On the ride to the airport he asked me, "When reflecting on the significance of Barack Obama's run for president, how do you feel when your white brothers immediately start talking about abortion? Does that anger you? Do you feel like they just missed the point of your reflections altogether?"
I thought for a moment. I don't think it angers me or frustrates me much. I think I'm mostly saddened by it. I'm saddened that for those moments brothers and sisters in Christ cannot or will not enter into my experience for a little while... just a little while... without asserting their own agenda. I generally think that a great opportunity is missed, an opportunity to see the world in wide screen rather than full screen, to get more into view instead of having the screen filled with a more limited picture. It's a loss for me and them.
So, this is a short post with a seven short statements about why... not indefinitely and not in dismissal of other important issues... my white politically and theologically conservative friends should take a long weekend and enjoy the significance of what's happening with the Barack Obama nomination. You can resume the advocacy and much-needed critiques on June 9th. But here are some reasons to come share with those who perhaps see a little bit more or a slightly different angle than yourself.
1. Rejoice with those who rejoice. A significant part of the Christian world is rejoicing in a landmark achievement. Obviously, not all the reasons for rejoicing are reasons everyone can share. But certainly the nomination of an African-American presidential candidate (the first in U.S. history), a signal achievement for any African-American or ethnic minority is worth longer appreciation than has been given it by some politically and theologically conservative folks.
2. Mourn with those who mourn. For most African Americans Christians, this is bitter sweet on at least two levels. First, there are the same laments that you have regarding Sen. Obama's position on moral issues like gay rights and abortion. Those positions are not widely shared among African-American Christians and cause something of a real dilemma for Bible-believing African Americans. Second, this achievement comes on the heels of 400 years of blood, guts, and tears struggle. Slavery was nearly apocryphal. Jim Crow was only marginally better... a penniless people freed into a monied economy with legally sanctioned disenfranchisement. Along with the rejoicing comes the memory of what was.
3. There's an opportunity for unity or further misunderstanding. That's really another way of saying numbers 1 and 2 above. White evangelicals are not praised or known for their sensitivity or support in African-American circles. Rather, they are suspected of being disingenuous, politically self-seeking, and disinterested in the true well-being of African Americans. They're seen as having been on the wrong side of history on too many concerns important to African Americans. For Christians black and white, there's much divide to cover and repair. Here's a moment to pour an inch of bedrock into that cavern which seems miles wide at times. Our brother Lance penned some words that I think are helpful in describing this opportunity:
Senator Obama’s candidacy could present some unique challenges for white evangelicals and black bible believing Christians. And trust me, if you thought (though didn’t understand) that African-American believers loved the Clintons (true, not anymore) you have no idea of the deep emotional connection they feel towards Barack Obama. My guess is that the overwhelming majority of black believers will vote for and support him with relish. However, their support will be contrasted with the disdain that many evangelicals have for him. And thus while an Obama administration might actually work toward bringing white and black non-believers into a closer more integrated relationship it might actually do the opposite for white and black believers.
I have to confess, there have been many times that I've read or received comments that made me want to dig through my closet for my 1980s t-shirts, the one that reads, "It's a black thang... you wouldn't understand." And I recognize that that's an indication of some profound missed opportunities at mutual understanding and appreciation. My white evangelical brothers have an opportunity to understand a bit better, and I hope it's not missed. Among Christians black and white, there's an opportunity to sit quietly together--for just a moment--and recognize that when one part of the body suffers we all suffer with it, and when one part rejoices we all rejoice with it. If my evangelical friends can do that for a weekend where Obama's nomination is concerned, it won't solve a lot but it will help demonstrate appreciation for this moment and what it means to others.
4. It's an American achievement. If you review even the briefest historical timeline of African American political engagement in the U.S., one can't help but stand stunned at the quantum leap forward in "race" relations and opportunities that has occurred in America. Just one generation ago, significant numbers of Americans were protesting for the right to vote. Now they can vote for one who wouldn't have had the right himself in 1960. The move from voting disenfranchisement to the ability to vote for an African-American president has occurred in one lifetime when most didn't think it would ever happen. In Star Trek terms, that's warp 9. In Stargate terms, that's hyper-drive. And it's an American advancement. America needed to make strides. And she has. Of the 18 million folks who voted for Obama, most of them were white, particularly in states like Iowa, Montana, etc. This is not one man's achievement or one ethnic group's achievement. It's the country's achievement. And everyone in the country should "stop and smell the roses" at least until Monday June 9th.
5. This nomination puts us closer to a post-"race" future than we've ever been before. Have you considered what this potentially does for identity and identity politics? Consider the recent report suggesting that transracial adoption is bad for black kids personal identity. You'd think that would certainly be true in the case of someone like Barack Obama, and yet he stands ready to run for the oval office, seemingly well-adjusted and comfortable in his own skin. Some African-Americans have said, "He's not black enough." Some whites have tried to make him the next Malcolm X by plastering Jeremiah Wright all over him. To the chagrin of both, he's still standing, which suggests to me that the tide of racial politicking may be way out to sea as most African-Americans have not applied some "blackness" litmus test and significant numbers of whites have decided that he's not anti-white by association. Just a few years ago, I don't think either "side" would have been able to see past these issues. But apparently we have. And if we can truly move to judging men by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin, then we will have advanced American society in unimaginable ways. I'm not arguing that Obama himself advances us in this way. I'm arguing that the country as a whole has an opportunity and can make this important advance. That's worthy considering and rejoicing over, even if you have no intention of voting for Obama.
6. Your beef isn't with Obama per se. Few are the people who are saying they will not vote for him because he is black. Those folks exist, and they prove the irrationality of "race" by casting a vote against that 1/2 of his genetic background that comes from his father while ignoring the other 1/2 of his ancestry. But you've consistently said that you abhor his policies on abortion in particular. Presumably, then, you would be opposed to any candidate with this position. I'm right there with you. But since your objection is to the policy he promotes and not his ethnic background, surely you can lay aside the policy objection for a long weekend and appreciate what's happened on an ethnic and social level. Monday June 9th will be a great time to resume the policy discussions, most of which has already been said. But watching an African-American say, "I am the Democratic nominee for President of the United States," well... that's only been heard once thus far in American history.
7. He's not President yet. November is a ways off. There's plenty of stuff to be said and done. Monday June 9th, begin with earnest to say and do it. But for just a few days, unplug the TV pundits, take a walk with your kids, tell them a bit of American history, and together think about what the country is becoming and our ongoing part in trying to make it even better. A weekend of reflection won't kill us and, contrary to what the talking heads would make us believe, it won't determine the election. Neither Obama or McCain are President yet. So, let's just enjoy the moment with each other before we go to our respective corners and come out swinging... if Christians should come out swinging at all.