Is President Obama Really Christian?

America's "most powerful conservative" doesn't think so. What are we really talking about when we talk about the president's faith?

Reverend Dr. Luis Leon (R) looks on as United States President Barack Obama (C) prepares to leave St John's Episcopal Church after an Easter service, in Washington, 31 March 2013. Photo by: Drew Angerer/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Reverend Dr. Luis Leon (right) looks on as United States President Barack Obama (center) prepares to leave St John’s Episcopal Church after an Easter service, in Washington, on March 31,  2013. Photo | Drew Angerer/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Forget the Oscars. Here’s how Erick Erickson, the blogger-activist recently labeled by The Atlantic as America’s “most powerful conservative,” entertained himself this weekend:

Erickson’s comments came the same week that Rudy Giuliani proclaimed: “I do not believe that the President loves America.” For those of us on the left, the main reaction was something like: “Sheesh. This again?”

Six years after he entered the White House, after all, we’re still debating the president’s identity. We’ve mostly (but not entirely) moved on from the idea that he’s a secret Muslim, but other questions have persisted. Has that ever really happened before? Certainly not recently. Americans weren’t debating George W. Bush’s beliefs in 2006 or whether Bill Clinton did or didn’t love America in 1998 or if Ronald Reagan was a secret communist in 1986. We knew who they were, for better and for worse.

What makes Barack Obama different? Charitably, let’s say that he had a relatively short stint in public life before becoming president: His 2004 address to the Democratic National Convention catapulted him to public notice; he was in the White House four years later. Less charitably? Well: You’ll notice that white presidents don’t seem to face this kind of questioning.

Democrats vs. Republicans

If we’re going to talk about politics and religion, though, let’s talk about how we talk about those things. Liberals tend to be concerned with conservative hypocrisy; conservatives tend to focus on who gets to be in the club. Democrats tend to suggest that Republicans make bad Christians; Republicans tend to suggest (or enforce) that Democrats can’t be Christians at all.

Conservatives tend to assert that liberals have failed to pass some religious litmus test. Erickson’s tweet about the president’s faith was annoying, but it was very much in keeping with an ideology that, say, seeks to deny communion to Catholic politicians who believe in abortion rights.

And when you hear a Democrat criticize a Republican on religious grounds, it’s usually something like: “He says he’s a Christian, but why doesn’t he care for the poor?” Democrats tend to be more secular than Republicans, yet our biggest criticism of GOP social conservatives tends to be that they’re not enough like Jesus. That’s annoying for both sides.

Sure enough, the biggest problem with Erickson’s weekend tweet was his (unbelievably smug) failure to live up to his own faith’s best traditions. I’m not sure he could withstand the scrutiny he applies to President Obama. Erickson achieved notoriety by calling then-Supreme Court Justice David Souter a “goat-(bleeping) child molester,” which, last I checked, was not a quote from scriptures.

Christ ministered to a Roman soldier who oppressed the Jewish people. Erickson forever wants to bomb America’s enemies. Christ warned against parading your faith in public. Erickson sets himself up as the blogging arbitrator of other people’s relationship with God. And the Bible commands Christians to pray for their governing leaders. Maybe Erickson does that , but it’s not in any way reflected in his comments about the president. Erickson is ripe for the hypocrisy charge.

Then again: If we practice what we’re preaching here, we must pray for Erickson. Even though he’s a big jerk.

What do you know?

One problem though: The answers to questions raised by Erickson and Giuliani are ultimately unknowable. They depend on our ability, basically, to mind-read: What does the president in his secret heart of hearts really believe? We can’t really, honestly know, and anybody who posits that they do — like Erickson — fails to recognize the limits of his or her own knowledge.

Maybe it’s time to give up that particular debate. Nothing useful has come of it; at this late date, it’s doubtful anything could.

We do have six years of President Obama’s record to consider, as well as two years of his forthcoming policies to debate. Obamacare, taxes, immigration policy, what to do in Iraq: All of these things matter way more — and will have much more impact on our own lives — than the president’s secret beliefs and feelings about, well, anything. It’s what he does and proposes to do that should matter, not some armchair speculation.

The state of President Obama’s soul? That’s between him and his God.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.