Thursday, December 18, 2008

No Compromise with Evil

He warned us. He warned us repeatedly and clearly. But many didn't believe him. They didn't believe he meant it. They didn't believe he could pull it off.

Barack Obama kept saying that he wanted to bring people together. And now he has. Barack Obama has done the almost impossible. He has united the left and the right in opposition to evil. And on both sides the opposition is vehement.

What is this evil that both left and right oppose with such venom? A preacher of gospel has been asked and has accepted the invitation to pray at the inauguration of the President of the United States. That's horrible!

Oh, I know: "It's not just any preacher," say the left. "It's a women-hating homophobe."

And "It's not just any POTUS," say the right. "It's the MOST liberal marriage-hating baby killer."

So let's not let HIM pray for HIM!--It's disgraceful!

And they said Barack Obama couldn't unite the left and the right.

This, my friends, is what 30 years of culture wars have gotten us.

And why doesn't anyone, left or right, have an opinion about that other inaugural pray-er and preacher of the gospel, Joseph Lowery?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hell Might Just Be Getting Cooler

I don't mean that hell is getting neater or hipper or "badder." I mean hell might actually be getting a tad colder. My Baptist brother Richard Land and I rarely agree on anything political. In An Open Letter to President-Elect Obama, Land actually supports effective, moral, compassionate policies to fight abortion!

And in the letter, Land congratulates, encourages, and celebrates with the President-Elect. Then he expresses concerns and exhorts toward positive behavior, all without demonizing the liberal. It's as if Land wants to approach disagreements from a Christian perspective with the purpose of finding common ground for the common good (especially for "the least of these"). What a concept!

It sure is pleasant to be dwelling in unity with my brothers and sisters. I'll pray that our brother Barack and all of our government leaders take these proposals to heart.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Anti-Abortion Groups Invigorated By Obama Win

I think my liberal friends at HuffPost meant this as BAD news. They are, of course, mostly wrong—unless by our tactics we pro-lifers prove them right.

I find it curious that it took the misguided fear of the President–elect as “pro-abortion” to get pro-life people to remember the fight. I wish the energy were coming more from compassion than anger, and I wish the anger were not based on fears, and I wish the fears were not based on a misunderstanding of the President-elect’s views and hopes regarding abortion. But if anti-abortion is back with a new wave, especially an effective, loving, and strategic wave, I’ve gotta catch it.

I hope HuffPost is also wrong that, as the caption says, the “tactics for anti-abortion groups are likely to refocus on street protests, grass-roots activism and state legislation.”

I only pray that as we renew our fight against abortion, we pro-life Christians will remember Whose we are and fight with truth, love, and humility. I pray that we will opt to generate more light than heat. I pray that we will fight smarter, not louder. As I said in an earlier post, calling ourselves pro-life isn’t saving babies. Neither incidentally is labeling pro-choicers “pro-abortion.”

We pro-life Christians have at least five possible responses to the abortion problem. I list them here ranked in my opinion from least preferable to most preferable:

1. Do nothing, but complain about people who are trying to do something (This describes me for quite a while now, but the President-elect has inspired ME too!).

2. Simply do nothing.

3. Talk really loudly about how awful abortion is. Spend a lot of energy on protests that are not likely to bear fruit, but that make all pro-lifers and all Christians look…well… un-Christian.

4. Work for strategies that do work. Promote policies that make it easier for folks to choose life for people both inside and outside the womb. See some possibilities here and here.

5. Get involved in the lives of people faced with difficult life decisions. Connect with people (male and female) at risk for creating unwanted pregnancies. Be willing to walk the long road with people who have decided to choose life.

I think the new President will surprise a lot of people in this regard. I do not defend his pro-choice views, but I am convinced that he will make good on his promise to work toward reducing abortions. Hopefully he can harness this new enthusiasm into a coalition that will save lives of the unborn and strengthen the lives of the born.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A President Is Not a King

Before the election, a Christian sister sent me a Bible verse, Psalm 146:3:

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save.

It is, of course, wise advice. But I’m not sure of her objective in sending it before the election, other than to blunt my passion for a particular candidate. I think she mistook my discernment and passion for worship and total trust.

I don’t know if she was suggesting that Christians shouldn’t vote, or shouldn’t care, or shouldn’t campaign, or shouldn’t get up false hopes about a candidate’s chances or abilities. None of it made sense to me in the days before an election. Regardless of who won the election, someone could put undue faith in that person.

But that is no reason not to vote and not to campaign for-- and not to tell the truth about-- and not to hope and pray for-- the most just, righteous, godly, able, and wise person to become our leader.

I am drawn to the prayer in Psalm 72, which begins:

Endow the king with your justice, O God,
the royal son with your righteousness.

He will judge your people in righteousness,
your afflicted ones with justice.

The mountains will bring prosperity to the people,
the hills the fruit of righteousness.

He will defend the afflicted among the people
and save the children of the needy;
he will crush the oppressor.

He will endure as long as the sun,
as long as the moon, through all generations.

He will be like rain falling on a mown field,
like showers watering the earth.

In his days the righteous will flourish;
prosperity will abound till the moon is no more.

While I am well aware that it is God who establishes governmental leadership, God chooses to do so by using any number of governmental systems. The problem with applying too quickly the lessons from these Psalms in the USA is that we have neither princes nor kings. Unlike most governments throughout history—which choose their rulers by bloodline or violence--Americans vote. Such was the genius of the new idea of American democracy. So God establishes authority in the USA by the votes of the people.

And while we have had makeshift dynasties, the American system works against them. In this era, a President has only 4-8 years to pursue an agenda—not enough time to carry out a Messiah mandate and not enough time to do major damage.

So we elect a President and a Congress, and both are checked and balanced by the courts. And we try to remember that we are a government of, for, and by the people.

And we pray for our leaders that they will govern with wisdom and justice. That is what we elect them to do.

If they inspire us to participate in the American community, to care for our fellow citizens, to actually work for a more perfect union, that’s icing on the cake.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Prayer for National Leaders

(inspired by Jeremiah 23:1 & 4)

Lord we believe you when you say you will lead us. But we have suffered at the hands of those who would destroy and scatter your sheep.

You promised that you would raise up shepherds who will gather us together so than no one will have to live in fear. So we look for those shepherds, Lord.

We pray for those who will do good and do right, for those who will protect the children, who will school the children, who will give the children hope.

We pray for those shepherds who will pursue peace, who will walk humbly, who will reconcile nations.

We pray for shepherds who will fight injustice, who stand on the side of justice.

We pray for shepherds who will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and set at liberty the captives.

We pray for shepherds who will spread love, show mercy and practice hospitality.

Lord we pray for our shepherds, we pray for our people, we pray for our country, we pray for the nations. Amen.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

To Help You Decide VIII: Closing Argument

What I Can Tell You About Barack Obama

To promote Senator Obama during primary season, I wrote a letter to the editor of Nashville’s Tennessean. I then sent versions of the letter to other communities I’ve lived in. The letter was printed in Louisville, Kentucky’s Courier-Journal; Salem, Oregon’s Statesman Journal; and Honolulu, Hawaii’s Star-Bulletin.

For my closing argument, I present a slightly revised version:

In the 1975-76 high school year, four African American young men attended Punahou Academy in Honolulu, Hawaii. Though we each had our own personal circles of friends, three of us-- Rik Smith, a junior; “Barry” Barack Obama, a freshman; and I, a senior, had a standing date roughly once a week to talk. We discussed the social climate on our cosmopolitan campus (whether any of the non-black girls would date us black guys). We talked about sports and religion (I was a Christian, Rik and Barry were agnostics). We talked about our classes and the charges that a black person with a book was “acting white.” We talked about the social issues of the day and about whether we would see a black U.S. President in our lifetime. We discussed our vocational choices. I was going to be a lawyer (I’m not one). 14-yr old Barry wanted to be a basketball player. He even jokingly wrote in my yearbook that when I’m a bigshot lawyer and he’s a basketball star I could negotiate his NBA contracts.

We held these discussions sometime before the adolescent angst that Obama records in his memoir, Dreams from My Father. I went off to college the next year so I never heard the agony and never knew the regrettable choices he reveals in that text, but I believe him. The seeds of the agony were in our conversations. The forces of puberty and the depth of Barack’s mind surely drove the issues deeper.

But neither am I surprised by Barack’s subsequent ability to rise above the agony and poor choices. It is no surprise that he graduated form an Ivy League university, that he went on to devote his life to service, that at Harvard Law School he was the popular president of the contentious Harvard Law Review, and that he moved on to teach Constitutional law and to serve in elective office for these 12 years.

Three issues surprise me. First, when I read the memoir that my brother Keith and I discovered in a remainder bin of a Boulder, Colorado, bookstore in the late 90’s, I was most pleased by Barack’s transformation from an agnostic to a Christian. Despite my surprise, his account of coming to faith rings true to his thoughtful, fair-minded nature and his ability to continually grow.

Second, I, like most of the country, was taken aback by the soaring rhetoric first displayed nationally at the 2004 Democratic Convention. For me the voice sounded very familiar, but the announcement in the Democratic keynote speech that “there is not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America!” showed incredible courage and audacity.

Those words surprised me, but they shouldn’t have. Barry, Rik and I had in common a lifetime of learning to navigate different worlds. In our culturally rich state at a particularly cosmopolitan school and from each of our uniquely multicultural backgrounds, we were used to bridging communities. We still do so in our own lives today. And Barack continues to expand upon those views in his Presidential campaign.

So thirdly I have been unpleasantly surprised by the suggestion that because Barack Obama gives a good speech, he is somehow shallow—as if the gifts of speaking and leading are mutually exclusive. I know that this is not the case. And anyone who wants to know can know the same. His record and his policies have been readily available from his website and from his campaign headquarters. His Blueprint for Change is comprehensive, well thought out, and available for perusal and discussion.

Finally though, what impresses me most about Barack Obama is not simply that he has the stuff to back up his hope and inspiration. His approach to the presidency is one of deep thoughtfulness. He exhibits quick judgment when absolutely necessary, and when issues require deeper thought, he consults the best minds, reflects prayerfully, and then finds the way to solve problems.

I recognize the training from our high school days. Punahou is an incredible school that taught us to think, to pursue excellence in all areas, and to serve our communities and the world. Barack Obama’s Illinois state record, his US senate record and this 21-month campaign reflect this same thoughtfulness, excellence and service.

America could do much worse for President of the United States. They couldn’t do much better.

To Help You Decide VII

The Elephant in the Room
(And I’m Not Talking About a Caged Republican)

People make their election choices based on various factors and for various reasons. Sometimes people consider the real good of the country, sometimes not so much. Sometimes it’s the issues and the platforms, sometimes it’s the party. Sometimes it’s the person who seems like me or the person whose look or personality I like. Sometimes it’s the one with the most ability. And sometimes we choose the lesser of two evils, the one who doesn’t make us gag as much.

Most of my undecided friends have explained their indecision using one of two scenarios:

1. “I like your guy, except this one thing.” Often when I address the one thing, they say, “Well there’s this one other thing. And then there’s this one other thing…”


2. “I don’t really like either of them. They’re all crooks. But my gut leans toward McCain. Now don’t get me wrong: I don’t LIKE McCain, it’s just my gut.”

So if you’re among those people, if --after all the debates, after all the ink, after all the video, after all the bandwidth, after all my incredibly persuasive arguments-- you are still undecided, you still can’t choose either candidate (and if you are still reading), I have to ask you the elephant question.

I want you to ask yourself: What part does race play in my decision?

I’m not saying that anyone who supports John McCain is a racist. I’m not saying that anyone who votes AGAINST Barack Obama is a racist.

I AM saying that race is in this campaign. And I Am saying that as the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson says, it’s Obama’s fault. Barack Obama injected race into the campaign—by being (half) Black!

I AM saying that race matters. And I think it matters at a deep place, especially for those who pride themselves on their colorblindness.

We are in uncharted territory. Forty-three of 43 US Presidents have been white men over 35. As my brother Keith put it in a Denver Post article:

"An image is conjured in your mind of the President of the United States, and Barack does not fit that image."

This image is in the minds of black people, too, which is why it took a win in lily-white Iowa’s primary caucuses to convince black Americans to support Senator Obama. It also explains a “gut feeling” that chooses McCain over Obama.

So the threshold of persuasion that Senator Obama has to meet is not just “Is he the best available person for the job?” but “Do I want this guy so much that I will do violence to my past images of what a President is? Am I willing to force the matter? Or will I ‘trust my gut’ --which is informed by the past—to choose the ‘regular,’ ‘normal,’ ‘safe’ white guy, even if he’s not the best for our country at this time.”

If Obama doesn’t make that threshold for you, that doesn’t make you a racist. But neither does it make you colorblind. And that doesn’t make your gut racist. But it questions whether your gut knows or cares about what is best for you and your country. Maybe your gut is not worth trusting. Maybe your gut is uninformed.

Quoting my brother again:

"I believe a real gut-check needs to happen with a lot of people, and I don't think we can underestimate that. It comes not with his policies or how eloquently he expresses his ideas. It's about what people will do when faced with having to vote for a black man."

I was way into this post when I was interrupted by the story of someone I know. This man grew up as a white Tennessee redneck. To protect him from embarrassment, I won’t use his real name; we’ll call him “Joe, the Redneck.”

Joe never got beyond a 6th grade education. He’s a workingman, serving the people of his community by picking up their garbage. He is also a quiet and loyal husband and father.

Although Joe has treated black people kindly, he has also talked ugly about them behind closed doors and he has forbidden his children to play with them. In the five years I’ve known him he’s been kind to me, but I could tell he didn’t like the possibility of being in my family.

And Joe had never cared to vote. His wife (“Joelene”) was paying attention way back in the primaries; but not Joe. Joelene’s “gut” told her to vote for Hillary Clinton in the primary. But she kept listening and paying attention. She listened to her daughter who was hearing from me. Joelene finally cast her primary vote for Barack Obama. She informed her gut.

Joe still wasn’t paying attention. But then he started. And then he made sure he was registered to vote. And he watched and listened and thought and decided. And he voted early in the general election. For his first time voting in 52 years, Joe, the Tennessee Redneck Garbageman, informed his gut and voted for the black guy.

If you’re still undecided, it’s probably time to find out what that “one thing” is in your gut. And maybe it’s time to inform your gut.

Next: My Final (and Beginning) Argument

Friday, October 31, 2008

To Help You Decide VI

Distortions, Distractions, Characters and Character

Character matters. I want my President to be a person of character and judgment as well as of ability and vision. And one measure of the character of a candidate is to look at the company that candidate keeps. But this is not always a reliable measure. Ask Jesus.

And in this campaign a particularly insidious pattern of character assassination by distortion and association has emerged. The pattern:

1. Scour the Candidate’s biography to find every person he has ever associated with; whether the association is significant or tenuous doesn’t matter. Choose public servants, public services agencies, or men of God whom most Americans have never heard of. Make sure that, despite their public anonymity, they have done significant good for the American people, their local communities, and/or the Kingdom of God.

2. Scour the servants' histories, records and biographies. Ignore the significant good they have done through secular or spiritual means. Look only for their sins, perceived sins, or acts attributed to them as sins.

3. Tell the American people of those sins (or perceived or attributed sins) Define this person or agency by the sins. Be sure that Americans can never think of this person or agency without focusing on their sins (or perceive or attributed sins). Assure that the simple mention of their name calls to mind their sins.

4. Remember that most Americans are too lazy to assess the whole picture. Lazy Americans believe the first thing we hear. Not-so-lazy Americans verify the bad, but don’t bother to explore the good, or the timing (this happened a long time ago), the interpretation, the misunderstanding, or even the reason for the bad.

This is the recipe for the perfect feast of smear politics. Anyone who wants to can wallow in the scum and let it confuse them.

The last step (5) is to tell the voters that the Candidate’s association with this public servant, man of God, or service agency reflects bad judgment and character.

In the end, these folks assassinate the character, not only of the targeted Candidate, but of others who are actually working for good.

If you are truly trying to decide, I ask that you not believe the first thing you hear. I encourage to research who these people are, how God has worked in and through them, and what their intentions are for the good of this nation. Don’t assume that the first thing you hear about them is the truth.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

To Help You Decide V (Part II)

The Role of Government and Personal Responsibility

The question from an earlier post:

“Why is it the government's job to take care of people? I guess where I'm coming from is didn't Christ command the church to take care of those less fortunate? At what point did it become the taxpayer's responsibility?”

Obama resonates with the question to a large degree. In Kissimmee, Florida, on October 29, Obama explained his views: "Lately they've been calling me a socialist. They've found evidence that when I was in kindergarten I used to share my toys . . . They said 'look he's a redistributionist'… My Bible tells me there is nothing wrong with helping other people, that we want to treat others like we want to be treated. That I am my brother's keeper, and I am my sister's keeper. I believe that."

But if it is exclusively the church’s duty to care for people, I know of a church that agrees with my friend who asked the questions, except that they don’t exactly “take care” of people. What they do is to serve people who need jobs, homes, motivation, skills, health care, and Jesus.

They encourage their members to serve the community--to strengthen it in practical and godly ways. They hammer into their members the value of working to strengthen families and to not settle for the mediocre. They call people to self –sacrifice for the good of the kingdom of God.

And they remind people that government can’t solve their problems. In fact in a now famous sermon entitled “God and Government,” their pastor made these points about trusting in government:

Governments fail. God never fails!
Governments lie. God never lies!
Governments change. God never changes!

That church on the south side of Chicago is Trinity United Church of Christ. The preacher is Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. And the sermon is the infamous G-D-America sermon. God never fails. God never lies. God never changes.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

To Help You Decide V

The Role of Government and Personal Responsibility

I tread lightly here because home-schooling moms, Constitution law professors, and all confirmed Libertarians know more about the “proper role of government” than I do. I can’t speak confidently from a Constitutional law perspective. But I can speak about my own views based on my Christian experience and reflection. I know a lot more about the Bible than about the Constitution

I know this much: the proper role of government is at least partly a matter of opinion. It is because of those opinions that the founders struggled to put in place checks and balances—to balance the power. It is because of those differences of opinion that they followed the body of the Constitution with a bill of rights. And we have, with new societal challenges, found ourselves opining and deciding about further amendments.

To get into this, I remember the question Jennifer D asked regarding an earlier post:

“Why is it the government's job to take care of people? I guess where I'm coming from is didn't Christ command the church to take care of those less fortunate? At what point did it become the taxpayer's responsibility?”

So… In my view it is NOT government’s job to “take care” of people. And more than any other Democrat in recent memory, Barack Obama states that fact ad nauseam. The nation first heard his views at the 2004 DNC speech:

“The people I meet -- in small towns and big cities, in diners and office parks -- they don’t expect government to solve all their problems. They know they have to work hard to get ahead, and they want to… People don't expect government to solve all their problems. But they sense, deep in their bones, that with just a slight change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life, and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all.”

People don’t need government (the political establishment, elected officials, other power-brokers) to fix everything for them, and too often government (same definition) is the problem.

But the other fact I know is that when we say “government” in the American context, we are properly talking about the people, not the power brokers. American government is made up of all Americans—this is the genius of the American experiment. Barack Obama believes (ideologically) that “the proper role of government” goes beyond the Constitutional allowance, to the sentiment that I am my brother’s and sister’s keeper.

He does NOT believe that government (either definition) is responsible for taking care of people. But he does believe that those in power (wealth, position, status) should not be allowed to increase in power at the expense of opportunity for the weak. How my Christian brothers and sisters miss the biblical spirit of this view escapes me.

God sides with the last, the lost, and the least-- over the powerful. “Okay, Tony” you say, “but it’s the church that God is talking about to take up that battle.” And I say, “The church is not a building (as if a building could act) nor is it primarily a societal entity. It is the people—collected.”

So if the church is the people and the government is the people, we don’t have as clean a distinction as that phrase “separation of church and state” might suggest. I have to go with being a Christian over being an American citizen all within the American context.

So here’s how I see it:

1. When God establishes priorities: protect the weak, defend the oppressed, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, redeem the enslaved, God doesn’t much care whether we do so individually or governmentally. We simply better be careful that in our individual or governmental lives we are not opposing God. It is still the church whether it operates through government or not.

2. God is less concerned with our stated stance on an issue than on our

a) heart-place and `

b) actions.

So, for instance, we can shout at the top of our lungs that we are pro-life, but if that sentiment is not true to our hearts and/or is not reflected in our actions, then what does it profit?

3. Among the “proper roles of government” are to protect the innocents, to maintain order, to ensure equal opportunity (not equal results), to ensure that power does not increase exponentially among the rich and powerful while diminishing reciprocally among the poor and weak.

4. What does matter: What are the effective ways, the wisest ways, and life-giving ways to carry out God’s agenda, and what is simply meaningless chatter or activity?

Again, I know more about the Bible than about the Constitution. So you might have to talk to a homeschool mom, a Libertarian, or a Constitutional law professor (like Barack Obama).

Please Pray for James Dobson

If you are a Focus on the Family listener, you are probably aware that Dr. Dobson (whom I used to respect) has mailed out a mean-spirited, unChristian, unsubstantiated attack upon Barack Obama, speculating about what might happen by 2012 should Barack Obama be elected president. It is meant to scare people into voting against the Senator, based on unfounded, fear-based speculation. It is hateful in foundation and lacking altogether in truth or love. Among the charges:

*Churches that refuse to perform same-sex marriages would lose their tax-exempt status

*“under God” in the Pledge would be declared unconstitutional

*Doctors and nurses who won't perform abortions will no longer be able to deliver babies

*Pornography would be openly displayed on newsstands

*Inner-city crime increases when gun ownership is restricted

*Homeschooling would become restricted, so thousands of homeschooling parents emigrate to other countries such as Australia and New Zealand.

*Since 2009, terrorist bombs have exploded in two large and two small U.S. cities, killing hundreds, and the entire country is fearful, for no place seems safe."

*Euthanasia is becoming more and more common.

*New carbon emission standards drive many coal-powered electric plants out of business. "The country has less total electric power available than in 2008, and periodic blackouts to conserve energy occur on a regular schedule throughout the nation."

To suggest that Obama and the Democrats even WANT these things is despicable. But that doesn’t stop my Christian brothers and sisters at Focus on the Family from saying it. And it doesn’t stop their listeners from believing it. And this comes from someone who is supposed to be a Christian leader speaking about his Christian brother.

This is ridiculous and indefensible fear-mongering. It is outrageous! Obama’s policies will not lead to all this garbage as Dobson speculates. And my brother, Dr. Dobson, either knows it is untrue and is disseminating lies, or he doesn’t know it and is disseminating foolishness. Either way he needs my prayers. As do all of those who listen.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Last Call: Tony and Barry

These are the last articles I've given interviews for. The London Observer/Guardian interview was several months ago, but just published today. The Denver Post interview was actually this week. Once again the Post also quotes my little brother, Keith.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

To Help You Decide IV

On Abortion

First, let me possibly save you some time. If you believe that there’s only one way to stop women from having abortions and that that way is to elect a pro-life President who can appoint pro-life justices to overturn Roe v. Wade, you might as well stop reading now. I can’t help you.

If you think “I support a woman’s right to choose” means “I want to kill babies” or even “I don’t care if babies are killed,” I can save you time. There’s no sense reading what I have to say.

But if you’re pro-life, like I am, and you really want us to do whatever we can to stop women from aborting babies, we’re on the same page; read on.

Second, I’m ashamedly aware that one reason this abortion issue gets so thorny is that most of us who claim to be pro-life do absolutely NOTHING to stop women from aborting babies. So election day comes around and we think we’re DOING something by electing a pro-life President. See how effective we’ve been in the past eight years?

I am 100% pro-life/anti-abortion. So, what is our Christian pro-life obligation regarding a Presidential election? I think it is to elect the person with the best chance of stopping the most abortions. I KNOW we can do better than eight years of nothing.

Here’s the Obama argument as I see it. I base this argument on statements he has made consistently over the course of his campaign. I also hope it explains and reflects fairly his voting record. I’ll provide citations upon request, but for your one-stop shopping on this issue I recommend

1. Barack Obama says consistently “I don’t know anyone who is pro-abortion.” So he asks, “Since most Americans are against abortion, but choice is the law of the land, what can we do to make it easier for women to choose to bring their babies to term?” More below.

2. Obama says that liberals who gloss over the moral dimensions of abortion make a big mistake. Most women who have to make the moral, difficult, and personal abortion decision do not take it lightly. Obama himself talks of teaching his girls (in time) of the sacredness of sexuality, the morality of sexual decisions, the primacy of abstinence, and (eventually) the responsibility of birth control.

3. Because he believes this is a moral decision, he believes it should be left to a woman, her family, her pastoral advisors and her doctors. It should NOT be made by the government.

4. (Another way to say #3) He is supportive of a woman’s right to choose as reflected in Roe v. Wade.

Now my perspective:

1. I have to admit that I had to resolve the abortion issue before I could whole-heartedly support Sen. Obama for President. Obama’s voting record on abortion is indisputable and troubling. Too often the voting record is all we have to go on. So I understand that for many Americans who are trying to understand who Barack Obama is and where he stands, voting record is the most reliable indication.

But I am not most Americans. I have had a personal relationship with the man. I see my intelligent, good-hearted, Constitution-loving Christian brother voting in a way that I don’t agree with, and I have to ask “why?”

Thanks to the contentiousness of his opponents (and the process) and the conscientiousness of the press, both friend and foe, Obama has answered these questions over and over. That his opponents keep stirring the pot is no indication that he has provided inadequate answers. His answers ring true to the thoughtful, big-hearted, law-loving person I know. The clearest answers regarding abortion issues were given to the brave Cameron Strang at Relevant Magazine. Here’s an excerpt:

Strang: Based on emails we received, another issue of deep importance to our readers is a candidate’s stance on abortion. We largely know your platform, but there seems to be some real confusion about your position on third-trimester and partial-birth abortions. Can you clarify your stance for us?

Obama: I absolutely can, so please don’t believe the emails. I have repeatedly said that I think it’s entirely appropriate for states to restrict or even prohibit late-term abortions as long as there is a strict, well-defined exception for the health of the mother. Now, I don’t think that “mental distress” qualifies as the health of the mother. I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term. Otherwise, as long as there is such a medical exception in place, I think we can prohibit late-term abortions.

The other email rumor that’s been floating around is that somehow I’m unwilling to see doctors offer life-saving care to children who were born as a result of an induced abortion. That’s just false. There was a bill that came up in Illinois that was called the “Born Alive” bill that purported to require life-saving treatment to such infants. And I did vote against that bill. The reason was that there was already a law in place in Illinois that said that you always have to supply life-saving treatment to any infant under any circumstances, and this bill actually was designed to overturn Roe v. Wade, so I didn’t think it was going to pass constitutional muster.

Ever since that time, emails have been sent out suggesting that, somehow, I would be in favor of letting an infant die in a hospital because of this particular vote. That’s not a fair characterization, and that’s not an honest characterization. It defies common sense to think that a hospital wouldn't provide life-saving treatment to an infant that was alive and had a chance of survival.

2. I can’t make any sense out of Roe v. Wade. I will not lift a finger to support it. But neither will I generate any energy to try to elect a president who says he’s pro-life and who hopes to overturn Roe v. Wade.

First, I don’t believe this opportunity will come through the US President anytime soon. Consider the evidence not only of the past eight years, but of the past 28 years since abortion has been a factor in Presidential elections. Twenty of the years have been under Republican, pro-life Presidents. Seven of nine justices were appointed by Republican Presidents. Still, we have seen nary (did I say “nary”?) a crack in Roe v. Wade (thanks to Jon Trott for this observation). The Supreme Court is not ready to overturn Roe v. Wade. Neither is the nation.

Nor do I believe that that overturning would save babies. Certainly not very soon. Meanwhile, as by brothers and sisters note, babies are dying.

3. So does anyone have a plan to stop the killing? Barack Obama does. The fullest expression of that plan can be found (once again) at prolifeproobama.

A truncated version is reprinted here from the aforementioned Relevant Magazine article.

Strang: You’ve said you’re personally against abortion and would like to see a reduction in the number of abortions under your administration. So, as president, how would do you propose accomplishing that?

Obama: I think we know that abortions rise when unwanted pregnancies rise. So, if we are continuing what has been a promising trend in the reduction of teen pregnancies, through education and abstinence education giving good information to teenagers. That is important—emphasizing the sacredness of sexual behavior to our children. I think that’s something that we can encourage. I think encouraging adoptions in a significant way. I think the proper role of government. So there are ways that we can make a difference, and those are going to be things I focus on when I am president.

4. Finally I return to some of my opening comments: Saying I’m pro-choice does not kill babies any more than saying I’m pro-life saves babies. We act like we're picking our favorite sports team. Let's say I root for the Titans over the Colts. If the Titans win, I might feel like I did something, when my stance had absolutely nothing to do with the win!

We are used to politicians telling us their stances, and we vote accordingly. But Senator Obama seems more ready than others to tell us whatever we want to know about WHY he holds the stances he does or WHY he voted the way he did. You may not always agree with him, but you gotta love his transparency, his thoughtfulness, his compassion and his vision for using government to actually solve problems.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

To Help You Decide III

Taxes and Wealth
Many of my dear Christian conservative friends walk up to me and say, “Tony, I really like your guy for President. I really like him. It’s just this one thing…” It always baffles me when that one issue is that Barack Obama proposes “the redistribution of wealth.”

For some, this is an issue of fairness. For me, it is too. But we disagree on what is fair.

One version of the argument says that we should embrace a flat 15% tax policy. The rich already pay taxes at a higher rate. The flat rate sounds fair. I might agree, all things being equal. The problem is that all things are not equal. Wealth buys opportunity and that opportunity does not pass on equally to others (children, grandchildren).

One response from my friends is that the rich got rich by hard work. When I responded with a particular example of a struggling less-than-wealthy person, I was reminded that this poorer person got in the situation through his own bad life decisions.

So here’s my thinking:

Working hard is good.
Making moral decisions is good.
Making wise decisions is good.

But measuring a person’s work ethic, morality or wisdom by their bank account is unwise, illogical and un-Christian.

I do NOT agree that wealthy people are necessarily harder workers than middle class or poor people. I have had too much experience with hard-working poor people and lazy rich people to believe that. I have no need to believe that rich people are necessarily lazy (or immoral or stupid). I believe that hard work can lead to wealth. But I also believe hard workers and lazy people cut across income levels. And I believe we will find moral/godly people across all income levels. And I believe we can find wise/intelligent people in all income levels.

My Christian faith says that sin takes several forms and transcends many factors. Some of the forms: ignorance, immorality, and laziness. The factors transcended: income level, nationality, race, culture, language. If we are judging people according to the latter and attaching them to the former, we are not reflecting a biblical worldview. Bottom line is this: I believe it to be indeterminable whether a person’s wealth is attributable to hard work, morality or ingenuity, although all three are admirable and could be factors.

So in a Presidential election the question is: What role can government play in assuring that hard working, moral, disciplined and wise people can make the money they need to support their families and to move up in the world.

That opportunity for middle class or poor people will never approach the opportunity that the already wealthy already have, but government should operate to make more fair the playing field. This is not the same as socialism, Communism , "handouts," or taking from the hardworking rich to give to the lazy poor. It is simply an issue of justice.

A policy that protects the wealth of the wealthy, (regardless of how they amassed it) while making it increasingly difficult for those trying to make it, is simply unjust and unchristian.

So the question for a just society is still one of fairness. If I am right that moral, intelligent, hard-working people exist on levels of income, then justice demands that a fair government do whatever it can to assure (at least) that moral and hardworking people have the opportunity to amass wealth and provide for their families.

The policies Barack Obama advocates are nowhere near socialism. They do not level income or general wealth. They don’t even level the playing field, but they do make the playing field MORE fair. And they do so by asking those with power (wealth is power) to do their part to help others to gain some power to provide for their families and serve society better. Obama speaks of this as answering Cain’s question of God “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Obama believes that God’s unrecorded answer is “Yes, you are!”

To Help You Decide II

If you’re still trying to decide who you’ll vote for in the Presidential election, I want to persuade you to support Barack Obama. My support for Obama comes with reasons. These are NOT those reasons:

1. My support of Barack Obama is not just because we were friends in high school. I have lots of high school friends whom I would not consider supporting for President of the United States. If you’re my friend now I might not support you, should you run for office (in fact, you’d likely be disqualified by your associations!).

But my friendship with Barack Obama does give me some advantages over people who are trying to get to know who he is. My friendship did make me pay attention to him earlier than most Americans did. But mostly my friendship allowed me to trust him when he speaks. The man I see now rings true to the kid I knew then. So I'm not afraid his good words are shallow or deceptive, while some of my undecided friends are: “He speaks well, but…”

And when I read the smears about his character (patriotism, Christian faith, ideology,…), I can ask “Does this ring true to the Barry I knew?” None of them do.

2. My support for Obama is not because he’s the Democrat. I have voted for Republicans and Democrats for President. And until this year, I’ve always gone into the booth holding my nose (figuratively). I registered (D) this year because I ignorantly thought I couldn’t vote in the primary otherwise.

3. My support for Obama is not because he’s African American. I will admit that if all things were equal and I had to choose between a white man for President and a black man--after 43 straight white male Presidents--I’d vote for the black guy. Without apology or shame. But, not to worry: All things are NEVER equal. So I have to look at all things. The Presidential election is no time for “he-looks-like-me, she-could-be-in-my-club, we–could-have-a-beer-together” identity politics. And I don’t support the view that says we should elect an unqualified black man to “make history.”

4. My support for Obama is not simply because “he gives good speeches.” While I think inspirational speeches have their place, they are not enough. Fortunately, Barack Obama offers way more than good speeches and delivery. More of that in later posts.

5. My support for Obama is not because I think he’s perfect. He’s not running for Messiah. We’ve got one of those, and I’m quite satisfied with Him, thank you. He’s not running for Savior. I like the Real Savior of the World. But for President I do want to vote for someone whose character, intelligence, abilities and plans can make a positive difference in our nation and the world.

Next: To the issues.

Friday, October 17, 2008

To Help You Decide

Alright, folks: it’s crunch time. You still have two and a half weeks to vote. But the debates are over. The information is out there. And there still seems to be a block of voters who are having a tough time making up their minds.

Some of the people I talk to I’d like to call Committed Undecideds. They won’t know who they’re voting for until they step into the booth. I’m not sure what constrains them. Is it good old fashioned American hyper-individuality (If a lot of people like a candidate, they must be wrong)? Is it looking for a messiah and realizing none of these people quite fit the bill? I'm not sure how to help the CUs.

I know other people who honestly want to make the best decision but are torn. They are among my closest friends. And because we are close, they have known for a long time of my “Committed Decided” stance in this election. So the most common comment I hear is, “Tony, I really like your guy --no-one has yet called him ‘That One’ to my face--I really like your guy, except for This One Thing…” It would be great if that one thing were the same for everyone. It’s not. So God willing, it’s time for me to start giving my argument for supporting Barack Obama.

I will be discussing issues in the posts to come. But in my next post I’ll tell you what is NOT true about my Obama support.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

About the Debates, But Not the Issues

When you're in a debate
and it's starting to sink,
a blink, I think,
is as good as a wink.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Me at My Worst

If you know me IRL (in real life), you might want to screen your calls. Any day now you’re likely to get a phone call or e-mail asking for dirt on me. Feel free to respond as honestly as you can. They’ll be looking for my worst deeds, my worst words, and --if they could get to ‘em –my worst thoughts. Why would they care so much about me? Because of my association with Barack Obama.

And don’t hesitate to tell all you know of my association. It was at one time a significant relationship. I don’t mean we simply sat on some charitable boards together. Or that we supported some of the same uplifting causes, like helping Americans exercise their voting rights. I don’t mean that I was just someone like a pastor, whose every opinion could be attributed to him. No, we were actually FRIENDS. I don’t deny it. If he remembers, he won’t either. We gathered regularly and talked about whatever was important to us. We talked a lot. And since he was only 14 while I was 17, my influential words (deeds and thoughts) are probably particularly significant to attribute to Senator Obama.

But I advise you to be careful. If you do answer the requests, that puts you in the loop too. What’s in YOUR closet? If you are a practicing Christian, what was your pre-Christian life like? Those bad deeds (words or thoughts) could also be attributed to Barack Obama. If you don’t want all of America to hear about it so that it can be stuck to Obama, you might not want to answer the call after all.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Made for Radio

I was on BBC's Talking America broadcast from Nashville today. I was going just to be part of the studio audience, but I was asked to ask a question. Listen for yourself.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Into the Middle of God’s Story

I believe that he circumstances of our lives find their meaning when we see them fit into the story God is telling, the purposes God has for the world and the purposes God has for us in the world.

When God saved me the other night from death by automobile, God did not just save me for no reason. And God’s purposes are not generic; God’s reasons have to do with God’s story. So we all find ourselves in the middle of God’s story.

In our adult Bible study at my church we’ve been following God’s story since January. We began in Genesis, the beginning, because we get a good glimpse of God’s purposes by beginning at the beginning. But we could just as easily discern God’s purpose by beginning with the end. The end and beginning are tied together and each pole revels God’s purposes.

The Bible’s version of the end is recorded cryptically in the Book of Revelation. But it’s not so cryptic that we can’t see God’s heart. Our class looked at a few verses from the Book this past week.

After this, I saw a large crowd with more people than could be counted. They were from every race, tribe, nation, and language, and they stood before the throne and before the Lamb. They wore white robes and held palm branches in their hands, as they shouted,

"Our God, who sits upon the throne, has the power to save his people, and so does the Lamb." The angels who stood around the throne knelt in front of it with their faces to the ground. The elders and the four living creatures knelt there with them. Then they all worshiped God and said, "Amen! Praise, glory, wisdom, thanks, honor, power, and strength belong to our God forever and ever! Amen!" One of the elders asked me, "Do you know who these people are that are dressed in white robes? Do you know where they come from?" "Sir," I answered, "you must know." Then he told me: "These are the ones who have gone through the great suffering. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and have made them white. And so they stand before the throne of God and worship him in his temple day and night. The one who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. They will never hunger or thirst again, and they won't be troubled by the sun or any scorching heat. The Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd. He will lead them to streams of life-giving water, and God will wipe all tears from their eyes." Revelation 7:9-17 (CEV)

This passage takes me all the way back to God’s promise to Abram in Genesis:

The LORD said to Abram: Leave your country, your family, and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you. I will bless you and make your descendants into a great nation. You will become famous and be a blessing to others. I will bless anyone who blesses you, but I will put a curse on anyone who puts a curse on you. Everyone on earth will be blessed because of you. Genesis 12:1-3 (CEV)

God’s purposes are bookended here, beginning and end. What we are living is the in-between. And all the circumstances of our lives (like my car accident) find their meaning when we see them fit into the story God is telling, the purposes God has for the world and the purposes God has for us in the world.

Ben's Plea

My Christian brother and friend Ben (no really, he's a friend In Real Life!), has blogged this stuff on Daily Kos. Here's how he begins, but there's more:

Look, I'm an Evangelical Christian. And I've taken a lot of heat in the past for saying that on Daily Kos. But today, I'm speaking to my fellow Evangelicals about Sarah Palin. I'm speaking to people like Robin Smith (TN GOP chair) and Richard Land (Southern Baptist ethics and religious liberty director) and James Dobson (Focus on the Family) and Matthew Staver (Liberty Counsel) and Pat Robertson (Christian Broadcasting Network).

As your brother in Christ, I ask you - Are you really interested in using your power to enflame a religious war?

Because that's what you're doing by supporting Sarah Palin and John McCain.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Put Away Falsehood

I wasn’t gonna get into our sister Sarah Palin's speech, but I’ve been thinking about it all day from a Christian perspective. When my friends at Matthew 25 Network put forward this statement, I thought I’d publicize it. I’ve reproduced it below. And the Associated Press is kind enough to point out the specific lies reflected in both Governor Palin’s speech and those of other speakers at the the Republican National Convention. Judge for yourself.

From Matthew 25 Network:
As Americans and people of faith from around the country, we were extremely disappointed in Sarah Palin's divisive, sarcastic, and often deceptive address last night at the Republican National Convention. We call on her not only as a political figure, but also as a prominent Christian, to recommit herself to campaigning in good faith, with a strong commitment to truth-telling.

As Christians, we are called to be respectful and loving toward our neighbors, honoring their intentions even if we disagree with their plans. We are also called to "put away falsehood" (Eph 4:25) and to refrain from slandering, belittling, or speaking out of contempt for anyone.

If these are the standards God has set for us in our personal lives, our church communities, and our neighborhoods, how much more so should they be the standards of those Christians who choose to be in the public eye? Shouldn't we also expect our brothers and sisters in politics to speak the truth in love and to extend respect and goodwill even to those with whom they disagree?

Sarah Palin has shaped much of her life around her Christian faith [1]. Indeed, it has been continually suggested that one of the major reasons John McCain chose Palin as his running-mate was her Christian faith and her ability to energize evangelical Christian voters. Thus, it is no stretch to say that Palin has suddenly become one of the most visible faces of Christianity in today’s political scene.

As such, we believe she has a calling even higher than her responsibility to her party's victory in November - a calling to represent Jesus to the rest of the world. This is why her speech at the Republican National Convention last night was so disappointing to us at the Matthew 25 Network.

In questioning not only Senator Obama’s policies but also his motivations, and mocking his career, Palin went far beyond what could be considered acceptable disagreement and into what seemed like open contempt for a political opponent.

To be blunt, we saw very little of Jesus’ love in Sarah Palin's speech last night, as she heaped contempt on those who disagree with her politically, while offering no vision for how to resolve the critical issues facing Americans today like job loss, health care, growing child poverty rates and the war in Iraq.

Moreover, as has been documented by major media sources including the Associated Press [2], Palin spoke falsehoods not only about her own record, but about Barack Obama's record as a State Senator and as a U.S. Senator. As Christians, we are called throughout Scripture to speak the whole truth, to put away falsehood, to bear true witness even when it hurts our own interests. The name of Jesus should never be associated with falsehoods or deception, but last night, in Sarah Palin’s speech, we believe it was.

Therefore, we in the Matthew 25 Network call on Gov. Palin to repudiate her attitude of contempt towards her political opponents and to tell the whole truth, not only for the sake of a more honorable politics, but also for the sake of our Christian witness in the world.

Senator McCain is no less responsible because he selected Gov. Palin and praised her speech, and he claims to be a Christian as well. It is ill-fitting to use Christian identity and language for one's political advantage without seeking to live up to that high calling. Ultimately, as the Presidential candidate, Governor Palin's tone and infidelity to truth reflect negatively on Senator McCain as well.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Toot Toot, Again, and Again

Washington Post and London's Daily Telegraph quote me. I like the Post article, 'cause it also has a lot from my little brother, Keith.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Watch the Saddleback Forum

Add Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, to my list heroes amongst my Christian brothers. He, like Stephen Mansfield, is modeling an attitude, a spirit, a character that reflects the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Tomorrow Rev. Warren will host the two major presidential candidates at the Saddleback Civil Forum. In an ingenious format, Warren will interview each candidate with the same questions. Neither candidate will be able to hear the other’s answers, so they won’t be responding to their opponent, they’ll be responding to Rick Warren’s questions.

All I can say beforehand is: watch it. It should be purely informative.
The info:

Saddleback Civil Forum with Barack Obama and John McCain
Saturday, August 16th at 7:00 p.m. CDT
Live on CNN

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Choosing Some Life

The Democratic National Convention Committee has announced the inclusion of a pro-life speaker at their convention later this month. Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, Jr., a strong supporter of Senator Obama, is also an outspoken pro-life advocate.

The inclusion of Casey as speaker is a kind of redemption for his family. According to legend, in 1992, his father, then Pennsylvania governor, Bob Casey, Sr., was uninvited from the speakers’ platform when his own pro-life views became known. There are alternate versions of the story: Some say Casey Sr. was prepared to make a fervent pro-life pitch, which was the reason he was removed. Others say his views on abortion did not enter in (evidently other pro-life Democrats did speak), and that Casey’s refusal to endorse the Clinton-Gore ticket was the reason he was not allowed to speak. Nonetheless the announcement of Casey Jr.’s speech is meant to signal a new day for the Democratic Party.

I think the proposed abortion plank of the DNC also signals the seriousness of the issue for Democrats. I’m not na├»ve. I’m not happy with the plank. Its pro-life side is not strong enough,

"The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman's decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre- and post-natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs."

This is not the full pro-life stance I want, but it beats the recalcitrance we’ve seen on both sides of the aisle on this difficult moral issue. Not strong enough, but it moves in the right direction. Still I prefer the language from Democrats for Life:

“Democrats for Life of America will strongly and unequivocally champion the sanctity of life from conception to natural death and will continue to oppose any and all legislation that infringes on that right. We will continue to support pregnant women and advocate on behalf of unborn children. We believe that one of most effective ways to reduce abortions is to support pregnant women and provide access to health care, child care, a livable wage and freedom from the fear of domestic and sexual violence.”

What I like about the proposed DNC plank is the focus on actions more than simply stances. We pro-lifers can yell and scream our stance or silently hold on to our stance; but if we advocate nothing to actually and effectively stop abortions, our moral, godly, righteous, and right stance is worthless in the public square. The pro-life side of this plank at least encourages action toward stopping abortions.

More Faith of Barack Obama

I might get ambitious enough to write a review of Mansfield's book, but while you're waiting (you're waiting, aren't you?), I recommend these installments from a new friend.

Christian Faith, Peace, and Mutual Edification

That’s what I’m talking about! Stephen Mansfield has stated that he won’t be voting for Barack Obama. But he still celebrates Obama’s Christian faith. So much so that he examines, explains and defends that faith in a new book, The Faith of Barack Obama.

This is the same guy who wrote The Faith of George W. Bush. He is a Republican who disagrees with Obama on some political issues, but he can still practice the unity that we have as brothers and sisters in Christ. I haven’t finished reading the book yet, but I’ve read several interviews in which Mansfield discusses the book. My favorite is from Newsweek. Others can be found here and here. And this is an audio interview.

I don't agree with all of Mansfield's conclusions, but I appreciate his spirit and approach. Mansfield’s treatment has been called even-handed and fair-minded by most reviewers, much to the disappointment of some conservatives who want something less than fair-minded. In Mansfield's mind, these critics are basically saying "you are too Christian, you should be more Republican than you are Christian." But Mansfield explains his intentions: "I want to encourage [Obama's] faith and I believe he is sincere about his faith. What I have written is an honest, objective evaluation that celebrates Obama's faith to the extent it can be celebrated, questioned it where it had to be questioned, and basically tries to explain it in terms of our times, which is something we need, by the way, as we approach this election."

And Mansfield has a second purpose for this book. "One of my goals for this book besides just the content was to find the tone that I hope will be replicated a bit more in American politics. This vicious left/right fighting that is happening in America is paralyzing us. It is keeping us from accomplishing anything, and I have to say, as a Christian, it is ungodly. My hope was to write a book that would model a certain tone while communicating facts that people need to know."

Senator Obama himself calls this concept "disagreeing without being disagreeable." The apostle Paul put it this way in the Book of Romans,

"Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification" (Romans 14:19).

It is a Christian approach to differences of opinion. And I thank Mr. Mansfield for practicing it.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Service of Unity and Reconciliation

I've had the privilege of writing liturgy for three worship books over the past three year. The last book comes out soon.

For three weeks in August, the recommended pieces come from stuff I wrote. I especially like the service for this coming Sunday, August 17. In the middle of the Christian contentiousness of this election (which I am highlighting lately), we could remember these scriptural challenges.

I will continue to call my brothers and sisters to a loyalty that lifts Jesus above political philosophy, but I want to do so with an attitude that reflects our actual unity in Jesus Christ.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Where Did You Get Your American Values?

One two-part question in last week’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll needs serious scrutiny. The question seemed simple:

“For each of the following candidates, please tell me whether that person has a background and set of values that you can identify with, or whether he does NOT have a background and set of values that you can identify with.”

Evidently the question has been asked several times over the past few months. There has been no significant variation in the response over time regarding Senators McCain and Obama. In this latest instance, 58% of respondents say that John McCain “has the background and set of values that they identify with”; it was 47% for Obama. Likewise 34% say John McCain does NOT have the background and set of values that they identify with, compared to Obama’s 43%.

But there’s a significant problem with the question. The question assumes that background and values are undeniably linked, as if they are of one piece. When Americans are asked this two-pronged question, it forces the illogic that background determines values and that different backgrounds lead to different values. That configuration does not reflect reality.

Take my wife, Laura, and me. I am a black man; she is a white woman. I grew up in a military family moving all across the US and sometimes outside the US. I lived for the longest in Hawaii. She lived her entire childhood in Indianapolis. I grew up in an intact family with both of my loving parents and my loving siblings. Laura: not so much. My favorite place to be while growing up was in school. Laura often wasn’t even sent to school.

As young adults I was working with suburban white kids in the Northwest while Laura worked with inner city black kids in the Northeast. I went on to live 18 years as a single adult while Laura was married for 11 years, a single mom for 3 years, and by the time we got married, she’d been a parent for nearly 13 years.

So our backgrounds were remarkably dissimilar, but we have been happily married these 13 ½ years by the grace of God, who allowed our dissimilar backgrounds to yield remarkably similar values.

So getting back to the poll in this presidential election: Who in America can say they identify with Barack Obama’s background? Few people can say they grew up in Hawaii, fewer still that they lived for a couple years in Indonesia. Who can say they have a black Kenyan father and a white American mother? Who can say they have an Arabic-derived name. Who can say that, though they look black, they have been raised by a white mother and white grandparents? How many can say they graduated from Columbia University and Harvard Law School. How many can say that by choice they worked with churches for hardly any pay after college and that they came to Christian faith as an adult because of that work? Who can say they taught law school for nearly 10 years?

Each of these characteristics represents small categories of people. It goes without saying that most Americans look immediately at Barack Obama and say, “I can’t relate to his background.”

But the fatal flaw in the poll questions is the suggestion that background and values are the same or at least inseparably tied. They are not. While background might influence values, specific values do not come from only one type of background.

So responders to the poll question need to be able to separate background from values. The question allows for no such separation. To answer, these responders are almost forced to reason, “Well my background is nothing like Barack Obama’s. So my values must not be either.”

Such reasoning, while unavoidable for the purpose of answering the question, does not reflect reality in this campaign. Most Americans actually do share Barack Obama’s values, at least the most important ones. Like Barack Obama, most Americans believe in God and the power of that faith in our lives. In fact, like Obama most Americans somehow identify themselves as Christian. Like Barack Obama most Americans believe that that government should serve to protect us—to provide security at home and to protect our interests abroad; that war is hell, though sometimes necessary. America and Obama agree that the family is the foundational institution of society and that marriage is between a man and a woman. America and Obama both believe that abortion should be eliminated except when the health of the mother is at stake and that somehow we should look out for the most vulnerable. Obama and most Americans agree that we should work together to solve our problems and that all people disserve to be treated with dignity.

These are the values Barack Obama shares with most American people, although he reached them through a biography that most Americans cannot relate to.

Next time NBC/WSJ would do well to split this background/values question or to eliminate the background part altogether. It tells us nothing and only obscures the real intent of the question: Does this candidate share your values?

Friday, August 01, 2008

Race Is Back (But It Has Never Really Been Gone)

Eugene Robinson has the cleverest take on the latest accusations and counter-accusations from the presidential candidates. Seems the McCain camp is accusing Obama of “playing the race card” (an all-encompassing charge that truly means next to nothing except that somehow someone referred to race, however vaguely or innocuously) for suggesting that the McCain campaign will try to scare people away from Obama (they already are trying) instead of focusing on their own positive attributes (which they don’t seem able to locate).

Eugene Robinson’s take? McCain is right: Obama DID inject race into the campaign…by being black. And of course Robinson is right. This is the nature of American politics. If there is a candidate running who is not white, race is in the race. Just as--if there is a candidate who is not male--gender is in the race.

Those factors do not have to dominate, but they do matter; they are factors. The candidates and their campaigns have three choices: Pretend that race isn’t there or doesn’t matter, exploit the race factor, or call it out so that it is openly acknowledged rather than being the elephant (or donkey) in the room. Obama and his campaign have consistently tried to do the latter. His opponents (both Democratic and Republican) have mostly tried some subtle or blatant forms of exploitation. And their tactics have been effective, but ugly. Still Obama won the primary season.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

About that New Yorker Cover

I don’t totally agree with this critique of the New Yorker cover that depicts the Obamas in caricature of all the fears people have of them. I think it kinda works as satire. The problem I have is not with the actual cartoon. It’s with the placement on a cover. In that context—with people walking by it on a news-stand—it’s just as likely to be misunderstood as understood. And it's just as likely to reinforce the erroneous beliefs about the Obamas as to dispel them. Quick Thoughts.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Brawl at the Farmers' Market

I almost came to blows at the Farmers’ Market. And I’m not proud of it. But I blame it on Kenny Chesney and the Barbershop Quartet Convention/Brawl. On the Fourth of July around 3:00, Laura and I were headed to downtown Nashville to help Obama people register voters. Once we reached downtown, we found swarms of (white) people. They were going in all kinds of directions. It wasn’t until later that we found they were there for the Kenny Chesney concert, the fireworks, and the Barbershop Quartet Convention (Did you know there’s an ongoing argument between the traditionalist and the contemporary-ists?)

When we tried to park to do our part to register voters, we found that parking alone cost $15-$20. We were not prepared for that, so we went back home. But my loving wife agreed to go to Farmers’ Market the next day, at least to greet the Obama people who were there again to register voters.

The next day, we finally found the “booth,” staffed by Pat Meadows and Thelma Kidd. So this guy walks up. He’s talking to Pat and Thelma, and I hear him say ”Well, I’m a Republican.” I tell him “ You can still vote for Obama. I’ve got a 'Republicans for Obama' bumper sticker on my car.” He proceeds with “Well, we weren’t better off under Clinton.” And when I remind him that no Clintons are remaining in this race, he tells me “They’re all the same. They’re all Communists. They want to tax the rich, They are into redistribution of wealth.”

The emotion is welling up in me, and I realize that this man, who is perhaps twice my size, is all up in my face. I back up. He follows suit. And I realize I’ve embarrassed Laura, terrified Thelma and Pat, and perhaps caused a scene at the normally sedate Farmers’ Market. Not to mention that I’ve done no good to the Obama campaign. Somebody save me from myself

Show Me Your Faith

I’m having an interesting discussion with an anonymous poster about Barack Obama’s Christian faith. It’s all recorded in the comments section of an earlier post. But I think it deserves to be “heard” by more than me and “Anonymous Friend,” so here’s the slightly edited version of our conversation….

From Me:

Dear Friend,

Obama may be mistaken about how many roads lead to God. But the road he is on is the Jesus road. So his Christian confession is invalid because he is mistaken about whether OTHER people can reach God? I believe we should do all we can to assure that our view of God is consistent with the truth. But none of us in our fallen-ness is perfect in our understanding. Not you, not me, not Obama, no-one but Jesus Christ. For that reason, we must be very careful in nit-picking statements from others to determine if they're "in" or "out." So once again you are entitled to your opinion, but that doesn't make you right. And my best judge is Scripture.

From An Anonymous Friend

Thanks for your thoughtful replies.

I'm glad you agree that Christ made exclusive claims about salvation. We can disagree about how significant it is that Obama views this differently.

His comment denying exclusivity isn't the only statement by Obama that I found troubling, however. He described sin as violating his own moral code. ("Being out of alignment with my values.") With that definition, there really is no such thing as sin. Any genuine understanding of sin requires a moral code outside oneself. Does he give a more complete answer about sin in some other interview that might add some sophistication to what he said in the Chicago Sun Times interview?


Anonymous Friend

Fom Me:

Dear Friend,

I was friends with Barack Obama when he was a 14-year-old. He was not a believer then. I was. I read his first book before he entered politics. I was thrilled to read that my friend had become a Christian brother. And his description of how he came to Jesus rang true to the kid I knew and how God might get ahold of him.

But I am a Christian professional with theological training. I have been a volunteer and paid leader in Christian churches of many denominations and sizes for 35 years. I currently work for one denomination while I worship in a church outside that denomination. I do not agree fully with anyone in the church I work for or the church I attend. I don't expect that I ever will, because all of our understanding is at least somewhat flawed. I believe that God allows for that brokenness for those who claim Jesus. So my assessment of Obama's Christianity is not to say that I agree with him on every point. But he is not theologically trained. He is not a Christian professional. he may be confused or wrong about some things, or he might not express them with the nuance that I might or you might. That doesn't make his Christian confession or his Christian faith invalid.

I don't propose to understand exactly what he meant by a specific statement like "Being out of alignment with my values." I often misunderstand my wife when I think I understand. But I operate with an attitude of charity when trying to understand her. Rather than assume that she is lying or means some evil, I try to understand her meaning and assume that it is something good. Likewise when I here a vague statement like Obama's from a person who professes to be a Christian, I think I'm called to put the best spin on it rather than assume the worst.

What if he meant that sin is "Being out of alignment with my CHRISTIAN values," since he's already talked about those Christian values?

Still, it baffles me that so many Christian people are willing to believe Obama is not the Christian he says he is. It's as if they want him NOT to be a Christian. I wish others could feel the joy I felt when my friend became a brother.

From Anonymous:

The two topics we have discussed so far are not questions that should require much nuance to give a sensible answer. Jesus was straightforward about sin, and he was straightforward about being the only means to salvation. Anyone who has attended a Bible-believing church for 20 years should have no difficulty giving an adequate answer.

I think you are being a little too cute when you profess bafflement that Christians are looking beneath the surface of Obama's profession. If I were to meet my neighbor and he said he was a Christian, I would rejoice that he knew the Lord. At that point there would be no reason to inquire of his faith to test its maturity. Nor would there be reason to plumb the depths of his understanding.

If my daughter introduced me to a young man saying she intends to marry him, I would be glad to hear him say he is a Christian. However, I would also ask questions to see how mature his faith is and how closely he aligned his beliefs with Scripture.

Obama (and his supporters) clearly are offering his professed Christian beliefs as a reason to vote for him (or feel comfortable voting for him). Your original post even recognizes the propriety of holding up that profession to scrutiny. I don't think you should now accuse questioners of being killjoys for asking these questions.

Working in the church, I am sure you realize that there is often no correlation between living moral life and being saved. In fact, it seems the ability to navigate life with reasoning can actually be a hindrance to belief. If someone walked into your church who did good works and professed a belief in Jesus, but this belief bore no relationship to the teachings of the Bible (e.g., no concept of sin, no hope in a resurrection, and no reason to distinguish Jesus from other moral teachers), I hope you would counsel that person to consider the possibility that he believed merely in himself, and that he has merely applied a culturally acceptable label to that egocentric belief.


Your anonymous friend

From Me:

Dear Friend,

Barack Obama's profession of faith is not some political ploy. I first read about his faith before he was in politics. Now that he is a political figure and he speaks openly about his faith, his brothers and sisters attack rather than rejoice. It's sad.

I have no problem with Christians holding professing Christians to a standard. And as you indicate this measure becomes more important when we are considering someone close to us or someone in leadership.

My issues are twofold
1) That standard should be biblical. I made the case in my original post that as far as I can see, Barack Obama's profession of faith and life of faith meet biblical standards.

2) It seems to me that some Christian people WANT Barack Obama not to be a Christian. There seems to be an attitude of trying to prove Obama's faith profession false. Honestly, I see no Scriptural justification for trying to prove someone who calls himself a Christian to be a liar. This is not false prophet territory. This is a man who says he's a Christian, who meets biblical criteria, who prays regularly, who reads the Bible to discover God's truth, who lives a life to reflect his relationship to God through Christ, and his brothers and sisters are trying to prove that that he doesn't belong in the family. What household of God do these people belong to?

Cal Thomas is in no position from such a distance to proclaim that Barack Obama is not a Christian when Obama's profession meets a biblical standard. I believe this is where the oft-misused words of Jesus "judge not lest ye be judged" actually does apply. Cal Thomas does not have enough information to decide Obama is NOT a Christian. He can wonder, he can say "looks like he is." He can say "I believe he is." He could theoretically even say, "I see no evidence of his Christianity." But he cannot say --based on the evidence presented --that Barack Obama is not a Christian. His profession meets biblical criteria, and his life demonstrates both the change and the continued life of Christian discipleship. As my friend Steve said this weekend, "Short of crawling inside another man's heart, that's all any of us can go on when ‘judging’ another one's relationship to Jesus.”

But all of this is independent of whether anyone votes for him. He will be your Christian brother if he becomes President and he will be your Christian brother if he doesn't.

More to the point:
He will be your Christian brother if you vote for him, and he will be your brother if you don't. You can choose your President, but don't be confused: your vote cannot keep Barack Obama out of your family.

Now I’d like to address your issues a little more directly:
1. What to you would be a “sensible,” “adequate” answer to the question “What is sin?”? Where do you find that definition in Scripture? Where is Jesus’ straightforward answer?

I’m not saying I don’t believe there is sin. I even agree with you that the concept of sin is a basic tenet of the Christian faith as recorded in the Bible. What I am questioning is that there is a simple, direct definition of sin, which is exclusive of other definitions. The Bible doesn’t even always use the same Greek word for what we translate “sin” in English. So what is your acceptable definition, and where did you get it?

2. I did not say it is unacceptable for Christians to look “beneath the surface of Obama’s (or anyone else’s) profession” of faith. What baffles me and saddens me is that Chrisitan people seem eager to prove that a man who professes to be a Christian and who demonstrates that Christian faith in his life is somehow lying or totally deceived.

I didn’t say (to use a Wesleyan term) that he is near perfection. I said that by all that I can see, using biblical criteria, he is a Christian. I didn’t accuse anyone of being a “killjoy.” I am horrified that it seems there are Christian people who are bent on proving the illegitimacy of Obama’s profession. To what end? You can’t make him a heathen by calling him one any more than I can make him a Christian by calling him one. And you’re not killing my joy regarding his salvation. You are killing my joy regarding your own discipleship. If your life in Christ has brought you to the point where you would rather assume another Christian is a liar than claim him as a brother, then my sadness is for you, my brother or sister. I won’t say you’re not my brother or sister, but I will feel sadness for you.

3. I agree that often there is no correlation between morality and Christian faith. There are moral people in all faiths and moral people with no religious faith at all. But you are using Obama’s morality as an indication of his LACK of Christian faith? And the fact that he uses reasoning in his decisions proves a LACK of Christian faith? Good works becomes a sign of his LACK of Christian faith? What false prophets have you been listening to?

Remember James 2:14-18
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

If Barack Obama were professing faith and had no deeds to demonstrate that faith, I’d have some questions. And if he had good deeds and rejected Jesus, I’d have some questions. But here’s a man who professes faith in Jesus and shows it by his deeds, and his brothers and sisters think they can exclude him, vote him out of the family. Well, fortunately it’s not their call.

So let’s look at your hypothetical about someone walking into my church, (although this is not about some hypothetical someone but about a real live person who I know or at least knew). If that person professed Jesus and didn’t seem to have what I consider the complete truth on sin, the Resurrection, and Jesus, I would welcome them as a brother or sister. I would then ask them lots of questions as I walk with them in their lives to make sure I understand what they really believe. And while in their lives I would try to guide them to the truth. But I do not invalidate their faith because it doesn’t line up exactly the way I think it should.

But from a distance, when I’m not able to be in a person’s life to ask those probing questions, all I can do is what I started this post with. I look at the man, his life, and the Scriptures. Looks to me like Barack Obama is a Christian.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Blueprint for Change

FOX(the fake)News mocks its viewers once again, and the liberal media miss the point. FOX runs this segment with actor Stephen Baldwin.

First FOX covers the Obama fundraiser, where a bunch of celebrities forked out large sums of money. The newscast makes a big deal about how many more celebs support Obama than McCain. Then they ask the question "Why do celebrities think middle America cares which celebrities support which candidate."

Well to be honest, I don't really care. And if you hadn't told me, I wouldn't know. So if nobody cares, why are you talking about it? Why do you bring a celebrity on to make the point that celebrity opinions don't carry weight? Because you think I'm stupid. But of course, while most of us aren't keeping score, we do know that celebs have some level of influence and that their money has an even greater level. I'm not saying that's as it should be. It's not, but it is what it is.

There's more to this story. The liberal media seem to think that the story is that Stephen Baldwin says he'll leave the country if Obama is elected President. When I heard about the comment, I needed to get to the source to see the context (I'm all about context). Turns out that that comment was not serious and was really a joke at the expense of brother Alec, who said a similar thing about a Bush presidency.

Stephen Baldwin is my Christian brother, who I have come to respect, even when I don't agree with him. He has creatively reached out to people--especially young people-- who many of the rest of us Christians have treated as inconsequential.

In this FOX segment, he proclaims his belief that John McCain would make the best President. He's obviously entitled to his opinion. The real story is that he says what I've grown weary of hearing:

"You've got all these celebrities who are gonna come out for Obama. Whether he's the best guy for the job or not doesn't matter; he's the guy who's gonna bring change. I love the questions that have been outstanding: How's he gonna bring the change? What's his plan? How's he gonna do it? Nobody's answering these questions."

So for Stephen Baldwin and for all the others who keep claiming that Obama has no plan, I direct you to Obama's website which for over a year has been full of policy positions and political philosophy. You can get his stances on the issues and his plans for solving the country's problems. I also suggest this blueprint. And I highly recommend his four speeches from this week, but suggest you start with this one on service to our country.

Those who say they don't know anything about Barack Obama or that he has no plan are not paying attention, and they are not making even minimal efforts to find the truth. I am tolerant with people who do not agree with Senator Obama on the issues, but I am weary of those who say he has no plan because they have not bothered to look into his plans.

Trying to Be Fair

I deleted an anonymous comment to my post: “Once Again, People: Barack Obama is a Christian!" The person obviously hadn’t read or understood the simple post s/he was responding to. But in the interest of fairness I’m providing the comment with my response below:

From Anonymous:

Just to be clear, when Obama discusses hell, he is not among those who believe in hell. Rather he says: "I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell. I can’t imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity. That’s just not part of my religious makeup."

Hell is a pretty basic teaching in Christianity. In fact, if he doesn't believe in hell, and he doesn't believe in heaven (see "God Factor" interview), and he defines sin as violating his own moral framework, why does he need the redemptive work of Jesus?

Tell me again why you think he is a Christian?

From Me:

Here’s why I accept that Barack Obama is a Christian, not that my opinion or Anonymous’ opinion makes it any more or less true:

Jesus said

"Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. Matthew 10:32-33

Barack Obama says

“I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life. But most importantly, I believe in the example that Jesus set by feeding the hungry and healing the sick and always prioritizing the least of these over the powerful… Accepting Jesus Christ in my life has been a powerful guide for my conduct and my values and my ideals."

Scripture doesn’t give me, James Dobson, Cal Thomas, or Anonymous the option of determining that the one who confesses Jesus is lying or ignorant. I won’t bother to argue whether Barack Obama’s Jesus confession meets Mr. Dobson’s, Mr. Thomas’ or Anonymous’ criteria. I don’t care. What matters is whether it meets Jesus’ criteria. It does.