President Obama's recent proclivity for stirring debate on social issues, such as religious freedom laws and gay rights, represents a dramatic shift from his self-described struggle on same-sex marriage and his administration's previous preference for keeping such issues on the backburner.

In his second term, Obama has exhibited few reservations about wading into the clash between those who say their rights are being violated in the name of religion and others who insist they are victims of religious persecution.

A president who talked about laboring to reconcile his religious views with personal feelings about social justice now frames such deliberations in more concrete terms. And he has shown a new willingness to take on what he views as intolerance within the Christian community.

"On Easter, I do reflect on the fact that as a Christian, I am supposed to love. And I have to say that sometimes when I listen to less than loving expressions by Christians, I get concerned," he said in an apparent nod to religious freedom laws recently passed in Indiana and Arkansas.

Those remarks last week came after he drew a comparison between Islamic extremism and the Christian crusades during the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this year, which he certainly knew would generate a fair share of controversy.

What the White House frames as a willingness by Obama to bring up inconvenient truths, critics dismiss as politically calculated stunts.

"The president is a hypocrite," said Republican strategist Mark Corallo. "He is very facile when it comes to changing his views to suit the moment. He supported gay marriage to begin with. He just didn't want the average American to think he did because he wanted to get elected [in 2008]. And now Christians are being slaughtered by the bushel in the Middle East, and he's worried about a religious liberty law that almost mirrors the federal law."

Republicans have been quick to point out that Obama voted for legislation as an Illinois state senator in 1998 that was similar to the Indiana religious freedom law now being condemned by the White House.

However, Obama's surrogates have dismissed the comparison.

"If you have to go back two decades to try to justify something that you're doing today, it may raise some questions about the wisdom of what you're doing," argued White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

The kerfuffle, though, plays into the larger debate about Obama's views on social issues — and how he uses his office to influence the debate.

In his book earlier this year, former Obama senior adviser David Axelrod wrote that the president misled the public when he claimed opposition to same-sex marriage in 2008, citing religious reasons.

"I'm just not very good at bullshitting," Obama told Axelrod, according to the book.

As White House officials would freely acknowledge, the president's endorsement of gay marriage in 2012 was more politically advantageous than detrimental to his re-election efforts, effectively mobilizing his base at a time when his approval ratings were hovering around 40 percent.

Obama has waded into a number of issues lately that he rarely broached during his first term.

Most recently, the president announced that he wants states to prohibit therapies attempting to change the sexual orientation of gay, lesbian and transgender youth. The president won't make an extensive federal push to ban conversion therapy but hopes to influence a debate that meshes with the White House's messaging strategy.

That announcement came after an executive order went into effect banning discrimination against gay and transgender workers employed by federal contractors. The White House designated its first gender-neutral bathroom for staffers on the same day.

Some analysts said, however, that Obama is more willing to dissect Christianity than other religions.

"There is a double standard where Christians can never be portrayed as the victims for some reason," said Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, noting that Obama did not highlight that Christians were targeted in a deadly attack at a Kenyan college and in other recent massacres.

"There is an effort by this administration to look away," she added. "They don't want to be offensive to Muslims and criticize them for religious cleansing and persecution."