Friday, October 17, 2008

Election Thoughts for Friends: Listen to Colin Powell

I've had a few friends ask me to keep writing on the presidential race. I confess, since the last debate I've felt ready to move on to other things. Everything about that debate and so much of what has transpired since continues to confirm to me that Barack Obama will not just be our next president. He will in the words of Colin Powell be a "transformational figure" in the history of America. I think some of you want to vote for Obama, but you are afraid to make the step. I know that some of you are afraid of dissension within your family or with friends. These thoughts here are for you: listen to Colin Powell.

I'll be bluntly honest. And I don't mean to be patronizing here to those who disagree, but my sentiment remains the same: I don't understand anyone who still will not recognize the importance of Obama becoming our next president. Many of my Christian friends are hanging on to fears about Obama's pro-choice position. And yes, this is something we must wrestle with.

However, it is time for us to engage the complexities of our civic duties and to understand that one issue, no matter how precious, cannot trump all of our other civic concerns.
Abortion has been the trump card for the "Moral Majority" of the past twenty plus years. It is imprinted upon the psyche of every young person within the Evangelical community alongside deep concerns about substance abuse and premarital sex. The Evangelical prescription for faithful Christian living is neat and tidy: do your daily devotions, don't swear, be careful about secular influences (music, TV, movies), don't drink or do drugs, wait to have sex until you are married, and make sure that you share your faith with your peers. Most youth group kids also go on an annual mission trip to a third world country to understand just how fortunate we are as American and to learn to be accordingly grateful. This rearing then matures into the notion that as adults our primary civic duty is to fight against abortion rights to fight for the sanctity of a Biblical, heterosexual definition of marriage. This is the gist of what Evangelical Christians aspire in living lives that are pleasing to God.

This vision has many admirable points, yet it is narrow in relation to the full scope of the Gospel. It defines Christian living in terms of what we are not to do, what is taboo and wrong, rather than defining the life of a disciple in terms of the abundant life, the richness of our inheritance and the goodness of what Christ is Lord over.

Last night at the Gathering, our Sunday evening worship service, Dr. Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary expanded our understanding of John 3:16, the verse that is so central to the Evangelical Gospel. The Biblical author's original intent was cosmic in it's implications: "For God so loved the kosmos, that he gave his only begotten Son...." Evangelicals tend to teach that God sent his son to pay the price to ransom only our souls, yet the text here calls us to see that Salvation is for all of created things. All creation eagerly awaits the revelation of the children of God. If we are then to apply the breadth of this cosmic scope of the Gospel to our civic duties, we begin to understand that Christians are called to be God's vice regents, his stewards, of much more than what we are already engaged in as a church. While abortion is an abomination, who is to say that the rights of the unborn are more important to God than the rights of the poor throughout the world? Why does the sanctity of marriage matter more than the suffering of innocent people in Iraq?

[Listen to Dr. Richard Mouw's talk at Hope College here]

Bible translator and author, J.B. Phillips wrote a popular book,
Your God is Too Small. In like kind the Evangelical movement is in the process of awakening to the sense that our Gospel is too small as well. A full Gospel sense of a Pro-Life position would look to the Scriptures to nourish the full extent of its definition of "Life." We have a large wealth of Biblical teaching throughout both Old and New Testaments on God's compassion for the oppressed, the poor, the orphan and the widow. If anything, the rights of the unborn should be advocated in the context of the broader Biblical advocacy for all of those who are oppressed. For example, what if Christians who were fighting against abortion were just as vocal about the demise of inner city schools?

Instead of casting our votes for a single issue, we have to be responsible enough to understand the complexities of cause and effect--how many of these social concerns affect one another. Perhaps if we had better funding for inner city schools, better teachers and better facilities, perhaps many of the social conditions that foster premarital sex and unwanted pregnancies might not be so prevalent. There is much more that could be said about this cause and effect for this particular issue. My point here is precisely that--that there is much more to consider and discuss and discern and that it is time for Evangelicals to engage these complexities.

This leads me to Barack Obama and why he is a "transformational figure." Consider simply his demeanor in his debates with John McCain. Compare and contrast their poise, their ability to listen to the other and to engage these same complexities. As I've been saying in this blog, this is a generational choice and it is not a matter of not appreciating our elders. I'm not interested in voting for something new for the sake of its newness.

In fact I believe that Obama better represents the kind of clarity and rigorous intellect that has made our country so great. Obama's manner of discourse resembles the leadership of someone like Thomas Jefferson in a way that the our political body in the past few decades has not. Most Evangelicals possess a rather naieve understanding of the ideology that has formed America. Our greatest ideas in America do not necessarily arise out of Judeo-Christian values. We are the descendants of the great European humanists. Our definition of liberty and justice is inherited from the decades of blood spilled throughout England and France prior to our own Revolution. Jefferson, Franklin and later Ralph Waldo Emerson were the kind of thinkers who interpreted Voltaire and Rousseau for the American consciousness.

The past twenty years of politics have created a vacuum of political failures. Social security, health care, the failures in education and now our economy are part and parcel to a lack of stewardship. For example, federal spending on military is $6.5 billion dollars compared to $60 billion on education. We spend almost as much on military in the US as the rest of the world's countries combined. Our largest expense is Social Security which typically only pays for one third of a retiree's expenses. So much is broken. So much has been broken for some time now, but we turn a blind eye when our own bank accounts go untouched and gas prices are reasonable. Now with the present economic failures, our lack of stewardship is being glaringly revealed.

I'll say this again: the boomer generation has gotten us into this situation, and I don't believe they will be around long enough to get us out of it. We need a transformational figure to begin the process of a new ki
nd of political landscape. This is what Colin Powell meant when he goes on to say in his endorsement, "he [Obma] is a new generation coming into, onto the world stage and the American stage."

For a while I was willing to say that these kinds of thoughts were perhaps my own naive optimism. But at this point, with so many endorsements across the country, I don't feel so vulnerable. Consider the endorsement of former McCain advisers like Harvard professor Charles Fried. Consider the criticism of McCain's campaign from people like his own 2000 campaign manager, Mike Murphy, and GOP luminary, Chuck Hagel. Our country is coming to a very exciting consensus about who we are as a people. November 4--next Tuesday--is going to be an exciting day.

Yet, here is the greatest, most important factor to consider in this new election: we are not on the precipice of just having the first African American president; we are on the verge of a whole new optimism about what it means to be an American citizen. I'm not so excited about Obama as I am excited about what he represents.
Why is he able to represent this so well? Why is he able to rally so many? These testimonies here describe Obama as a melting pot. He is our "everyman," black and white, able to engage the pluralistic converation with care and integrity, full of convition but not a heavy handed ideologue, lived in and outside of the United States, well educated but raised in a lower income, single parent home. Read through these accounts from friends and family. Whether you vote for Obama or not, I think you'll be inspired.


Emery Jo said...

McCain's time as a P.O.W. and his stance on abortion have been two very powerful points for me in his road to presidency. However; powerful as they may be they are the only two reasons I would vote for him. I have found my heart resonating with Obama on every issue including some of his thoughts and views about the abortion topic. This has been so hard for me....I have felt this pressure to uphold the conservative/evangelical stance on the election, but on the other hand I have this deep conviction that the conservative/evangelicals are missing a HUGE amount of the issues. Any how thanks for your thoughts Josh.
Miss you guys dearly!
Chris Clark

Banner said...

Thanks for your thoughts Emery! I know you are not alone in this struggle. We miss you guys too.

Banner said...

opps...I mean chris...