From the panel

Saturday, January 30, 2010; B02

Below is an excerpt from "On Faith," a weekly Internet feature sponsored by The Washington Post and Newsweek. Each week, more than 50 figures from the world of faith engage in a conversation about an aspect of religion.

In the Weekly Standard, University of Virginia Professor James W. Ceaser argues that President Obama's approval ratings are suffering, in part, because Obama has been cast as a secular savior by people who are trying to "replace God with the Religion of Humanity." This week, "On Faith" asked panelists: Do we expect our presidents to be spiritual leaders as well as political leaders? Can they be? Should they be?

Should presidents be spiritual leaders as well as political leaders?

Americans expect the president to be a spiritual leader as well as a political leader. . . .

It is true that these roles are not easy to balance. For example, Obama's task of climbing the political Himalayas of stimulus and health reform in our present political climate has been more than enough for any human to tackle, leaving little time for inspiration. Perhaps our expectations may be too much for either one office or one person to bear.

-- Janet Edwards, Presbyterian minister and co-moderator, More Light Presbyterians

Obama is not a "spiritual leader." He is a political leader with spiritual convictions which, rightly, he neither conceals nor obtrudes.

-- Willis E. Elliott, minister, teacher, author

In Obama, Americans like me were looking for a savior -- not a religious savior to save our souls, but a political one to save our country. The American president has no business worrying about the souls of the American people. That is not his job.

-- Pamela K. Taylor, founder, Muslims for Progressive Values

The president is elected to serve as a political leader, not a religious one. The president is the leader of the whole nation, not one segment of the religious community. His speeches and pronouncements should reflect the understanding that he is president of all people in this religiously diverse, religious freedom-loving nation.

-- J. Brent Walker, executive director, Baptist Joint Committee

Americans do seem to expect their presidents to be spiritual leaders, but given a choice, they'd rather the president make sure they have a job. If the unemployment rate were now at 6 percent, even 7 percent, would we even be having this conversation? No, of course not.

--Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, professor, Chicago Theological Seminary

To read the complete essays and more "On Faith" commentary, hosted by Jon Meacham and Sally Quinn, go to

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