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CNN Religion Writer Praises 'Religious Pioneer' Obama

The producer of CNN's Belief Blog lauded President Obama as "exceptional" and a "religious pioneer" for supporting same-sex marriage and hosting his inaugural prayer service at National Cathedral.

"Well, I think it's part of what makes Obama exceptional. We think of him as a racial pioneer, the first African-American president, but I think he's also a religious pioneer," John Blake said of the choice of National Cathedral, which made headlines for announcing it will conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies.

[Video below. Audio here.]

"So to have a same-sex marriage, to talk about that in such a public way at National Cathedral, to also support it as a president, that's never been done before," Blake continued.

"I think the religious right has kind of had a monopoly on what defines a Christian. What they sound like, what their positions are on things like abortion and gay marriage" Blake added.

"And to have the original pastor Lou Giglio, when his – his so-called anti-gay remarks became public, to have him disinvited I think it's pretty extraordinary," Blake maintained.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on CNN Newsroom on January 22 at 10:29 a.m. EST, is as follows:

CAROL COSTELLO: And, John, I want to ask you about the significance of holding the ceremony at the National Cathedral. I know it's the spiritual home for the United States, but also also not so long ago, it came to light that same-sex marriage ceremonies will take place inside the National Cathedral.

JOHN BLAKE, writer/producer, CNN Belief Blog: Well, I think it's part of what makes Obama exceptional. We think of him as a racial pioneer, the first African-American president, but I think he's also a religious pioneer. So to have a same-sex marriage, to talk about that in such a public way at National Cathedral, to also support it as a president, that's never been done before.

COSTELLO: And it also entered into who is going to lead the prayer service, right? The Reverend Adam Hamilton, a Methodist, is going to lead the service. He says he lands on the conservative side on the issue of gay marriage. But unlike the first choice, who was dead-set against gay marriage, he's going to lead the prayer service at the National Cathedral.

BLAKE: Right. I think the religious right has kind of had a monopoly on what defines a Christian. What they sound like, what their positions are on things like abortion and gay marriage. And to have the original pastor Lou Giglio, when his – his so-called anti-gay remarks became public, to have him disinvited I think it's pretty extraordinary. And it's just – this is just something really new.

COSTELLO: And Jeff, I think that some Americans might not think that President Obama is all that religious because he doesn't go to a physical church every Sunday.

JEFF MASON, Reuters, White House correspondent: That's true, he does not. The Obama family did not join a church when they moved to Washington, and I remember in the – in the White House Press Room the first couple of years asking pretty regularly, have they – have they chosen a church, are they going to go to a church? And they ended up not doing so.

They go once in a while during the year. They occasionally go across the street to St. John's Episcopal Church as they did yesterday. But White House advisers say the President is religious, he attends services at Camp David, at the chapel there. And the President himself has talked frequently about his Christian faith and how it influences him and how it influences his job.

COSTELLO: The President prays in an unusual way, too, Jeff. Because I understand he does it via Blackberry often.

MASON: I didn't know that. I think he does talk about prayer, and the Blackberry is also an important part of his life, so the fact that those two are connected is kind of funny, but he certainly prays a lot. He talks about that. And he talks about the influence that that has had on his individual journey, both before coming to the White House and since he's been here.

COSTELLO: Yeah and I know that because I did a story on it. The President has a group of pastors throughout the country that he communicates with in times of his spiritual needs, and maybe you know more about this, John.

BLAKE: Yeah, he has a kind of a spiritual cabinet. And there are some people who say that this spiritual cabinet has really shaped the evolution of his faith, that in fact that he's become a little bit more conservative, a little bit more Evangelical because of the spiritual cabinet.

(...)

COSTELLO: And Jeff, I did notice, you know, especially when the President gave a speech after Newtown that the President is more apt to talk about faith and quote from scripture than he was perhaps a few years ago.

MASON: He does. And you certainly heard it at Newtown. And you hear it in events like that where he's playing the role not just of President but of griever-in-chief and of – and of somebody who is there to sympathize and console others. You'll also hear him talk about the role that the church has played in his life when he -- when he speaks to others in the African-American community.

And the other thing you talked about earlier about this playing a role today, you know, he's been to church three times over the last three days, and so the religion and the spiritual aspect of inauguration, it was clearly important to him for these -- for these celebrations this weekend as well.

COSTELLO: And John, you know, a final question for you before we have to head into a break. There were some people saying why does religion have to be injected at all into our inaugural celebrations? For example, why does the President have to take the oath of office on a bible?

BLAKE: I think that's how -- I think that's part of our country's history. I heard a historian who once told me that we just don't elect a President, we elect a high priest. And I think we couldn't have it any other way.

COSTELLO: Why not? I mean aren't times changing? People are becoming much less religious in this country.

BLAKE: They are. In fact, the fastest growing religious group of people are not affiliated with any religious group, but I still think when you hear people talk about United States being a Christian nation, that's still a very powerful impulse in our public life. And if a public figure, particularly one like President Obama, whose Christianity has been questioned if he strays away from that he might invite more criticism that he would want.

-- Matt Hadro is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center