An Epochal Religious Awakening

Barack Obama‘s recent efforts to reach out to the Evangelicals and Catholics in the name of spiritual and political unity, have taken some leaders by surprise. Daniel Burke for Religion News Service writes:

It’s a move that’s caught some conservative evangelicals off guard. They say they are surprised and dismayed to see a liberal-minded politician attempting to conscript their troops. At the same time, they say that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has done little to court their affections.

“Affections”? No. Obama isn’t courting their affections, but their trust; their trust in spiritual unity, not theological or doctrinal uniformity. “Dismayed”? Doubtful; as they should all appreciate a fellow Christian who is actually attempting to treat them— and all men— as spiritual and social brothers.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like it before,” said evangelical author Stephen Mansfield, who wrote “The Faith of George W. Bush” and has a forthcoming book about Obama.

“To be running against a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, and to be reaching into the Christian community as wisely and knowledgeably as (Obama) is — understanding their terms and their values — is just remarkable.”

Sounds like he’s really impressed by Obama, doesn’t it? But why shouldn’t Obama reach “knowledgeably and wisely” into the “Christian community,” it is his own; surely the whisper smear campaign of Obama as a “secret Muslim” isn’t responsible for Mansfield‘s surprise?

Is this anything but a paid political hypocrite suggesting Obama is a liar?

Why shouldn’t Obama understand “their terms and their values”? They are his terms, and his values. It’s this sort of subtly hypocritical, back-handed “support” we’ve come to expect at every turn of the screw these days. The inference of being a secret Muslim assumes that all Muslims are secret terrorists, and, given the opportunity, they will destroy America from the inside. Do you feel better about yourself when you blame the “other” for your own short-comings as a “Christian Nation”? John McCain not only believes America is a Christian nation, but that his Christian faith makes him better qualified than any other candidate, who may or may not be a Muslim. Watch:

But anyone who has read Obama’s “Call to Renewal” address, delivered two years ago this week, should begin to understand that Barack Obama’s grasp of how religion and religious values must be integrated into American politics is nothing short of genius.

Barack Obama:

If we truly hope to speak to people where they’re at— to communicate our hopes and values in a way that’s relevant to their own— then as progressives, we cannot abandon the field of religious discourse.

Because when we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew; when we discuss religion only in the negative sense of where or how it should not be practiced, rather than in the positive sense of what it tells us about our obligations towards one another; when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome— others will fill the vacuum, those with the most insular views of faith, or those who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends.

There is no shortage of those sorts of people, James Dobson being the most recent example.

Barack Obama:

Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King— indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history— were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their “personal morality” into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Moreover, if we progressives shed some of these biases, we might recognize some overlapping values that both religious and secular people share when it comes to the moral and material direction of our country. We might recognize that the call to sacrifice on behalf of the next generation, the need to think in terms of “thou” and not just “I,” resonates in religious congregations all across the country. And we might realize that we have the ability to reach out to the evangelical community and engage millions of religious Americans in the larger project of American renewal.

Contemporary progressive religious Americans are among the most fortunate people to live on the planet since the times of the apostles as they walked the earth with the Son of God in the flesh. For today the planet has begun to awaken from the deep slumber of materialism, stirred by an epochal religious awakening in the form of the Urantia Papers. And now, a genuine political genius has appeared to lead our nation into the twenty-first century, with an inspiring appeal to genuine hope and authentic personal empowerment. The only real question is, how many of us will awaken in time to avail ourselves of it.


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  2. Hi Carol,

    This “conversation” is the national dialogue— it is the indispensable channel for the flow of our nation’s highest ideas and ideals; also known to us and to other nations as the “voice of the people.” Obama is pointing out to progressives that the removal of religious faith and language from our national perspective not only marginalizes our most positive guidance, but also our personal morality, both as individuals and as a nation; our apparent ability to justify and legislate torturing captured enemy combatants being only one egregious example.

    Overcoming the political and religious barriers in America by an appeal to the renewal of our contract with one another as Americans, is the only medicine I know of that can transcend the assortment of ideological impasses and religious differences that beset our ability to find unity as a people, and move that conversation forward while it tries to discover still higher applications of the same values our Founding Fathers pursued.

    My point is not that there is no longer a Christian monopoly in America, but as Obama points out, who’s Christianity will be guiding policy in the next four years: Obama’s or McCain’s? Obama has spoken eloquently of his regard for the values that all Americans have in common, in both the moral and material direction our nation goes; the more Americans are willing to set aside their prejudices and other differences and contribute to renewing the ideas and ideals of America, the sooner America will find solutions to her domestic and global problems, and in so doing, renew and rehabilitate ourselves as an even greater nation than the one we already know it to be.

  3. So Saitia – you’re coming at this from both angles – there’s the point you’re making about how Christians don’t have a monopoly on religious values in this country, and then Obama is making the point that progressives need to wake up to the fact that they can stop handing religious dialogue over to the conservatives and instead bring the conversation into our midst.
    What’s the purpose of such a conversation? How will it inform what we’re doing differently than how we’re doing it now?

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