Democratic 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.