Monday, June 25, 2007

Fight for a better America

The Chicago Tribune reports on the speech Barack Obama delivered at the convention of the United Church of Christ this past weekend:
Weaving biblical imagery with political promises, Obama, a member of Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's South Side, encouraged those in the audience to follow their consciences and fight for a better America.
Absolutely right. Christian faith should govern every aspect of our lives, including the decisions we make about politics. And our political decisions should be governed, not by self-interest, but by justice and concern for our fellow man. He goes on to correctly describe the historic relationship between church and state in the United States:
"Doing the Lord's work is a thread that's run through our politics since the very beginning," Obama told church members. "And it puts the lie to the notion that the separation of church and state in America - a principle we all must uphold and that I have embraced as a constitutional lawyer and most importantly as a Christian - means faith should have no role in public life."
Until well into the 20th century this was the view of most religious people in America, liberal or fundamentalist, left, right or center. It remained the liberal Christian view, inspiring involvement in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam war movements. Political liberals welcomed these allies, only becoming worried about the influence of religion on politics when it seemed to benefit conservatives. Obama welcomes liberal activism, but:
He also accused the Christian right of "hijacking" Jesus to polarize the public.

"Somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together. Faith started being used to drive us apart," he said. "Faith got hijacked partly because of the so-called leaders of the Christian right, who've been all too eager to exploit what divides us.
The civil rights movement and anti-war activity were also rather polarizing, but their adherents didn't seem to think that a sufficient reason to back off. Isn't it a bit disingenuous to assert that those with whom you disagree are manipulating the faith for political advantage only to argue that your own agenda would be unifying?
"At every opportunity, they've told evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage, school prayer and intelligent design," he said.
Needless to say, religious Americans don't "care only" about such issues, but many do at least care about those issues and believe they are important enough to influence their votes. Democrats have taken an increasingly "pro-choice" position on abortion and become inhospitable to those who disagree.
Obama offered a list of alternative "matters of conscience," including raising the minimum wage, adopting universal health care, stopping genocide in Darfur, Sudan, ending the Iraq war and embracing immigration reform.
Ending genocide in Darfur is indeed a potential unifying issue [but why not ending it in Iraq?]. Whether increasing the minimum wage will genuinely help the poor or only result in increased unemployment, or whether needed immigration reform is represented by any particular proposed legislation, or whether socialized medicine is the best way to deliver health care to those without access, or whether ending the war in Iraq by "getting out" would make life better for any but the worst there, are probably not issues that will be unifying - they might even "divide us."

Update [6:00 pm]: GetReligion provides the portion of the speech containing Obama's testimony, and remarks how unusual it is for a politician to make so explicit a public commitment.
...during the course of that sermon, he introduced me to someone named Jesus Christ. I learned that my sins could be redeemed. I learned that those things I was too weak to accomplish myself, He would accomplish with me if I placed my trust in Him. And in time, I came to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world and in my own life.

It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. I didn’t fall out in church, as folks sometimes do. The questions I had didn’t magically disappear. The skeptical bent of my mind didn’t suddenly vanish. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works.
Chicago Tribune news: Obama tells church right 'hijacked' faith, GetReligion: Media ignore Obama's personal testimony

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