Posts Tagged ‘Election 2008’

After the election a couple of news outlets carried a story concerning an alleged “noose” found on the Baylor campus.  Those stories included details of other alleged incidents, including an Obama/Biden campaign sign bonfire and a racially charged shouting match between students of differing ethnicities.  I wrote a reflection on those stories here.

A couple of Baylor friends noted on Facebook that a new turn had occurred in this case.  They asserted that the “noose” was actually a tree swing, and the Obama/Biden bonfire was actually the burning of a few computer boxes.  I searched online for these stories when I heard these claims but came up empty.  My dad reminded me of this follow up story last night during a phone conversation so I decided to look again.  I found stories at the Houston Chronicle and at the Waco Tribune-Herald which gave the details of Baylor’s findings.  Baylor’s official report is significantly different from the initial news headlines.  No doubt a number of people were deeply hurt and saddened by the headlines which disgraced the university in the days immediately following the election.

If you read through the reports from the Trib and the Chronicle, you’ll find that the Baylor community did proactively initiate conversations on race.  I’m thankful for this.  Even if the rope “noose” was only a tree swing, and the fire contained only computer boxes, that does not negate the intense, racially charged exchange which occurred between students on election day and the need to continue to work for reconciliation between peoples of different ethnic backgrounds.  These events did expose something which brews beneath the surface in most every community, including my own here in eastern Kansas–racism.  As a nation, we may have taken some steps in the right direction, but we still have not reached the promised land.

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I attended Baylor University.  I didn’t just attend.  I am a graduate.  And I’m proud of that.

I’m not proud, however, of events which happened on campus in the wake of Election Day.  Barack Obama became the first African-American to be elected President of the United States, completing a long campaign which inspired many citizens to involve themselves in the political process for the first time.  This election marks a major milestone in race relations in this country, but as Taylor Branch (MLK’s biographer) notes, it does not indicate an, “explicit achievement or accomplishment in race relations in the lives of everyday Americans.”  Branch continues, “I hope we don’t get into a tailspin where everyone calls this the racial promised land.”

Reports that a noose was found on the Baylor University campus (read this piece in the Baylor student paper) at 9:00 a.m. on Election Day show that while the nation as a whole may have made progress, there are white “everyday Americans” who continue to harbor racism against minority groups in this country.  Other reports from the Baylor campus, including the occurrence of a small bonfire utilizing Obama campaign signs as fuel and a shouting match between black and white students, point toward a much deeper problem.  While Dub Oliver (whom I consider a friend) might assert that “What we are seeing is one person – or a very small number of people – that are acting out in ways that are inconsistent with our community,” these events should cause the Baylor administration to ask big questions pertaining to race relations on campus and explore whether the university is doing enough to open spaces for dialogue, expose prejudice, work toward reconciliation, and yield a more faithful embodiment of obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In the Lariat article linked above Baylor Chief of Police Jim Doak is cited as saying that the shouting match between black and white students is an example of people being “a little tacky,” which is a vast understatement and fails to take seriously the issue at hand.  The witness of Baylor University deserves more than curt dismissals or even well formulated statements such as that from Interim President David Garland, who wrote in a campus-wide email, “These events are deeply disturbing to us and are antithetical to the mission of Baylor University…We categorically denounce and will not tolerate racist acts of any kind on our campus.”  The denouncement of racist acts is not enough.  More action is needed–action which addresses those attitudes and prejudices which lead to such acts.  As Martin Luther King noted, “When we foolishly minimize the internal of our lives and maximize the external, we sign the warrant for our own day of doom.”

Members of the Baylor NAACP on Wednesday wisely issued a statement saying, “We have faith that the Baylor community will come together and bridge differences to create an environment of inclusiveness, understanding and acceptance [of] all members of the Baylor family. We look forward to campus support of forthcoming initiatives.”  I echo their call.  It is high time that Baylor University not only claim to be an inclusive community, it is time that the university undertakes the hard work required to move toward reconciliation and true racial justice.  The root of the matter must be addressed.  In a spirit of humility and love, university leadership should issue a call for repentance where we have committed acts of hatred toward our minority brothers and sisters, open spaces for dialogue where conversations of healing can take place, and seek to overcome the obstacles which hinder true reconciliation.  I’ll be the first to repent, and I pray that my friends belonging to minority groups will extend forgiveness, welcome me in love, and walk forward with me in hope that one day our children will grow up to love and value one another despite the differences in the color of their skin.

As I reflect on my time at Baylor I know that racist attitudes were present but rarely, if ever, addressed prophetically.  It was not until after my time at Baylor University that my eyes where opened to the truth found in Genesis 1 that God created all people, male and female, in the image of God.  During my time at Dallas Theological Seminary, an African American friend named Torrey shared with me and my classmates his perception that within a community of men and women training to be leaders of Christ’s church that racism still persisted.  As a result I examined my own deep seated prejudices and attitudes which led me to false beliefs about persons possessing a skin color different from my own.  

When I read New Testament passages where a Jewish Rabbi extended compassion for Samaritans (a racial “enemy” of the Jews) it was as though the scales began to fall away from my eyes.  I read of Peter, who in Acts 2 witnessed the gospel being heard and received by both Jews and proselytes–Elamites and Medes, Parthians and those from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Libya, Cyrene and even Rome–and I saw that the gospel united those of many nationalities, speaking many languages, coming from many different lands and cultures.  Phillip, in Acts 8, is sent to a man from Ethiopia who upon hearing the good news about Jesus becomes one of his followers.  In Revelation 5 I was awed by the angels worshipping the Lamb that was slain, singing, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

I grew up in East Texas, and I am deeply aware of the tensions which still exist between people who are black, white, hispanic, or otherwise.  Having grown up in this environment, I am deeply aware of the reluctance to speak of such issues.  Exposing a wound always brings pain.  This particular wound, however, bears exposing, for only through examining what lies at the heart will we be able to address our maladies, our sin, and elevate together to a high place, a place which is in greater accord with God’s will that all people should be reconciled to their Creator and to one another.  As 2 Corinthians 5:18 makes clear, we have been given the “ministry of reconciliation.”  What an opportunity to bring about great joy, seeing brothers and sisters united together to do the will of God regardless of race, nationality, gender, or economic status.  What a great opportunity to witness to the Kingdom of God.  What a great opportunity to see God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

While my call for reconciliation may be considered extreme, it is no less than what our times demand.  As noted by Taylor Branch above, the Obama victory does not mark the end of racism for “everyday Americans.”  But my primary concern is not everyday Americans.  It is everyday Christians who are called to show everyday Americans what God has called them to be.  This includes everyday Christians called Baptists.  It is everyday Christian people, particularly the Baptist people to whom I owe so much, that I hope will undertake extreme measures to address the prejudice and hateful attitudes which brought to the fore the ugly events of these past few days.  Mild statements and curt dismissals will not lead us to the healing that we so desperately need.  We will need leaders who desire to go to the extremes.  We will need extremists.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. boldly challenged:

So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist we will be.  Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love?  Will we be extremists for the preseveration of injustice–or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?  In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill, three men were crucified.  We must not forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism.  Two were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their environment.  The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment.  So, after all, maybe the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

May the leadership of Baylor University, and all Baptist people everywhere who love that university’s great name, live extreme lives in accordance with the demands of the gospel to seek justice, love mercy, and humbly walk with their God.  May we thereby realize that hoped for attainment of true reconciliation.  The light shining upon Pat Neff, representative of our witness to the watching world, will only shine brighter and truer as a result.

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Whether you are celebratory or mournful concerning the Obama victory, this speech is worth watching.  This has been a historic election.  I’ve gauged reactions to the victory in many ways, the most interesting being chatter among coworkers at the bus company.  Facebook has hosted its fair share of opinions as well.  For something totally different, I really enjoyed this article from The Onion.  Here are three successive clips that contain the speech:

Part 2

Part 3

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This year I have paid more attention to politics than I have in my lifetime.  I have learned a great deal.img_42971

In the weeks leading up to the election I invested time reading blogs, listening to speeches, thinking about issues, opening spaces for dialogue among friends, read publications arguing for and against questions on the ballot, and preparing myself to take part in democracy as an informed citizen.  I tried my best.  I asked coworkers who they were voting for.  I listened to Democrats and Republicans.  I even read politico marketing pieces and paid attention to television ads!  I was surprised to find some Christians arguing against casting a vote in this election, with not everyone agreeing (read the comments).

Whoever you vote for this election at the local, state, and national level, you’re shaping the future of this nation.  You are participating in the political order.  You are supporting candidates who will stump, fight, compose, and pass legislation that will shape our land.  As Aristotle noted, “Political society exists for the sake of noble actions, and not of mere companionship.”  You are taking advantage of the opportunity to participate in democracy.  This can be a good thing.

I voted today, and thus participated in our community and in the future well-being of our nation.  I’m fairly confident that regardless of who wins at each level of government all will be well.  Here is a picture of me outside my polling location, a two minute walk from my house.  I was in and out in 15 minutes, and the machines worked fine.

There are innumerable ways to participate in community.  Voting is only one of them.  Other ways are to give speeches, join associations, get involved in local schools, volunteer, make friends with your neighbors.  I teach Sunday school, work with a local organization called YouthFriends, and spend time with high school students at my church.

We can do a lot of good when we engage our communities, learn about issues, and work toward virtuous goals together.

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For what it is worth, this is a cool concept.

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For those engaged in the political process this piece from Ben Witherington is a short, worthwhile read.  Witherington is the Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary.  Witherington does not tell you who to vote for, thankfully, but offers some helpful guidelines for Christians evaluating both candidates and carefully discerning for whom they should cast their vote.

Witherington speaks strongly to his readers, saying:

There is really no excuse for laziness when it comes to being an informed voter, especially when we now have such a wealth of information online, and through other viable sources of news about candidates. Do not use the ‘cop out’ of ‘they’re all just the same’, or ‘no politicians are trustworthy’ or ‘I don’t have time for this’. If you have time to enjoy the freedoms you have in this country, then you certainly have time to become an informed voter. Period. 

This November Witherington encourages us to do our homework, vote even if we are frustrated, avoid being a one-issue voter, consider character, prioritize the issues, and to think and pray before casting a vote.  He doesn’t break down either McCain or Obama issue by issue–he doesn’t need to.  Others have done the work.  We just have to tap into the resources.

I would fall in to the category of “frustrated voter.”  This comes after watching the debates, reading plenty of print material, and intense discussions with friends about the issues.  I’m particularly frustrated that an $850 bailout bill was passed by Republicans who said that the $700 billion proposal was too expensive, and am miffed that a bill which was around 3 pages when initially proposed expanded to a 400 page document in a week.  If any incumbent voted FOR the bill in my district, which I need to check in to, then they may have lost my vote.  I don’t see our next President addressing the outlandish fiscal policies which have guided Washington in recent years, likely because our elected officials are benefitting in some way.  Obama and McCain have too much at stake to offer strong words and a solid plan for how our finances are and should be managed, likely because that would ruffle the feathers of their most wealthy political supporters.

I plan to vote in November.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t think it stinks to be part of American democracy right now.

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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:

Dear Friend:

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.

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