The prospect of an Obama versus Cain contest in the general election is fascinating to contemplate. In fact, I believe that if Cain is on the ticket, it will make this election the most scrutinized in American history. It will have the promotional value of Don King’s “Thrilla in Manilla” but with the potential for genuine social and cultural change.
At first glance, Cain and Obama share not only a common skin color but a common faith. Upon closer examination, however, their stark differences in political philosophy are rooted in profoundly different theological heritages, and would present Americans with their most clearly delineated choice in decades. Both men are long-time members of churches known for politically liberal activism, but with stark differences in their views of Scripture. Cain’s church, Antioch Baptist Church North in Atlanta, is theologically conservative, affirming the inerrancy of Scripture and historic Christian creeds as true. Trinity United Church of Christ, where President Obama was a member for twenty years, is theologically liberal, eschewing Scriptural inerrancy and taking apostolic creeds as “testimonies” of faith, rather than truth. This difference in how the scriptures are seen also mirrors their respective views on whether the static, literal views of the Bible are translated to policy making.
While Mr. Cain’s economic policies are likely more conservative than many of his fellow congregants, his views on the family and life are consistent with his denomination—the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.— and the majority of black Americans throughout history. Cain, like most black Americans, believes life begins in the womb and that marriage is a sacred covenant between one man and one woman. Earlier this year, President Obama famously confessed that his views on redefining marriage to include same-sex couples were “evolving.” This evolution has been clearly visible in his policies, including his vocal stance against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and his open opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act. His budgets and healthcare plan have included taxpayer funded abortions both domestically and abroad. These policies are quite consistent with the views of the UCC, which is a majority white denomination, although Trinity, where Obama worshiped in Chicago is a largely black church.
While it is easy to see how the candidates’ theological differences inform their views of family, they also yield very different understandings of the most effective path to economic advancement. Mr. Cain’s church subscribes to traditional Christian theology which sees the black experience in light of Scripture. Obama’s former pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright, on the other hand, is known for teaching Black Liberation Theology, a worldview which sees Scripture in light of the black experience.
According to Antioch’s website, its early leaders “stressed the dignity of work and honest labor.” These leaders were focused on wealth creation. Contrarily, Trinity’s website emphasizes God’s displeasure with “America’s economic mal-distribution ”not surprising then, that President Obama would see a government run jobs programs as the key to ending the current economic recession whereas Mr. Cain would look to private industry for the future of economic growth. Neither should we be shocked that they would fall on opposite ends of the spectrum on the subjects of government spending and taxes. These differences would certainly be highlighted far more than race since the struggling economy is at the top of nearly every American’s list of concerns.
An Obama versus Cain contest could no longer be cast as a de-facto referendum on a black man’s qualification to hold the highest office in the land. Instead it would be a choice between two black men who see everything—from the role of government in a free society, to the very definitions of life and family—almost completely differently.
For at least two generations, blacks have been taken for granted by Democrats and ignored by Republicans. Most blacks have looked the other way regarding their convictions about life and family and voted for candidates like President Obama and many before him, who were committed to opposing views. Would the option of Mr. Cain on the ticket cause them to think twice? How would the rest of the evangelical voting bloc respond?
Mr. Cain is of course the descendant of American slaves and President Obama the son of an African immigrant. Politics aside, both men embody the hope of black America, having overcome significant childhood obstacles to obtain great success. Furthermore, countless blacks have already traveled the path to prosperity that Mr. Cain did: from the entrepreneur selling chicken dinners out of her kitchen to the CEO of a large corporation. Will these self-made blacks find a new political home as they see two opposing views of economic growth and progress laid bare before them?
Lastly, such a contest would remind all Americans, regardless of race, that the paths to advancement remain open. Whether those paths travel through the elite halls of power or the cotton fields of the old South: the American Dream is still accessible. Keep Hope Alive!
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.