Senator Barak Obama (D-IL), the name Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), can't quite pronounce, is the great Black hope for liberal Democrats. In what was the first all-Black Senate contest in 2004, Obama defeated Alan Keyes 70% to 30%. Keyes was not from Illinois but was drafted by the GOP, which had failed to find an in-state candidate. All sorts of promises were made to Keyes which never materialized and he ran an under-funded, under-staffed campaign, ridiculed by the media for his views.
Obama wasn't yet sworn in when he first was touted as a possible Presidential candidate. Since his election it is almost as if he were running a national campaign. Congressional and Senatorial candidates all across the nation want Senator Obama to speak to their African-American constituency. So now when he speaks it is with a certain moral authority, which is unusual even for the Senate.
So it was with considerable interest that I read Senator Obama's op-ed in USA TODAY on religious conservatives. He begins by saying that his faith has shaped his values. He says "those who enter the public square are not required to leave their beliefs at the door." So far so good. He then goes on to quote pundits who say the greatest divide in American politics among white Americans concerning party affiliation is not between men and women, or red states or blue states, but rather between those who attend church regularly and those who do not.
Obama says that Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson exploit the gap by telling Evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their church, while suggesting that religious Americans are only concerned about gay marriage and abortion.
To Obama's credit, he does say that the gap has also been kept open by some liberals who try to avoid religious conversation altogether, fearful of offending anyone and claiming that Constitutional principles tie their hands. Obama suggests that some liberals might even dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, thinking that the very word "Christian" described one's political opponents, not people of faith.
The Senator from Illinois points out that for all that divides us belief in God unites us at 90%. 70% affiliate with an organized religion and 38% of us call ourselves committed Christians. Obama said in his own campaign his opponent (presumably Keyes) said "Jesus Christ would not vote for Barak Obama." He gave the usual liberal reply, that we live in a pluralistic society and he was not about to impose his values on another. He said he was running for the United States Senator from Illinois, not the minister of Illinois. But he said his answer really bothered him because when liberals vacate the public square or only discuss religion in the negative sense, or how it should not be practiced because they think they will be unwelcome, then others will fill the vacuum. He doesn't name those others but he labels them as people of insular views or people who use religion for political purposes.
Obama then cites many important figures in history who were not only religious but who used religious language toward their ends. He then argues fiercely for the separation of church and state, correctly saying that the effective champions of the concept against a state-sponsored religion were religious leaders.
But Obama fails to say how distorted the courts have made the part of the Constitution which says no to an official national religion. Many fled from the tyranny in Europe where there was no religious freedom. In Europe at one time there were state-sponsored religions, including the Anglicans in England, the Catholics in Spain and both the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church and the Catholic Church in Germany. They did not want a national church. They did not object to some of the states sponsoring churches, so long as everyone could have religious freedom in those states.
Obama calls on so-called Progressives to shed some of their biases against religion and recognize the overlapping values which both religious and secular people share. He cites the call to sacrifice, the need to think in terms of "thou" instead of "I." If these biases are shed then liberals could reach out to the evangelical community.
He called on conservatives to better understand and champion separation of church and state. He says, correctly, that if he is opposed to abortion, he can't just cite the teachings of his church. Rather, Obama said, if I want to pass a law banning abortion I must explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those who have no faith at all.
The Senator expressed the hope that in the years and months to come we can bridge the gap but he warned that this will be particularly difficult for those who believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. He says he believes most Americans want to bridge this gap and he ends by calling on people who are willing to listen from those who are willing to speak in reasonable terms-"those who know of the central and awesome place that God holds in the lives of so many, and who refuse to treat faith as simply another political issue with which to score points."
If the Senator from Illinois is serious about such a dialogue it could do some good. But if this dialogue would merely be a cover for liberals to be able to learn the language of religion without believing in it, then it will do great harm. Scripture says "by their fruits ye shall know them." One of the fruits of the Senator is his voting record. If it just like Ted Kennedy's then his sincerity is rather in question. If it is reasonable and shows willingness to compromise on some of our issues, then let's talk.