Thursday, February 21, 2008

How Does a Christian Deal with the Obama Phenomenon?

I've become aware in recent days that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is drawing a fair amount of interest and perhaps even support from evangelical Christians. This topic interests me not because I am concerned about Christians supporting a Democratic candidate but because Barack Obama is one of the most pro-abortion candidates for the nation's highest office that we've ever seen.

This last statement draws us into a question that I've heard debated a good deal in the last few years, the matter of single-issue voting. Some Christians say that it is right to vote for candidates based on one major issue (or perhaps a few) while others decry this sort of mindset, painting it as narrow-minded and undeveloped. I can understand the critique of this second group. Many who make it are, I think, reacting to a troublesome tendency evinced by many of us to not think solidly, soundly, and roundedly about things. That is to say, we get stuck on our biases, on our natural bent(s), and never advance past them. We become so anchored in historic truths and positions that we fail to consider current trends of thought and legitimate issues being raised in the current day. Today, for example, we would put in this class things like global warming and care for the poor. Sadly, I think that many conservative evangelicals like myself fail to give adequate attention to these matters. Because we so concentrate on matters like abortion and euthanasia, matters of life and death, we have a tendency to automatically write off other less-pressing matters simply because, well, they're less pressing. Though we are to be commended for prioritizing matters of life and death, we are to be chided for making the mistake of converting issues of less importance into issues of negligible importance.

What does all this have to do with Barack Obama and his presidential campaign? Well, I think that many Christians are drawn, as many people are, to Obama by virtue of his youth, his eloquence, his "coolness", his purportedly fresh-thinking manner. I can understand some of this interest, though I am not as charmed by Obama as some. I am concerned, though, when I hear that fellow Christians are not simply impressed by Obama but won over by him. That is to say, I am distressed when I hear that Obama is gaining support among conservative Christians. Remember that Obama is pro-choice, and not just pro-choice, but ardently so. (See here for more on this matter.) On a matter like abortion, we are not being small-minded when we prioritize it. We are being logical. Matters of life-and-death must take priority in our political philosophy. However much we may be charmed by a candidate's native gifts or his perceived ability to unite people, we must evaluate him by his positions, and his positions on the most important matters must take intellectual precedence. It is no bad thing to want a candidate who cares for the environment or the poor--we would hope for such candidates!--but it is only biblical to first and foremost desire a candidate who will actively work to stop the slaughter of millions of babies.

In adopting such a mindset, we may well draw derision from some as "narrow-minded" or "intellectually unsophisticated." We will need to work to show such folks that we are in fact thoughtful. Accordingly, we should not merely bite back, and we should show them the reasons biblically for our thinking. However, ultimately, if it is our fate to be labeled such, we must accept this fate. We must stand for the truth on matters of life and death. We must not allow fear of intellectual sophisticates to drive our decision-making. Much as we may admire aspects of Obama's person, we must oppose his program, and thus actively oppose his campaign. Though he has a great smile, and a charming manner, he is a pro-death candidate. We may well draw sneers for saying this, and standing for it, but this is the price we pay for standing for truth in a fallen world. May we not be so charmed by talent, or so afraid of opprobrium, that we will not stand for truth--and life.

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Anonymous Dustin Benge said...

Excellent insight Owen - Thanks for looking at this from a Christian perspective!


4:10 PM  
Blogger jaytheson said...

I have come into this blog via the Christ and Pop Culture site.

While you say "Barack Obama is one of the most pro-abortion candidates for the nation's highest office that we've ever seen.", you neglect a far larger issue.

The pro-life fixation on political positioning is exactly why there has been little progress toward reducing abortion in this country. It is all talk and no action.

There are root causes that lead women to have abortions and an overwhelming majority are not led to the clinic by a desire to murder a baby. That is preposterous. While you are standing for the truth and writing this blog, women all over the world are having abortions. What is writing this blog going to do about it?

What is debating the pro-life, pro-choice divide going to do about it? Given the increase of abortions since the 1970's it seems that proclaiming women, politicians, activists, etc. are baby killers and are pro-death has done very little to stop it.

In part because most Christian Conservatives stand firm on the death penalty where innocent men and women have been murdered for crimes they did not commit, even if it is just some relative to the number of abortions...the world watches.

But the main reason why is that making it illegal WILL NOT eliminate the root causes that bring women to the clinic in the first place---like poverty, hopelessness, job demands, age, family support, depression, illness, physical infirmities....

Here is where I am with you. This is the church's role and the church's higher calling. Christians are in a unique position to care for these women in ways the government never will be able to do. We can come into their lives and fill the void of money and emotional and physical support. We can offer adoption! To me that is where the "pro-life" stance should find its loudest and most convincing voice to reduce the number of abortions in the country.

Barack stands for Birth Control and sex education (condom usage, not abortion as birth control), reducing the burden of taxes, HEALTH CARE for those who can't afford it... On this list as well (which I would like to see him do although I do not have it on authority he believes in this...) is mandating employers to give women a longer and funded maternity leave.

Given these policy stand points, while there is no way to draw a direct correlation at this point, his policy prescription for society may do a lot more to decrease abortions than picketing on the streets, etc...

More and more evangelicals are supporting him and giving him a chance in large part due to the bellicosity of the republican party over the last 7 years. Many see the use of force in Iraq as illegitimate and leading to thousands of unnecessary deaths and an undue burden upon American service men and women and on the nations funds.

Simply by ending the war the nation will save at a minimum 2 billion per week. Imagine what about 100 billion could do for the country. John McCain will have us in that war for "100 years" if it is necessary.

I could go on endlessly about the wastefulness of the Iraq War and compare spending for the war versus spending on programs and other awesome and Christ-like things America could do for its weary and heavy laden.

Barack offers hope, a higher ground for America, regardless of a trite piece of political positioning. I am sorry for being harsh, but that is exactly what it is whether you are for either side. The debate should not be a political battle field for an idea, it should be combined effort to love and support women and do everything we can to make it so women will not be put in positions where abortion will be a reasonable option.

6:43 AM  
Blogger noneuclidean said...

I really need to look into these issues a lot more, so take everything I'm about to say with a grain of salt.

At this point, I believe that our leaders (on all sides) are unwilling and even unable to do anything substantive about abortion. We just had nearly 8 years an openly evangelical president and he did next to nothing. Instead of focusing on an issue that seems to only really matter during elections, I think we should look at other issues (as you mentioned "global warming and care for the poor") as well and support a president who will at least focus on reducing the number of abortions. Here's a quote from Obama on reducing abortions:

“One area where I think we should have significant agreement is on the idea of reducing unwanted pregnancies because if we can reduce unwanted pregnancies, then it’s much less likely that people resort to abortion. The way to do that is to encourage young people and older people, people of child-bearing years, to act responsibly. Part of acting responsibly – I’ve got two daughters – part of my job as a parent is to communicate to them that sex isn’t casual and that it’s something that they should really think about and not think is just a game.

“I’m all for education for our young people, encouraging abstinence until marriage, but I also believe that young people do things regardless of what their parents tell them to do and I don’t want my daughters ending up in really difficult situations because I didn’t communicate to them, how to protect themselves if they make a mistake. I think we’ve got to have that kind of comprehensive view that says family planning and education for our young people and so forth – to prevent teen pregnancies, to prevent the kinds of situations that lead to women having to struggle with these difficult decisions and we should be supportive of those efforts. That’s an area where there should be some agreement.”

Of course, this could all be "talk" and lip service, but if I can vote for a president who will actively pursue assisting the poor in other countries, confronting China on human rights violences and the environment, working towards true environmental stewardship, and will strive to reduce the number of abortions, or vote for a president who says he's anti-abortion but will be unlikely to actually do anything about it, I think I should vote for the former.

Now, with all that said, the issue of appointing Supreme Court Justices is another matter...

9:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The second commentator above makes two mistakes. First, he ignores the possibility of an imminent overturning of Roe v. Wade, should a Republican be elected in 2008. Currently, there are four Justices who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade if given the right opporunity. One more is needed. Among the five Justices who currently support Roe, one of them (Justice Stevens) happens to be 86 years old. I wish Justice Stevens well, but next President will likely choose his successor. Obama will replace Stevens with a pro-Roe Justice; Roe will stand. McCain will replace Stevens with an anti-Roe Justice. Roe will be overturned. Some states would then proceed to limit abortions, and the issue will become, once again, a matter for deliberation in state legislatures.

This leads to the commentator's second mistake. His line of argument assumes that even if abortions were restricted by law, the "root causes" of abortion will remain. Merely the law will have changed. But that is not so. Such a view neglects the educative power of law. Law does not simply forbid and restrain; it educates. Legal theorists for centuries have recognized this. Laws affect and can even transform mores. As abortion is criminalized, a social and moral stigma will begin to attach itself to abortion. To the voice of conscience will be added the educative power of law. Will this eliminate all the "root" causes of abortion? Surely not. But there will be fewer abortions, fewer women wanting abortions and fewer fathers demanding their girlfriends abort his sons and daughters. I say only fewer; law alone is not the answer, but is an answer-- an imperfect answer.

We must remember that law is not always downstream from culture; the current can flow both ways.


10:19 AM  
Blogger noneuclidean said...

Actually, I made neither mistake. Please note my last comment:

"Now, with all that said, the issue of appointing Supreme Court Justices is another matter..."

While I do not believe that the next president will personally (in creating or passing laws) do anything about abortion, I do believe that their Justice appointees could be incredibly influential. That said, I think it very unlikely that it will be overturned (although I dearly hope I am wrong).

And I'm not sure how you got the second "assumption" out of me. If I appeared to support the assumption that the "law" is irrelevant, I'm sorry. I certainly do believe that human "law" impacts personal morality.

KC, the only thing I disagree with is your belief that we disagree.

10:56 AM  
Anonymous Ann Addison said...

Excellent post!

11:30 AM  
Blogger Reid S. Monaghan said...

Owen, I must say that the title of this post is a bit odd? Should it not read "How do I deal with the Obama Phenomenon?" For instance, I do not believe there to be "one Christian perspective or voice" in the world. You are a fine young historian and know this as well as anyone.

Here is what I did about the "Obama Phenomenon" - I read his book, I am looking at what he says, seeing if he has a track record of by a lying liar, praying about the issues. My conscience and worldview hold that I must care about the abortion/pro death issue. Absolutely. But this is not the only thing on the table.

I don't know who I am voting for - and I don't like the church political to be quite honest. Why on earth we side up and alienate our witness to certain elements of culture I simply do not know. After reading The Audacity of Hope I certainly do not agree with Barak Obama on all things. But I do on some...I don't agree with John McCain on all things, but I do on some. So this is an issue of conscience in my opinion not something you could give counsel on as to how a "Christian" deals with Obamamania.

We do need to work with real people in real communities to affect the abortion issue - the law is a teacher, but it is not the whole story. Abortion is wicked - yet so is injustice and oppression...and clearly stated as such in Scripture. Not sure if you have seen Metzger's Consuming Jesus but it is worth a look.

When you get in place don't just be a good thinker (but by all means do this with all your might), stay involved on the ground doing stuff as well. And do stuff with folks who do not think like you, live like you and act like you. For Jesus sake :)

As always I enjoy reading your thoughts.

12:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Noneuclidean: You're right; but if you take a look at the first line in my post, I was responding to the "second commentator above"--jaytheson is second. So, I have no objections to your post. I probably should have been more clear.


12:39 PM  
Blogger noneuclidean said...

Hahaha, man, I need to learn to count. Sorry 'bout that.

1:02 PM  
Anonymous Alex Fear said...

I also came from CAPC

"but it is only biblical to first and foremost desire a candidate who will actively work to stop the slaughter of millions of babies"

I congratulate you for trying to remain unbiased in your post, however I should like to see biblical evidence to back up that particular claim.

1:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that there is a good discussion to be had about whether abortion is trump.

In defense of Owen's assignment of lexical priority to the abortion issue, I'd like to invoke Thomas Aquinas:

"Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like." (Summa Theologica, Prima Secundæ Partis 96.2)

What Aquinas seems to suggest is that the first priority for all human law-making is the suppresses vices that hurt others: he names theft and murder as examples. He says without the suppression of vices such as murder, "human society could not be maintained."

Aquinas' position is worth considering in relation to the points raised above.

I think he's with Owen.


2:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Care for the poor is also, inarguably, a life-or-death matter. When people do not eat, they die. The church does dishonor to itself when it speaks of caring for the poor as if it were some quaint, lesser calling.

4:33 PM  
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7:24 PM  

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