One of my relatives has bounced a couple of email forwards my way this election season, and those are always fun. He’s a young, committed Republican who isn’t so much for McCain as he is against Obama. That seems to be a common posture during this election year, much like the 2004 Presidential campaign–a contest between those strongly for and vehemently opposed to George W. Bush.
This past week my relative passed along an email from a soldier alleging that Barrack Obama “blew off” soldiers during his recent visit to Afghanistan. As with most emails of this kind, I searched for some of the key words to ascertain the validity of this email, and ended up at Snopes.com. You can read the email which is circulating and check out of some of the evidence to debunk the allegations here, if you’d like. Snopes has found that the claims made in the email are false.
During the same week I received another note from the same person with a link to an anti-Obama video which can be found at www.phforamerica.com. The video includes portions of a speech Obama had given at the Call to Renewal Conference in June, in which he posits which portions of the Bible should be used in public policy. I personally thought this paragraph of Obama’s speech was careless, though I did not see his rhetoric as “mocking” the Bible or those persons who read it as did those at pH for America. As I said, I didn’t care much for Obama’s comments which made the video, but I wouldn’t go quite so far as those who produced this video.
Obama’s entire speech can be found here, and I recommend that you read it. It is quite good. Because my family member asked me for my thoughts, I’ll quote the email below. Feel free to agree or disagree with some of my points. I think Obama’s speech brings up a number of important points thinking Christians who happen to live in America should be taking into consideration. Obama’s argument, at times, is quite sophisticated. Check it out and think with me about it.
As for the email, here it is:
I did receive the email you sent with the anti-Obama campaign ad, featuring a portion of his speech at a Call to Renewal conference on faith and politics. I’m pretty familiar with Call to Renewal, who’s leading figure is a man named Jim Wallis. Wallis has commented extensively on American politics and Christian faith. He considers himself an evangelical, but focuses his agenda on a broader range of issues than the traditional hot button topics. He is opposed to the war in Iraq, and was at it’s onset. He focuses more on the environment. Most importantly, however, Wallis is a champion of the poor in America, and for this I applaud his efforts. More Christian people need to be vocal concerning their care and concern for the poor. Guys like Rick Warren have been convicted of just how much the Bible says concerning care for the poor in recent years and has proclaimed just how much is demanded of God’s people concerning care for the poorest of our neighbors. I hope that we as the church take these words of the Bible more seriously than we have in recent decades.
Anyway, back to the Obama address. I just took a few minutes to read through Obama’s entire speech–it is interesting reading. Obama draws from a pretty broad range of theologians and even some political philosophy (John Rawls, is one example) in his speech. He also includes important historical examples from American history where faith and politics intersect. Among his examples are Lincoln’s “Second Inaugural Address” and MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which both invoke religious (specifically Christian) language to elevate our nation onto a higher moral plane. He alludes to Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association–an important historical document for our thinking on the relationship between our government and religious bodies. Obama’s speech, on the whole, raises many of the key issues concerning the current state of our religiously pluralistic nation’s dis-ease with religious speech as part of our public discourse. It’s undeniable that faith has been privatized. Obama’s rhetoric at least suggests that the religious beliefs of Americans have a place in public discourse, though he suggests certain guidelines in an effort to establish some form of “public reason.”
The paragraph in question, which is integrated in to the two minute commercial, is one which I’m uncomfortable with. I think that it misrepresents basic principles of biblical interpretation, and belittles thinking Christian people who fall in to the category of theologically conservative.
Is he mocking those people? I don’t think so. Is he mocking the Bible? I don’t think so. I do think his statements represent his naivete concerning how the Bible is read, how it should be read, and even how the overarching narrative of the Bible plays a part in public political discourse.
His statements regarding Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and our Defense Department were the most interesting to me. pH for America seems to think that Obama is wrong in his assertion that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount would seriously disrupt our Defense Department’s policies on war and combat. They claim that Jesus’ “Sermon” can somehow be read to support such American campaigns as the “War on Terror,” and that Jesus’ would surely support American efforts to violently retaliate against agents of terror. I would like to see how they plan to substantiate such a claim on the basis of the text, and how they might construct a politics of the people called “Church” in a way that could justify actions of bloodshed and violence. I’m not saying that a case cannot be made for Just War. I am saying that pH for America’s representation in this ad lacks sophistication and raises more questions than it does provide answers for serious, thinking Christians who should be deeply disturbed by acts of violence and bloodshed against people, no matter how depraved, for whom Jesus died and now sends us (his church) to be his ambassadors of reconciliation to the world (2 Cor. 5).
To be truly forthright, I voted for President Bush in the 2004 election, so I supported him. In 2000 I didn’t vote, which was wrong, but my vote would have counted in Texas, which was in hand. During his two terms I have seen his speechwriters invoke biblical language in ways that are manipulative of the text as well–sometimes in ways that Christians should have been downright outraged. Most of the time we didn’t notice. For example, I recall Bush using language from John 1 to justify the War on Terror. He chose to use phrases such as “the light came in to the world, and the darkness has not overcome it,” equating darkness with agents of terror and America as “the light,” setting up what I believe is an incredibly dangerous paradigm. We both know that the “light” in John 1 is Jesus himself, the word made flesh, who not only exposes the darkness in the hearts of terrorists, but exposes the darkness made manifest in certain aspects of the American political landscape. According to the New Testament witness, it is God, not nations, who rules the world, and one day we will all be held to an account standing before the throne of the lamb who was slain.Sorry for the long reply. It was probably more than you were hoping for.
Thanks for the greeting. Hope you are well.
I linked to Bush’s Ellis Island speech, which you can feel free to read.
It is high time in America that we took seriously the shifts which have taken place in the nature of our public discourse. The church should recognize that the culture we have created in the West has now become the culture which we must respond to missionally. In the meantime we must figure out how we are to navigate public political discourse in something called democracy.