beyond the silly caricatures you’ve concocted in your own mind? I mean,if you’re content with going with whab09 d

  • Jim Reed

    I know lots of Christians, and there are two kinds of Christianity. One kind believes the Bible is God’s word, and they believe everything they read in the Bible, which means they believe everything they hear in church. The other group is noncommittal about exactly what Christian beliefs are, so you can’t pin them down because if you focus in too close on one belief, then they shift and actually believe something else. When you think about it it makes a lot of sense. They have two choices. Either they have to blind themselves, or they have to blind the audience.