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.