10 Ways Obama’s TIME Faith Essay Targets Evangelicals

obamaprayer.jpgTIME magazine has just posted short essays from Barack Obama and John McCain about faith in advance of their meeting next weekend with Saddleback Church leader and Purpose-Driven Life author Rick Warren. In keeping with his broader campaign strategy, McCain’s emphasizes his biography as a POW, highlighting the role that faith played during those excruciating years. It’s deeply moving. It’s also more a historical artifact than a window into McCain’s faith today and how it influences him.
Obama’s essay, meanwhile, is a study in how to connect with evangelicals and other religious conservatives. Here are ten examples from the piece:
1. I began my Christian journey over 20 years ago, as a young man fresh out of college.
Evangelicals often describe their faith as a journey, which suggests that it’s an active relationship with Christ rather than a static state of affairs.
2. …since that time I’ve been serious not only about deepening my relationship with Christ.
This reinforces a relationship with Jesus that has matured over a course of two decades. Obama’s saying that he hasn’t just seen the light since becoming a candidate. In a realm where authenticity means everything, making that point high up is essential.
3. I think there are some lessons that Americans from all political persuasions might learn in this regard, lessons that I take to heart each day.
Speaking to what’s on “one’s heart” is a Methodist formulation that adherents of various Christian traditions use to denote experiential learning as opposed to book or head-based learning. When Christians speak from the heart or take something to heart it means that that thing is more deeply felt than a mere fact that’s filed away mentally.
4. We have to start by remembering the role that values play in addressing some of our most urgent social problems. As I’ve said many times, the problems of poverty and war, the uninsured and the unemployed aren’t simply technical problems in search of a 10-point plan.
Obama’s recognizing a central role for faith in government and public policy, a direct challenge to Religious Right figures who complain that secular liberals are trying to stamp out religion from the public square. It represents Obama’s challenge to those secular liberals in his pary’s own base, too. A lot of those folks were responsible for Obama’s victory over Hillary Clinton in the primaries.
5. They’re rooted in societal indifference and individual callousness — in the imperfections of man.
The imperfectability of man, and the converse need for salvation, is the central tenet of born-again theology. Obama’s been beat up by the Religious Right in recent weeks for promulgating a vision of faith that comports with the Social Gospel school of Christianity, which hold that man can perfect–or at least vastly improve–the world through his own actions. This is Obama’s pushing back.
6. …I also believe that when a gangbanger shoots indiscriminately into a crowd because he feels somebody disrespected him, that’s not just a government problem — it’s a moral problem. There’s a hole in that young man’s heart.
Sounds like vintage George W. Bush, doesn’t it?. These lines recognize the limits of government influence in the lives of individuals and suggests that true societal change is born in the breasts of real people through personal transformation, aka salvation.
7. That’s a lesson that friends of mine like Pastor Rick Warren and Bishop T.D. Jakes know well.
These two megachurch pastors were regulars in the Bush White House and have unrivaled credibility in the evangelical universe.
8. My values speak to… the expanse of God’s creation that is warming day by day, the single mothers struggling to provide for their families and the fathers who are too often absent from the scene.
Combating climate change–“Creation Care”–has become an important cause in many evangelical circles. Taking deadbeat dads to task, meanwhile, has long been a staple of the “pro-family” movement. It implies that the nuclear family is the building block of society. James Dobson has been saying the same thing for three decades.
9. I don’t believe we should ignore the debate over traditional “values issues” at the expense of these other moral challenges.
Here, Obama slyly pays respect to cultural conservatives by insinuating that traditional “values issues”–code for abortion and gay marriage–deserve a place at the table. Most Democratic candidates up till now have labeled such concerns as “wedge issues” that serve merely to distract from real problems like war and the slumping economy.
10. But we can’t just talk about “family values.” We actually have to stand up for policies that value families.
Obama attempts to co-opt a Christian Right catch phrase, “family values,” rather than belittle or dismiss it. Many Democrats have traditionally opted for the latter approach.
Not bad for a 408-word essay.


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Paul, seeking wisdom.

posted August 7, 2008 at 4:14 pm

Sounds a lot like a sermon I heard twenty years ago in a Methodist Church seeking to start a community center. It was also a part of the by-laws of a Community Church that wanted to create a social helps network more than fifteen years ago that I was a part of. The Evangelical Conservative churches wanted no part of the movement at the time because “liberal” chruches were a part of it. So much for loving your neighbor.
As Bob Dylan said, “The times, they are a changin'” and its about time!

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posted August 8, 2008 at 2:08 pm

So basically you (the author) came away with describing McCain’s essay, which slyly gets out details of his POW story, as “deeply moving” even though it hardly gives us any insight into his personal faith while Obama gives us a whole lot more insight into how his faith affects him and you respond to that by giving us a 10-point exegesis of his essay. And of course under each point, you choose to assign some political reasoning behind it. This is yet another classical example of typical media coverage. McCain’s gets away with something while Obama’s actions are viewed through a microscope. How disappointing. Perhaps you ought to consider doing a 10 point exegesis on McCain’s essay as well.

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May G

posted August 10, 2008 at 10:25 pm

Thank you Sen. Obama for sharing your faith in God with all who want to know more about you & your core beliefs. This negates what I have heard Republicans parrot recently i.e. that you have no core……not true!! Your core is your belief and faith in God and as you have said your faith informs the way you think about things. I read about your conversion through Jesus Christ and it registered with my spirit that this was a sincere experience.
I also believe that one of the reasons why you didn’t want to go too negative with HRC and now John McCain is because of your faith & respect for Godly principles. John McCain does not have the conscience that God gives people who have a relationship with him and that’s why he attacks without conscience or concern for what is true or not.
God will show his favour to you Sen. Obama because unlike your opponent, you are not afraid to claim him.

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LaShawn , Pensacola FL

posted August 11, 2008 at 2:30 am

A question for people of Faith who support Sen. Mccain:
Why would a pro-life conservative who is not an Obama supporter decide to write a book called ‘ The Faith of Barack Obama’, but not the Faith of John Mccain. Why? maybe because he could’nt gather enough information to fill a page. I don’t see how John McCain’s essay could give evangelical leaders any real ease. I see the spirit of God in Obama. When you are a Christian, you can just feel it. It’s hard to explain, but if you are a believer, you get it. John Mccain’s essay sounds more like something in a pamphlet that is handed out to military people when they deploy. I’m a vet. Trust me it really does.

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recovering ex-Pentecostal

posted August 11, 2008 at 2:20 pm

I’m hard-pressed to understand why on earth this post got tagged under “gay marriage”? Those words do not appear in Obama’s speech, only in Dan’s “interpretation” of it: “values issues”–code for abortion and gay marriage”, replete with Dan’s “opinion” that Obama’s even mentioning it was “slyly pays respect to cultural conservatives” and “insinuating that traditional “values issues” … deserve a place at the table”.
Better “insinuating’ than screaming that they must, I suppose. But what a slant, Dan. And a stretch.
Meanwhile, Dan, it would behoove you to inform your (many) readers and fans whether or not you believe gay Americans should be treated equally before the law. Do you?

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apache girl

posted August 12, 2008 at 3:17 pm

And does Jesus agree with this. Maybe Obama is speaking of some African witch doctor God.
For 20 years G. D. America, what can this country do for me ? Obama just cannot get more religious than that. “Look, I’ve got two daughters, nine years old and six years old,” Obama said. “I am going to teach them first of all about values and morals. But if they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby.” What a wonderful Christian leader he will make. Very high morals.

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Brent Bullock

posted August 14, 2008 at 10:07 am

I cannot speak to the motive of either candidate in temporarily engaging evangelical speech, especially as we head into Saddleback’s Civil Forum. My concern is whether or not these guys will further expand or reduce federal government. Obama clearly wants to lift funds from our pocket to alleviate the sufferings of poor choices. I become an un-cheerful giver, when the government or the church dictates what I must give to those that are less fortunate. America’s fortune comes from hard work, fair-trade; liberty, self-control, independence, personal responsibility and individual generosity; not hand-outs dictated by the state or federal government. Giving to the less fortunate is great, but it must be an individual decision, not a government edict.

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