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Blog // Thoughts
December 1, 2006

Backing Obama?

Rick Warren’s decision to invite Barak Obama to participate in the Race Against Time Global Summit on AIDS and the Church is starting to get some serious attention. Unfortunately, some of it exemplifies the ugly excesses of the Christian media. Take this repetillian rant from WorldNetDaily. “Rick Warren, the best selling author of “The Purpose […]

Rick Warren’s decision to invite Barak Obama to participate in the Race Against Time Global Summit on AIDS and the Church is starting to get some serious attention.

Unfortunately, some of it exemplifies the ugly excesses of the Christian media. Take this repetillian rant from WorldNetDaily.

“Rick Warren, the best selling author of “The Purpose Driven Life” and senior teaching pastor at Saddleback Church in California, has invited Sen. Barack Obama to speak to the congregation of the faithful on Dec. 1, 2006. In doing so, he has joined himself with one of the smoothest politicians of our times, and also one whose wickedness in worldview contradicts nearly every tenet of the Christian faith that Warren professes.
So the question is “why?”

Why would Warren marry the moral equivalency of his pulpit ‚Äì a sacred place of honor in evangelical tradition ‚Äì to the inhumane, sick and sinister evil that Obama has worked for as a legislator?”

Wow, where to begin. Warren has *not* asked Obama to preach, he has asked him to participate in a conference – quite a big difference if we are wanting to make the totalising claims at work here. Moreover, Obama is part of a *big* contingent of speakers from across the political spectrum. I don’t normally track this site or the writings of Kevin McCullough, but this particular article is clearly based on lies.

I suspect that as Obama runs for President (for surely he will and let’s hope it is sooner rather than later) we will only see more of this. I’ve been reading a great deal about Obama over the past year and what I read impresses me. It also, particularly in the case of the recent feature in Harper’s made me feel that it was best he run soon and not let a long stay in the Senate tarnish him with concessions to lobbyists.

I always advise caution for anyone who wants to hitch their theological mission to a political wagon. But, Obama is the most compelling US Presidential hopeful I can recall. I was only 8 when Jimmy Carter came to power, I hoped for Bill Clinton’s election, but mainly because of the bankrupcy of Bush the Senior’s global vision. As for Bush the Younger, well I recall watching the first Presidential debate of the 2000 race in a small B&B in Ripton, Vermont and thinking – “surely this guy can’t win.”

Michael Tomasky, reviewing Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope,” for the NYRB concluded that the Senator is somewhat trapped by the ideological structures and machinary around him and has yet to demonstrate that he truly has the courage to rise above those processes. This is in part, because Obama is ambivalent about them, but also because his civic conservatism is simply not manifest in the leadership of either of the dominant US parties. His potential is great, but not yet proven.

For me I find in Obama’s rhetoric a kind of intelligence that seems seldom to be manifest in US politics – it is a global and historical insight, what Tomasky calls a sense of “historical irony.” Consider Obama’s response to the welcome from Senator Robery Byrd,

“Listening to Senator Byrd, I felt with full force all the essential contradictions of me in this new place, with its marble busts, its arcane traditions, its memories and its ghosts. I pondered the fact that, according to his own autobiography, Senator Byrd had received his first taste of leadership in his early twenties, as a member of the Raleigh County Ku Klux Klan, an association that he had long disavowed, an error he attributed‚Äîno doubt correctly‚Äîto the time and place in which he’d been raised, but which continued to surface as an issue throughout his career. I thought about how he had joined other giants of the Senate, like J. William Fulbright of Arkansas and Richard Russell of Georgia, in Southern resistance to civil rights legislation. I wondered if this would matter to the liberals who now lionized Senator Byrd for his principled opposition to the Iraq War resolution‚Äîthe MoveOn.org crowd, the heirs of the political counterculture the senator had spent much of his career disdaining.

I wondered if it should matter. Senator Byrd’s life‚Äîlike most of ours‚Äîhas been the struggle of warring impulses, a twining of darkness and light. And in that sense I realized that he really was a proper emblem for the Senate, whose rules and design reflect the grand compromise of America’s founding: the bargain between Northern states and Southern states, the Senate’s role as a guardian against the passions of the moment, a defender of minority rights and state sovereignty, but also a tool to protect the wealthy from the rabble, and assure slaveholders of noninterference with their peculiar institution. Stamped into the very fiber of the Senate, within its genetic code, was the same contest between power and principle that characterized America as a whole, a lasting expression of that great debate among a few brilliant, flawed men that had concluded with the creation of a form of government unique in its genius‚Äîyet blind to the whip and the chain.”

It’s at the intersection of faith an social commitment that I find Obama so interesting and such a radical contrast to everything I dislike in the religious right. Here is a guy who, rather than try to pretend the 60s did not happen or were evil, can articulate how they were both a force for good yet failled to fully deliver. Here is a guy who whilst not being fully supportive of the Reagan era, can grasp and articulate its appeal. Here is a guy who can talk about the significant moral issues which Liberals are concerned about yet also articulate an understanding of the role of commerce for the good of society.

As for Rick Warren, its seems no co-incidence that the more he gets attacked by the Christian Right, the more my estimation of him as a follower of Christ grows. The two are co-incidental, but there is something in that co-incidence that is telling.

“Nothing conquers except truth and the victory of truth is love” – Augustine

[tags] Barack Obama, AIDS, Rick Warren [/tags]

John Smulo 17 years ago


I’m glad to see you blogging about Obama. I hope he will run this time around, and find him very refreshing.

Fr. Francis-Maria Salvato, OSF 17 years ago

LOVE your blog.

Just wanted to drop you a quick note to say that I found your blog on Technorati, and have enjoyed reading it. Will add it to my favourites.

I’m a Franciscan priest, involved in the founding of an Emerging Church movement within the Catholic Church, and dedicated to work with those marginalised, suffering, hungry and dying, especially people living with cancer and AIDS. Feel free to check out my blog too… The Spiritus Project:

Warmest wishes in Christ,
Fr. Francis-Maria, osf

Eddy E 17 years ago

In the ’08 elections, it may look like we have Republican secularists (i.e. McCain or Guiliani) vs. faith-driven democrtas (Obama or Clinton–yes Clinton is much more faith-driven than people give her credit). That will of course put the Christian right in a frenzy.

Fernando Gros 17 years ago

John, I agree, refreshing is a good way to describe him.

Fernando Gros 17 years ago

Fr. Francis-Maria – thank you for stopping by to check out the blog. I’ve added your blog to my reading list and look forward to interacting with it in due course. It looks fascinating, real and deeply missional!

Fernando Gros 17 years ago

Eddy – yes it will be quite a pickle for the Christian Right, especially since Obama and Clinton will also shape as more centrist and hawkish than Kerry did in the last election.

jay upp 17 years ago

obama will def appeal to alot of people, especially since people 18-35 are swinging way to the center-bigtime. religion in gov is scary look at iran. hell, look at the u.s. the blind christianity our president confesses (that is, (“i support Jesus, i promise to support Christian programs, oh wait, “i’ve never given them money yet?”) see the time article in the same issue they interviewed obama in. hmm coincidence on times part-i think not. but revelaing in the sense that Christianity has become a political pogostick and alot of people (me included) left and right con lib, are FED UP with it.

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