You may ask what in the world I wanted to read Obama's book for. Some of you may have already snidely said under your breath or in your mind, "He's lost it. He's believed a lie." You may even think I'm unstable and idiotic for even caring enough to read an almost 400 page book by our Democratic President who supports two huge social issues I detest (abortion and gay marriage).
Let me start off by answering those questions before I get into the book. December of this year will mark 4 years that I've been a pastor. I've learned quite a bit in almost 4 years about people and the church. One of the greatest things I've learned is that I still have a lot to learn. Maybe the second greatest truth I've learned is that if we're not careful, we can be some of the most narrow-minded, uneducated, hypocritical, and bold-faced deterrents to the Gospel of Christ. Everyone has an opinion on our President. There are many who do not like him because he's a black man. Others have spent considerable time wasting their energies and efforts on trying to prove he's not an American citizen. Still others just don't like him because of his stand on issues that the Bible condemns. Since I first heard his name and heard him speak of his policies, I have lived in the last category. I didn't like him because of his policies. I've never bought into the citizenship thing. It really doesn't bother me that he is a black man. Yet something just seemed off about the whole process.
God started dealing with me on my prayer life concerning the President. Surely if I can preach about the power of prayer to change things, I should be living that in my day to day life. What better man to pray for than our President? Then God started messing with me in politics. Within a couple of weeks, I heard independent sermons from Bishop T.D. Jakes and Pastor Loran Livingston, one of the greatest preachers in the Church of God today, about losing a whole section of influence in winning people by becoming politically sided. In essence, they, especially Livingston, preached that we should be more concerned about the issues instead of the individual parading the issues. It was a Pharisee named Saul who was a murderer, rapist, and bigot who became one of, if not the greatest apostle to ever live. I began to wonder how many sinners I have lost audience with based on my pushing a political agenda instead of a Biblical agenda. At some point people, we have to realize that Conservatism and Christianity are not one in the same. We have to understand that the Republican Party isn't the party of Heaven thus making the Democrat party the party of hell.
Don't misunderstand my stand. I will still boldly and unabashedly proclaim abortion to be one of, if not the, most reprehensible act on the planet. It is sin. God will judge it and those who enable it. I'll never back down from that. And yet as I say that, I also understand that in the society we live in and the culture that surrounds us, I will either be Jesus or not be Jesus. If we're not careful, I would concede that our hate for the act of abortion sometimes sounds a lot like hatred for the woman who had the abortion. It sounds like intolerance to women who secretly had abortions sitting in our churches who still struggle with the pain and the regret every day. And as we get on our GOP, Conservative, Hannity style tirades, are we causing more grief and pain?
The same goes with the other major social issue I disagree with the President on: gay marriage. I'm all for everyone having freedom, but reversing natural order (male body and female body are crafted for one another) is perverse. Unfortunately, the church in many cases, or maybe well intentioned (maybe) Pharisees have decided to preach against the sin by graphic illustrations, comical license, belittlement, and other crude and hateful demonstrations. And while those feelings may rise up in us while watching the homosexual agenda plastered in front of our children's eyes, I'm convinced we must be careful not to judge every apple as a Washington Apple so to speak. For every "proud in your face" homosexual, there are plenty of closet homosexuals who absolutely hate the way they feel and would like to break free and break out. We run the risk at alienating those who want salvation and deliverance if we're not careful with our actions and words.
I know some of you have already turned me off. That's ok. You're the narrow minded individuals I'm talking about. And you're probably quoting your scriptures of how Jesus responded to the Pharisees and how we are to judge fruit and so forth and so on. You're probably also simultaneously accusing me of compromise, losing that "old time way," or just plain backsliding (hey I've heard it all . . . well close to it). Let me say again, I detest the two sins I've mentioned. I'll be the first to boldly stand and say these sins will send a person to hell. I'll also add that hatred, lying, gossip, prayerlessness, and a refusal to follow Matthew 25 will earn you a prized spot as well. But I'm beginning to see something change in me, and I believe it's for the good. If we are commissioned, empowered, and commanded to go reach the world, shouldn't we at least be trying to "compel" the world to find Christ and shouldn't our actions be that of Christ?
Let's think about it. For every example someone can point of how direct and even harsh Jesus dealt with the Pharisees who knew the law inside and out and kept it to a very large degree, there are ample examples of Jesus showing kindness and acceptance to what we in the modern church would refer to as rank sinners. What do we do with the woman at the well in Samaria who was shacked up with a man after having already been married 5 times previously? What do we do with the woman caught in the very act of adultery thrown half naked and humiliated at the feet of Jesus in front of a gathering crowd? What about Peter when his lack of faith caused him to start sinking or when he denied Christ three times while Jesus was dying for him as well as you and me? What do we do with Zaccheus, the wee little tax collector man who stole money from most everyone he dealt with? If we're not careful, the modern church would throw these people out, condemn them to hell, shout about how great we are compared to them, and offer the "most spiritual" thing we can . . . "Well all we can do is pray for them." But Jesus didn't pray for the previously mentioned people. When confronted with them and their sin, Jesus forgave, loved, cared, talked, understood, and went the extra mile. You could say Jesus considered their story.
What causes us not to see the little girl who was molested, talked down to, and beat on inside the scantily dressed mistress in the office? What keeps us from seeing the abused, beaten, humiliated, never encouraged little boy inside the gang banger with spray paint? We're guilty . . . I'm guilty of seeing the outward actions of people and looking at them at face value. But I' m convinced, now more than ever, they began somewhere. I'm not talking about celebrating victims. I'm not talking about excusing behavior on how someone was raised or what they experienced. I am saying that maybe one of the greatest pathways to compelling the world to come in the church and find Christ is to understand the victim in order to make him/her a victor. This is easier said than done. It calls for you and I to try and understand where the individual is and where they are coming from before passing judgment. It calls for us to not be so "open and shut" in our judgments. It calls for us to . . . dare I say it . . . remember from whence we came before we knew Christ . . .
This whole mindset has caused me to start trying this in my life with church people and others I meet in the community. Believe me, examining the whole person isn't always easy and it's not always refreshing. Understanding why someone acts the way they do doesn't mean they will understand, want to change, or even agree. In those instances, I'm learning that if nothing else, the person can't say there wasn't an attempt made. They can't justifiably label the church or Christians as intolerant. Let's be clear. I'm completely intolerant of abortion or homosexuality as sins. I'm not intolerant of those people affected or entangled in those sins.
In this journey, I felt impressed to try and see the other side of one of the most disliked and at the same time celebrated men of our time: President Barack Obama. The Democrats hail him and the GOP swears that's where he's from. (Relax. Just a play on words.) My conviction about trying to see the other side in people led me to read his almost 400 page book written before he decided to run for President. I must say that after reading it, I like the man as a person. He's not so different than you and me. I will also say, I'm still completely against his policies. But one thing is for sure, I can't be accused of accosting him without knowledge of his own words, beliefs, history, and feelings. I won't be a talking head on TV spewing venom with no basis other than my own opinion. At some point I believe we have to grow up to understand that Conservatism doesn't equal Christianity and the GOP is not the church.
So if you're still reading, here's the synopsis . . . Obama was raised to basically be an atheist. His real father abandoned he and his mother when Obama was two. His mother remarried and moved to Indonesia where his step father enrolled him in a Muslim school at the objection of his mother. His step father wanted all things Muslim for Obama, but his mother would constantly sneak him things forbidden by the Koran. One of Obama's favorite places was the American Embassy. Due to his step-father's complete preoccupation with Islam, the marriage deteriorated. Eventually, his step-father would leave as well. Obama and his mother moved back to Hawaii where his mother and grandparents helped raise him. Obama said that his mother was never really religious. She taught him religious principles from every major religion in the world. He says in his house was the Bible, the Koran, and the holy books of Hinduism and Buddhism. Contrary to popular belief, he wasn't raised a Muslim and never attended mosques. In fact, he would beg his mother to take him to church at Easter and Christmas and they would go as a family. Upon moving to IL in his adult years, Obama found himself working with pastors and Christian leaders in trying to organize events and awareness for social issues. It was through his contact with these pastors that he says he became a church goer. Upon attending church on a pretty regular basis, Obama says that he won't forget the moment he walked to the front and gave his heart to Christ and was subsequently baptized shortly after. Now I'm not here to judge the man's walk or testimony. I find some of his beliefs in regards to the two major social issues mentioned earlier to be damning in regards to a Christian walk, but that is between him and God.
Obama said in the book that he became a Democrat because he believed in the liberal rights of all mankind. He said he fell to that side after growing up as a black kid. The different water fountains . . . . the different bus seats . . . the different schools. He says that in his heart as a kid, he knew it was wrong for one group of people to be treated better than another group of people. He was also subject to not fitting in completely with anyone considering his biological father was white. He states that he doesn't agree with abortion the act, but he's unwilling to deny any person, in this case a woman, freedom to do with their bodies what they want. He states that he doesn't agree with homosexual marriage, but he doesn't agree with same sex partners not being able to have visitation rights and protective union laws. While I don't agree with his logic here, it helps me to know why he sees things the way he does. Knowing that these beliefs are deeply rooted in his heart from childhood should allow us to understand that simply throwing a scripture or two at the President in opposition of his policies won't hold water. He'll throw scripture back about the church ignoring the poor and homeless in their cities. He'll ask, as he has, the church what their solution is to keeping these women from becoming pregnant in the first place. And to that, he has a point.
Obama speaks on racism in the book and deals with the reality of it. He talks about him seeing on the TV the bombing by white supremacists of the church in Alabama that killed four little black girls in a Sunday School room. And yet while recognizing racism, he has some strong words for African Americans. Obama says plainly that some racism is a result of the reality that more African Americans are going to prison than white Americans. More African Americans are on welfare than white Americans. He speaks specifically of Chicago and the fatherless rate in the African American community. He speaks boldly about the need for family dynamics in America throughout all races. He criticizes the African American community in comparing them with the other growing minority in America: Latinos. Obama recognized the Latinos willingness to work for whatever they can get while African Americans and whites alike scoff at the wage offered and would rather sit at home and collect a check. I think we can find some common ground here . . . .
Above all, Obama speaks about his wife and children. He talks about his relationship with them. He talks about how he first met his wife and the birth of his two daughters. He shares the stories of tucking them in bed and answering questions and telling stories. Now being a father myself, I can connect with him in that sense. Before a President, he's a man. He's a husband who has real struggles and who has to work at his marriage. He's a man concerned about his two little girls.
All in all, the book was good. I still don't agree with his policies as I've said. No, I don't plan to vote for him at the next election. I'm not going to be getting me a T-shirt or anything. I still have issues with some of the things he believes is ok as a Christian. But I can also say that I respect him as a man and as my President. He needs our prayers and America needs him to do a good job. Our future is at stake. I'm not asking you to like him. I'm not asking you to support him. But I am asking you to pray for him. Pray for his wife and kids. Pray that God will speak to him and use him. For all the religious rhetoric that we espouse about believing God can do the impossible, let's put it to work and begin praying for our national leaders and country more than ever. If you and I think having a Republican president is going to fix America's problems, reverse the fortunes of the family, and put a halt to abortions and homosexuality, we're mistaken. We as the church must recognize our social responsibility to the communities we patron and act . . . and act now.
I am hoping he will write another book after his presidency concludes. It will be interesting to compare the two.
Now let the hate mail begin . . .