Media ignore Obama’s testimony

barack obama2Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama gave a noteworthy speech on Saturday before 10,000 members of the United Church of Christ in Hartford, Conn., and every media account I’ve seen has ignored what I see as being the most significant part.

This speech is important on multiple levels. First, Obama is outlining what could be the basis for a “religious left” movement in the 2008 presidential elections. Second, when was the last time a major presidential candidate made this explicit of an expression of his personal faith in Jesus Christ?

So one Sunday, I put on one of the few clean jackets I had, and went over to Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street on the South Side of Chicago. And I heard Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright deliver a sermon called “The Audacity of Hope.” And during the course of that sermon, he introduced me to someone named Jesus Christ. I learned that my sins could be redeemed. I learned that those things I was too weak to accomplish myself, He would accomplish with me if I placed my trust in Him. And in time, I came to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world and in my own life.

It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. I didn’t fall out in church, as folks sometimes do. The questions I had didn’t magically disappear. The skeptical bent of my mind didn’t suddenly vanish. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works.

I found this statement breathtaking and refreshing in its straightforwardness. Andrew Sullivan is not impressed and states that Obama is “aggressively staking his candidacy in part on an explicitly religious appeal.”

David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network states that he has never seen a presidential candidate talk about his salvation in front of a crowd.

For Obama to stand up and talk about how Jesus changed his life, my friends that takes guts. You may disagree with everything he’s about, you may disagree with his policy goals but as Christians, shouldn’t we like it when someone talks about Christ being the missing ingredient in his life?

But like myself, Brody is surprised that the statements did not make the Associated Press account of the story. The AP instead elected to go with the politics:

Sen. Barack Obama told a church convention Saturday that some right-wing evangelical leaders have exploited and politicized religious beliefs in an effort to sow division.

“Somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and faith started being used to drive us apart,” the Democratic presidential candidate said in a 30-minute speech before the national meeting of the United Church of Christ.

There’s little new in this lede, other than the fact that Obama said it. It’s incendiary, which works for a lede if there is not real news, but as Brody noted, it’s a small portion of the speech. I guess we’ll have to wait for the historians to document this one.

Also noteworthy is this bit highlighted by the Chicago Tribune‘s religion reporter, Manya Brachear:

Weaving biblical imagery with political promises, Obama, a member of Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago’s South Side, encouraged those in the audience to follow their consciences and fight for a better America.

“Doing the Lord’s work is a thread that’s run through our politics since the very beginning,” Obama told church members. “And it puts the lie to the notion that the separation of church and state in America — a principle we all must uphold and that I have embraced as a constitutional lawyer and most importantly as a Christian — means faith should have no role in public life.”

There you have it. Obama believes that separation of church and state does not mean that faith should have no role in public life. Now reporters need to hold him accountable for that position. Kudos to Brachear for leading with something newsworthy.

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  • ShireNomad

    While I certainly respect Obama for his open faith, David Brody has a short memory if he doesn’t remember how often GW Bush has brought up the influence Jesus has had on his life. Also:

    “You may disagree with everything he’s about, you may disagree with his policy goals but as Christians, shouldn’t we like it when someone talks about Christ being the missing ingredient in his life?”

    Maybe, but I hope he isn’t implying that means instant support for him as a candidate, any more than the religious left should instantly support Bush. For that matter, I would hope that Muslims don’t instantly support a certain bearded fellow whose name unfortunately resembles Obama’s just because he wears his faith on his sleeve.

    I’m a faithful Protestant, but I’d vote for a Catholic, Mormon, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, or Pastafarian over a fellow believer if our policies lined up better. Faith has little to do with politics (or should, anyway).

  • dpulliam

    ShireNomad, I’d have to disagree with you about George W. Bush. He mentioned the influence of Jesus Christ on his life but he by no means have ever shared a conversion story where he recognized his sins, and asked Jesus Christ to forgive them with anyone, let along a big crowd with the media present.

  • Everaldo Jones

    I am a Democrat, but I liked and respected Bush, until the lies came. Because he promised honesty, and talked about Jesus, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, he left the bible at the doorstep once he was elected and re-elected. I think Obama will actually lead with his soul and his intelligence.

  • Jerry

    But like myself, Brody is surprised that the statements did not make the Associated Press account of the story. The AP instead elected to go with the politics

    I have to ask why you are surprised by this. I could understand being disappointed, but the AP account was akin to the sun rising in the morning – totally expected. Our society is hypercompetitive so, outside of celebrity trivia, what is considered important is reporting on the various ‘horse races’. And in this case, what is “newsworthy” was considering the political implications.

  • Gary Aknos

    I can’t believe you are missing the elephant in the room – Obama’s speech itself was a violation of church/state tax codes (See in spite of Barry Lynn’s ignoring it ( Why isn’t the media covering Lynn’s obvious conflict of interest (he’s an ordained UCC minister)?

  • A reader

    For Obama to stand up and talk about how Jesus changed his life, my friends that takes guts. You may disagree with everything he’s about, you may disagree with his policy goals but as Christians, shouldn’t we like it when someone talks about Christ being the missing ingredient in his life?

    That is assuming: 1) Obama was telling the truth and not just doing a religious act, and 2)Jesus really did change his life. Words are cheap, and campaigning words are even cheaper. Guts? Maybe; maybe not.

    Having seen the fall of notable ministers and politicians who have talked a good “Jesus” talk, David Brody IMO is being presumptuous to suggest that we should somehow automatically like it when Obama talks like this.

    Politicians cater and pander to their audiences. What is his prayer life like? How frequently did he attend evening or midweek prayer service at his church(es)? What is his daily spiritual regimen/discipline?

  • Rathje

    It’s easy to be cynical when a politician starts talking God, but I’ve been impressed with how Obama has treated the subject.

    You’ve also got to remember that Obama comes from a different generation than your typical beltway politician. He comes from a generation that was raised on the sort of self-deprecating irony that you see in shows like the Simpsons and other self-mocking-shooting-sacred-cows commentary and humor. The rising generation is highly unimpressed with the standard smokescreen/stonewalling approach reflexively adopted by most baby-boomer politicians. They prefer a figure who can be self-reflective and even take a few ironic potshots at his own identity.

    This is a major part of Obama’s appeal. There’s a real sense that he’s not BS-ing you. Incidentally, I think this is a major reason why Obama has, so far, failed to even have an agenda. He honestly doesn’t yet know what the best course is for various issues, from diplomacy to health care. And he’s not willing to wing it and act like he does have a plan until he actually has one.

    I find it refreshing.

    I could be wrong, but I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt at this point.

  • Saul

    Believing literally that Jesus is redeemer is not consistent with Liberal Christianity.

    Anyway, more on his speech…

  • Jerry

    Rathje, you’ve hit upon a very critical point but I’d express it a bit differently. There are many of us from many generations who are very, very tired of politicians who sell themselves to the highest bidder, say nothing unless it’s been validated by focus groups and would not know honesty even if they tripped and fell into it.

    Of course, none of the current group, Obama, included are candidates for Sainthood. But even so, even a hint of integrity and honesty when coupled with good judgment is very compelling. And, for now, Obama appear to be someone with at least some honesty and a willingness to be open about who he is. We’ve come a ways from “I did not inhale” and perhaps we can do better in the future.

    Meanwhile the political sharks are circling, looking for any sign of human weakness, always ready to attack. And, to be fair, there are left-finned and right-finned sharks and sharks that will attack their own if they are not sharky enough.

  • Eric W.

    Obama’s conversion account is very similar to what he wrote in The Audicity of Hope, so in that sense there wasn’t much news in it. But I agree it is more interesting than the political talk that gets reported all the time.

    Although a bit unusual in mainline Protestantism, Obama’s Christian conversion experience seems to be genuine, and I don’t get the sense that he’s exploiting his faith so much as he’s explaining who he is. Maybe I’m not as cycnical as I should be, but I find his attitude toward Christianity refreshing.

  • George Muchuga

    I would agree with David Brody that it realy take guts to stand before such a group of people and say what Jesus has done for you given his prominence. Remember what Jesus said in the bible that he/her that acknowledges me before men that he/her will acknowledge also before my father. Jesus knew it was not such simple and infact He used the word “not ashamed”. Obama indeed is not ashamed of Jesus Christ. let me also say that what we say with our mouth and pronounce would come from the heart and that we would mean it. In that sense therefore i would not doubt what Obama said. In conclusion it is important to say that to know Jesus is to have a daily relationship with Him and that is what we expect Obama to portlay daily – Amen

  • jim

    As Eric W. mentioned, Obama has told his conversion story many times, including in his bestselling autobiography and again at Sojourners’ “Pentecost” conference last year. It ain’t news no more, Dave.

  • Charles Kushner

    While I’m happy you have found a reason to support Obama, I would hope, as I do for everyone, that it is because his policies and ideas resemble your own. I don’t think religion ought to have anything to do with your choice for president. Religion should be a personal thing, I must say I’m not fond of the current trend in our society to be as loud and obnoxious about our beliefs as we have been. It’s one thing to affirm your own ideaologies, it’s quite another to impose them on everyone else. Especially since no one in this country is without sin. We seem to think nothing of our continued support for big businesses that suppress living conditions in 3rd world countries, have union orginizers murdered, deplete water supplies increasing disease and famine world wide, ect ect. What is sin? Sin is supporting companies that lie, cheat, murder and rape the land. Sin is voting for anyone who will continue to help the corpistacrocy remain in control over us and the world. Vote with your head, live with your heart.

  • Rathje

    Obama’s response to the pop-question of whether he used marijuana:

    “I inhaled – frequently – that was the whole point.”

    Yes, I do find his approach refreshing.

  • Mary

    “I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works.”

    Obama certainly has a good track record of doing this. Instead of seeking riches after college he worked for low pay as a community organizer on the south side of Chicago.

    Then went to Harvard law school where he was elected by his peers as the first African American President of the Harvard Law Review. Even his conservative peers respected him, they said because they knew he would listen to their viewpoints. He graduated with top honors.

    His mentor who he worked for as a research assistant was the highly regarded constitutional law expert, Lawrence Tribe. He said of Obama: ““He was all around the most amazing student that I can remember having in 37 years and thousands of students. . . .“When I look at my kids and grandkids and ask what makes me hopeful about the future — one thing is Barack Obama.”

    After Harvard Law school he was offered high paying jobs but he went back to Chicago to help the poor and disenfranchised. Worked as a Civil Rights attorney and ran a voter registration drive. He was asked to write a book about race in America and the wonderful biographical “Dreams from my father” came from his heart.

    As a IL State Senator he worked on issues to help children and the poor and his ability to work with others resulted in bipartisan results not deadlock. A leading Republican state senator, Kirk Dillard said: Obama is… “destined for great things”… “an extraordinary man: his intellect, his charisma. He’s to the left of me on gun control, abortion. But he can really work with Republicans.”

    When Obama visited Africa last year, Archbishop Desmond Tutu introduced him saying: “You are going to be a very credible presidential candidate.” “People are looking for leaders of whom they could be proud.”

    Sen. Tom Coburn (Republican Oklahoma): “What Washington does is cause everybody to concentrate on where they disagree as opposed to where they agree. But leadership changes that. And Barack’s got the capability, I believe—and the pizzazz and the charisma—to be a leader of America, not a leader of Democrats.”

    I believe Sen Obama is a rare Statesman, who brings out the best in those who listen, has a vision for a better America, and the leadership abilities to guide us to those goals.

  • Brad

    Actually having heard the speech first hand in Hartford I would have to agree with a lot Obama said but at the same time there were holes in that agreement with his stance on immigration. During the actual speech the room (which is safe to say liberal) fell quiet only a few times, those when the issue of immigration and Obama’s idea of fining illegals was brought up.

    With an unique expeirence of this event I would have to rank it pretty well. Barrack is an amazing speaker and I believe has all the right traits to lead our country out of the hole this administration has dug us into these past 6.5 years.

  • NewTrollObserver

    Obama, our second Black President.

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  • Scott Allen

    Well, getting back to the point of this Blog — religion in the media (NOT the merits of any particular candidate), DPulliam “is surprised” that Obama’s testimony did not make it in the news. Why? Where have you and Mr. Brody been living?
    (1) Obama is a media darling, and since they don’t “get religion” they printed the stuff they support and understand.
    (2) Highlighting Obama’s testimony would make this a well-known precedent: covering it in a positive fashion would subsequently make it OK for others (like BushHitler) to give a testimony. So ignoring it now gives you the freedom to shriek later if, God forbid, a Republican talks about his/her christianity in a church!

    The flip side of this is even more compelling, and it is surprising indeed that GetReligion has ignored it to-date. As comments #5 & #8 noted, this speech had political content in the midst of a campaign in violation of IRS regulations and Public Law.
    The media reported this campaigning without the slightest bit of criticism. Obama’s “courage” isn’t surprising…aren’t his christianity and faith the only legitimate topics that he may speak about and stay within the bounds of IRS regulations?

    Further, GetReligion should be examining how the media is reporting the surprising (no!) change that the “Reverend” Barry Lynn has undergone regarding campaigning in churches…perhaps he, too, has undergone a life-changing experience?

    Overall, the media coverage of this escapade reflects total hypocrisy and shows the lengths it will go to promote its darling (and future VP on Hillary’s ticket), nothing more.