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Obama’s Attribute

posted by Scot McKnight

ObamaGrav.jpgA Third Way approach to politics works from Christian principles to applaud what is worthy and to critique what is not. It is not tied to defending any politician on every issue or stance. I was not surprised by Obama’s decisions last week about abortion, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak out against them. We dare not play the game of loyalty to a party or a President. I have to admit that I was disappointed some evangelicals who supported Obama didn’t speak up last week about his decisions about abortion. I wanted to see more about abortion reduction and pregnancy reduction, but that is not what I heard. I saw no reason to wait to hear or see more. We are called to the gospel and a gospel life. I think that will inevitably lead to the Third Way.

Having said that, what attribute of Barack Obama do you think of first?

Of all the attributes of Barack Obama, the one I observe the most is his gravity. Different Presidents in the USA present themselves with various images, and it would be fun to think of defining attributes of Reagan, GHW Bush, Clinton, and GW Bush.

But what I observe so often in the face, demeanor, and tone of Obama is gravity: life and politics and vision, local problems and world issues for Obama are each matters of utmost seriousness and importance. He doesn’t seem to ratchet up his concern when he gets near the White House; that concern was visible in Ohio and Louisiana and California and Illinois. He is serious with the ordinary worker who lost her job and he takes the economy seriously.

He took himself seriously decades back; he takes himself seriously; he takes his vision seriously; he takes his speeches seriously; everything is important to him because he seems to see the implications of the smallest of things.

In addition, there is a sense of dignity and solemnity about everything he does. Everything. He does smile when he plays basketball, and there is a sparkle in his eyes with his girls and his wife and he can dance a bit, but Barack Obama is a man of gravity — and we need a President like that in a time like ours.



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Diane

posted February 2, 2009 at 7:48 am


I see in Obama first gravitas, then self-discipline, and then an ability to perceive what it is like to walk in another’s shoes. I hope he can get the economy going and worry that he might get derailed.



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Dan

posted February 2, 2009 at 8:03 am


I see in Obama arrogance and hubris. Aside from the abortion issue, the infanticide issue which he disuingenuously claimed was “above his paygrade”, there is the economic stimulus plan which is completely the opposite of anything that will actually work – spending money we don’t have almost entirely on programs that will have no immediate impact, if they ever have an impact at all. To quote African American Shelby Steele:
“Of course the bad economy has checked some of Mr. Obama?s progressive ambitions. He will live with the Bush tax cuts for the time being, and he may include some business tax cuts in his stimulus package. But he clearly wants a more redistributive and socially activist government. And he will be helped in this by two unique sources of authority: the urgency of our economic troubles and his moral authority as the first black president. Again, I am not hopeful for him here, and I despair at seeing the moral capital of my race put to these ends.”



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Anette Ejsing

posted February 2, 2009 at 8:55 am


The first thing that comes to mind when I see Obama is intelligence.
Because he knows that the solution to any problem is complex.
Because he looks at individual persons and genuinely listens.
Because he is not afraid of other bright minds.
I do not trust Obama to always line up with truth, because not even the most intelligent person is automatically tuned into the truth. I trust him because intelligence adds plasticity to a person. And plastic leadership is what America needs right now.
When, therefore, he makes decisions I disagree with, when his optimism gets the better of him, or when he makes youthful blunder statements, I still trust him. And then I pray for him.



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MatthewS

posted February 2, 2009 at 9:15 am


Agreed about the gravity. He has a presence. In hockey, there are goalies who have presence and they change things just by being there.
I wonder a little bit if our news media doesn’t help him out. I wonder if it would erode his presence a bit if everything he said were to be second-guessed and accompanied by a sympathetic victim decrying his policies.
Be that as it may, he has successfully sold a message to a jaded audience (the American public). When I hear him give a speech, I find myself wanting to believe what he just said. Since the first speech I heard him deliver, I have tried to put my finger on how he does it. Is it voice inflection? Is he saying something that much different than anyone else says, or is it the words he puts to his own perspective? Not sure. He has presence.



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Travis Greene

posted February 2, 2009 at 10:00 am


Dan @ 2,
I get that you disagree with him, but I’m not sure how what you bring up suggests “arrogance”. You may think the stimulus package is a bad idea (surely that’s much more up for debate than you present), but how is he arrogant in pursuing it?



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Scot McKnight

posted February 2, 2009 at 10:03 am


We were in Canada this last weekend, and I found an overwhelming support of Obama on the part of the evangelical Christians there. I’m sure there’s disagreement among evangelicals up there on this one, but I’m wondering if anyone out there knows.



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Karl

posted February 2, 2009 at 10:44 am


I see charisma. I had previously compared him to Reagan in that he’s the first president since RR to have that charismatic gift of playing so well to the camera or a crowd, and coming across as sincere and trustworthy and likeable. Clinton had personal charisma, but came across (to many) as being insincere especially in front of the camera or large audiences. Neither Bush had much charisma. But the more I see Obama in action and the pictures of his young family I think I may need to look further than Reagan, all the way back to the JFK white house, for a closer comparison. Young, handsome, charismatic, sincere or seemingly so, with a beautiful wife and adorable children. Hopefully his charisma will be matched by wisdom and good judgment.



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BeckyR

posted February 2, 2009 at 12:26 pm


I pretty much say what Karl said. I think with Obama we’re not going to get whith house press b.s. I think the facts aren’t going to be spun, nor half truthes being said. He does have charisma and I think it’s tied to his gravity, there’s the sense when he talks that he’s talking to an individual. He says things as they are, candor. Doesn’t hide weaknesses. I get the sense he doesn’t have advisors polishing him, like what to do to come across best to the american people, how to look. He just is who he is.



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BeckyR

posted February 2, 2009 at 12:34 pm


I pretty much agree with Karl. I get the sense that we’re not going to get White house b.s I thihk facts will not be half truthes or polished for what can best help his image. Or things withheld from us. Of course some things are, always will be. I don’t feel cynical about what will come out of the white house. Obama does have charisma and I think it comes from his gravity. When he speaks he comes across as he is talking to an individual, he sees us as one of him, or him as one of us. He doesn’t seem to hide his weaknesses and it’s like he doesn’t have a staff precisely for polishing him for how he comes across, how to do well in how he’s liked. He seems to have candor.



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Mike G

posted February 2, 2009 at 12:43 pm


Hey Scot -
I hate to post this as a comment, but I’ve been trying to send you an email, and the address that I’ve used before (which is the same as the one that’s linked on this site) keeps getting bounced back to me.
I’m mostly looking for info on who to contact regarding your speaking engagements. If someone could get in contact with me, that’d be great.
Thanks!



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Your Name

posted February 2, 2009 at 1:42 pm


I agree that he has charisma…people are attracted to him and desire to listen to him. His charisma seems to display “hope” that our country seems to need right now. While I respect the man and will pray for Him, however, I believe this charisma will only go so far. We must hope in Christ alone…I’m feeling that our country in general is placing this hope in Obama and it’s totally amplified in the media (which is quite biased toward Obama, in my opinion). I was angry and heartbroken even though I expected it. I am personally sick of Obama being painted as almost being like our country’s “savior” by the media and many of his supporters. I feel Obama would not want to be viewed this way as I see him as a rather humble man. Again, I think we need to view him as our leader, a fellow human being, who is a sinner as all of us are. I think he will offer some hope, but it won’t be for the unborn, unfortunately.



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John Stackhouse

posted February 2, 2009 at 3:00 pm


Scot, I can only breeze by for a moment, but two remarks:
1. Because Canadian politics is somewhat to the left of American politics (our Conservative Party, for example, holds to socialized medicine among a pretty wide array of policies taken for granted here that are in hot dispute down there), it’s not surprising that Canadians generally have warmer feelings toward President Obama than Americans in general.
Yet evangelicals in Canada are generally pro-life and we (I’m among them) are appalled at his stance on abortion.
2. I just hung up the phone with a journalist who was getting background in order to interview Tony Campolo who has been speaking here in Vancouver. I told him to ask Brother Campolo how often he and Jim Wallis and Ron Sider have spoken prophetically to Mr. Obama over the months they have enjoyed access to him. Since they have railed against the Religious Right for being “chaplains to power,” I’m hoping they haven’t taken up the chaplain’s office now that Their Guy is in. But I haven’t seen much evidence yet of any such prophecy, and your regret about evangelicals not speaking out last week is regret I share.



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Kevin Gwin

posted February 2, 2009 at 3:58 pm


I just read the comments and I wonder why everyone ignored the first part of your post. It seems that all who support Obama don’t want to speak of the moves that he made last week to federally fund abortion. It seems that even God’s people are afraid to speak against Obama. Thank you Scot for being willing to point this out. I am surprised at how easy it is for everyone to pass over your comments about this.



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Greg

posted February 2, 2009 at 4:07 pm


Re: Scot’s comment about Canadian evangelicals and Obama. I guess I fit into that category. Some thoughts. Canadians in general are very pro-Obama. His ratings here have always been very high. On the Canadian political spectrum, many of his views (pro-death penalty, against gay marriage, very open about his faith, pro-Afghan war) would make him a good leader for our Conservative Party. Also, Canadian evangelicals have not polarized politically to the same extent as in the US. I remember a study done in the early 90s showing that our political party preferences basically mirrored those of the general population. Of course there are Canadian evangelicals who don’t favour Obama. Those I’ve met are influenced either by his abortion stance (I share their concerns) or by the “Obama is a secret Muslim” smear.



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Pat

posted February 2, 2009 at 8:14 pm


While not a popular decision on the abortion issue, it does provide funding for those who are providing all types of information to those with unwanted pregnancies. It’s not a perfect solution–with that I agree. However, I am not looking to the government to solve the abortion issue. I believe this issue and others need to have the Church out front making a difference in society so that it becomes something that is less of an option.//
What initially comes to my mind when I think of President Obama is his intelligence. Many of the past presidents attended ivy-league schools, but they didn’t seem to impress me with true intelligence. This is something that President Obama seems to possess.//
Incidentally, why is that the media and the public don’t refer to President Obama with the title of “president” by call him Obama, Mr. Obama or Barack Obama? Could it be that he has made us that comfortable that we don’t feel the need to address him by his title? Or do we have that little regard for him? Just curious…



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MatthewS

posted February 2, 2009 at 10:10 pm


Pat,
I was intrigued to hear a comment about that on NPR the other day. Perhaps you heard it, too. It turns out that their policy is to call the president “President” the first mention in a piece, then “Mr.” in subsequent references for the remainder of the story.



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James

posted February 3, 2009 at 6:33 am


Thanks Scott-
As a leader in the abortion reduction movement, I’m glad that you are watching Obama’s position closely. We need to hold Obama accountable for his commitment to reducing abortion- and there some ways of reducing abortion that are better than others. As for me, I’m taking a wait and see approach. He’s pledged to do certain things. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. In the mean time, we need your help!
Look at what the extreme right is saying about our work. It seems as though we are either damned if do, damned if we dont.
http://insidecatholic.com/Joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=5303&Itemid=48



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mariam

posted February 4, 2009 at 4:28 am


As John Stackhouse points out, there isn’t the same tie-in with right-wing politics to evangelicalism in Canada as there is in the US. When it comes to religion and politics we really are two very different countries, a difference that has become very pronounced over the past 20 years. In fact, here there is a fair contingent of evangelicals on the left. In Canada the Salvationists, the Baptists, the Mennonites were seen as the refuge of the working class and poor, while the Anglicans and other mainline churches were seen as apologists for the ruling class. When I was a young Salvationist we were the church of the socialists and unionists, while the Conservatives held their fundraisers in Anglican church basements. The social justice movement in Canada – universal health care, repeal of the death penalty, labour laws etc., were strongly supported, even led by evangelicals. Times have changed and some evangelicals in Canada have been influenced by the evangelical movement in the US so that, on the whole, I would say evangelicals as a group, are more conservative politically in Canada than other Christians but there is still a historical undercurrent of leftist social activism in the evangelical movement here.
And Scot, you were in Edmonton in Alberta, the Texas of Canada – the most politically right-wing province we have. (Most of my family are there while I live in exile in BC). If there were any Obama naysayers you would have heard from them there. The rest of the country is embarassingly gaga over him. Abortion is not quite the issue in Canada, as in the US. Abortion is completely legal and state-funded – there are no abortion laws in Canada, but our abortion rate is quite a lot lower than yours, for a variety of reasons which I think Obama will want to move towards. Canada’s most famous abortionist- Henry Morgentaler- was recently awarded the Order of Canada for his work in legalizing abortion. I have to admit, as left as I am, that really stuck in my craw. My politically conservative but atheist friends thought it was great. Politics and religion make very strange and unpredictable bedfellows.



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Al

posted October 20, 2009 at 7:42 pm


I suppose that all of the views posted have merit to an extent. That is not a criticism by any means. But I don’t know if you are really addressing the total person. A Third Way is to applaud what is worthy and to critique what is not. His appointments of lobbists to positions in his administration, his alienation of the GOP,(which is making it imposible to get anything done that he promised the American people), and his obvious disrespect for the position of “The President” have me wondering if electing him was a hugh mistake. On the other side we can read in The Bible that we are to “First seek the Kingdom of God” and not to dwell on earthly concerns. We are to love one another, pray for each other and our leadership, and put all our trust in The Lord; after all He alone brings down kings and raises them up. Peace to you all, Breatheren.



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Al

posted October 20, 2009 at 7:46 pm


P.S. Sorry about the spelllling.



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