Obama and the Hand of God

Brian Harkin
Barack Obama at Reunion Arena, February 20

It’s a beautiful thing, this vision of black and white together.

A couple of burly white guys let my black friends cut in line. Children of different hues swapped electronic gadgets and hung on their mommies, and the conversation ranged free and easy among Barack Obama supporters of all colors and persuasions -- white, black, Latino, gay -- as we waited for three hours to be seated in Reunion Arena for last week’s rally.

The line of 15,000 or so snaked this way and that, winding through concrete arches where I watched a rainbow swarm of cheaters try to cut in front of us amidst the confusion. A lot of them managed to ooze in front, but I didn’t hear a single cuss word fly. (OK, I admit my pastor’s wife had to shame me into keeping my place in line.)

I did hear a lot of the usual conspiracy-theory claptrap, which never ceases to annoy me -- about Katrina, the wicked oil companies, fear-mongering as an election tactic. But this was a happy, upbeat crowd. I couldn’t have picked a fight if I tried.

Yeah, I got caught up in it all. All kinds of thoughts and feelings were jostling inside of me. I was proud -- proud that my country would elect a black man as president; gratified that I would soon be listening to a leading Democratic presidential candidate of virtually unquestioned integrity.

The color line in the American church crossed my mind. How, in the one place where we’re not allowed to legislate inclusiveness, we choose to be separate. Now we are looking to a politician to deliver reconciliation and racial justice, things the church should have ushered into being with the most extraordinary force available to man -- the power of Jesus Christ.

Here at Reunion, at least, we chose to be together.

Most of all, I thought of my closest Christian friends. The majority of them are black evangelicals, and all but one supports Obama. We’d observed how his candidacy arose from nowhere and overtook the woman with the legendary last name; surely, we thought, God’s hand was upon Obama for this hour, like it was upon David, and Solomon and Israel’s deliverers. He would restore justice to the land; he would bring us together in peace and harmony.

One of my friends reminded me that, in 2001, a Nigerian pastor had prophesied to us that after the Bush years were completed, we would have a black president. We never forgot his words.

When the candidate finally appeared, we clapped and hollered and waved. My section stood to get a better view. Were we witnessing history in the making? Was it God’s will for Obama to lead America?

I settled contentedly in my seat when I heard the candidate’s rich and reassuring baritone voice. We need change, and we need it now; this moment cannot wait. How could anyone disagree? The cheering and dancing and waving fueled a powerful communal vibe.

Things did get just a little extreme. Some folks applauded when this man blew snot into a hanky. I am not joking.

I drove home with a sense of exhilaration, with a handsome Obama placard on the seat beside me. I had meant to cast my primary vote that day, but I ran out of time.

It was only as I lay in bed that night that I noticed something strange. My mind was working overtime, manufacturing reasons to vote for this man. Then I would shoot them down with questions.

Is there ever an occasion when a Christian should support a pro-abortion candidate?

Is abortion really that important? Have I become just another one of those single-issue white evangelicals who ignores equally important matters of morality such as racial justice?

Can a candidate be wrong in so many ways and still be right?

No matter how I tried, I couldn’t suppress the questions. Every time I arrived at a semblance of peace about voting for Obama, words from the Bible resounded in my brain. I had been studying the books of I and II Kings, which chronicle the leaders of Israel and Judah in the days of the monarchy as well as the prophets God sent to be their counterbalance. Israel’s concept of kingship was different from any other nation’s; the kings were bound to uphold the covenant God had made with his people, and whenever a crisis of faithfulness to that law or covenant arose, the prophets stepped in on behalf of God to set the king straight. Or at least tried.

A couple things become numbingly clear in the books of Kings. For every king of Israel and Judah, the Scriptures offer a final assessment, and it usually goes like this: “So-and-so did evil in the eyes of the Lord. During his entire reign he did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit.” (The bad kings far outnumbered the good kings.)

These words and small variations thereof appear again and again. Who was Jeroboam son of Nebat? He was the first king of Israel after the nation divided between north and south, Israel and Judah. God gave Jeroboam a chance to establish a dynasty as enduring as David’s if he did what was right in God’s eyes.

Chief among those commands was putting no other god before him. Which is exactly what Jeroboam did, erecting golden calves for the people to worship.

God judged Jeroboam to be evil, because he didn’t keep God’s commands. But the Scriptures go further: Jeroboam is blamed for the people’s sins too -- the sins “he had caused Israel to commit.”

National leaders, in God’s view, influence the land in powerful, spiritual ways. The consequences of establishing or allowing evil policies from the top extend all the way to the bottom.

It is interesting how Scripture virtually ignores a king’s political or military accomplishments. Jeroboam II, for example, presided over a time of great prosperity and influence for Israel. Yet the Bible dismisses these things in a few brusque sentences. Jeroboam II ultimately failed in keeping God’s commands, and he was judged to be evil. Because he called evil good, he caused the people to do evil as well. End of story; over and out.

Which brings me to abortion again. I’m one of those people who was never passionate about this issue until I had a child of my own -- kind of like the folks who don’t care about famine in faraway places until they see the pictures of starving children. God touched my conscience one day concerning abortion; today I passionately oppose it and call myself a pro-life Democrat.

I see it as an elemental thing: the value of life. You couldn’t identify an issue that cuts to the core more than that.

I won’t say I’m the deepest thinker on this subject. It’s just simple to me. I will put no other god before me, neither will I play God and make decisions reserved solely for him. Every time man has been given the power to decide who deserves to live and who deserves to die, hideous things have resulted.

The Middle Passage. The Holocaust. The Nazis’ extermination of the mentally retarded and gypsies. Genocide in Armenia, Rwanda, Darfur. The executions of innocents in Texas and other states. Abortion.

My questions continued to haunt me. I started quizzing my black evangelical friends about their support for Obama. How do you reconcile his support for abortion and gay marriage with your Christian beliefs? I asked. Black evangelicals, by and large, see both as clearly contrary to their faith.

Well, I was chilled by some of the answers I got, surprised by the lame rationalizations. On abortion, I did get one extremely thoughtful reply via e-mail from a fellow Christian blogger, Angela L. Braden of Nuvision for a New Day, that is worth quoting at length:

“My heart bleeds when I consider all of the babies that are aborted every day. My heart aches even more when I think about how many mothers felt compelled to make a decision like that, rather than feel like they could face their challenge with courage and certainty of the future.

“I believe that we as believers should be taking the steps to make sure that mothers are not compelled to make those decisions. I feel that we should take steps to prevent people from being in that situation. If we give people the tools, such as work skills, financial counseling, education, equal housing and access to employment, I honestly do not feel that women would choose to end their children's lives.

“I feel that Senator Obama understands that as well. Yes, he may believe in legalized abortions. But he believes in giving the living what they need to live. Some of these so-called conservatives are creating and supporting policies that choke the very life out of those of us who are walking, breathing and living today.”


I, for one, am disappointed with white evangelicals’ apathy about racial justice and could never ally myself with the Republican Party until they take seriously the issues Braden points out, such as equal access to housing and employment for minorities, and one I’ll add: fair treatment in our legal system.

Yet I can’t escape the words of Kings. God will judge a leader by one thing: his faithfulness to God’s Word on matters for which the Christian position is clear.

No, that’s not a fashionable concept these days. It won’t win me many friends in the circles I travel. I do understand that we don’t live in a theocracy; our nation is governed by a constitution. As voters, we deal in a continuum of hope and reality. We don’t get everything we want.

Well, whoever said the world would understand or approve of followers of Jesus Christ?

I believe that Barack Obama will be our next president; the hand of God is upon him. If you read Kings, though, that can cut many ways.

If he does become president, I will pray for him, and I will honor and support him in whatever he does that isn’t in conflict with the Word of God.

But I will not give him my vote. --Julie Lyons

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