Another chapter in the story of President-elect Barack Obama was written last night, and snippets are emerging about that section regarding the role faith played in that chapter. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has already updated their “Religious Biography” of Obama.
Christianity Today managed to snag an interview with Joel Hunter, who prayed with Obama over the telephone last night along with Cleveland pastor Otis Moss Jr. just before Obama gave his victory speech. Hunter doesn’t say much about the prayer, but he expressed optimism that Obama would reach out to evangelicals in his administration.
Obama’s acceptance speech had little to say directly about faith or religion, but he had plenty to say about love and (surprise!) hope. He also called for the country to return to basic values of cooperation and humility:
Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House — a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress.
Obama also said that he believes that his recently passed grandmother is watching from somewhere:
And while she’s no longer with us, I know my grandmother is watching, along with the family that made me who I am. I miss them tonight, and know that my debt to them is beyond measure.
Much of the night’s coverage rightly focused on the historic racial barrier that was shattered by Obama’s election to the presidency. Obama’s hometown paper The Chicago Tribune went a step beyond that obvious factor and predicted (in a news article) that Obama’s election could change the nature of the country’s “culture wars.” Here is that statement, along with a later paragraph in the article that expounds on that idea:
It also may close a chapter in America’s culture wars: Obama is the first president to come of age after the Vietnam War era, following two Baby Boomer presidents whose political identities were shaped in large part by their opposite responses to the bitter turmoil of the 1960s. …
That effort appeared to broaden his appeal well past the traditional core states and supporters of the Democratic Party. In the battlegrounds of Ohio and Virginia, exit polls showed Obama winning among several key blocs, including independents, moderates, white working-class voters and those earning $100,000 or less per year. In Pennsylvania, where McCain campaigned repeatedly over the past week in a last stand of sorts, Obama all but swept every major demographic group, exit polls showed.
Of course the article does not mention the contentious issue of abortion and the decision of Roe v. Wade and how that appears to still be a rather significant faith-based factor in people’s political decision making calculus.
The article should have also noted Obama’s outreach to people of faith has been significant shift in recent national Democratic politics. Obama’s candidacy was also significant in terms of faith and religion in the sense that he was the more comfortable candidate in terms of discussing his faith.
The other major newspaper in Obama’s hometown, the Chicago Sun-Times covered the religious perspective of the civil rights’ significance in Obama’s victory:
At places like Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the home church of slain civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., the reaction was the same: amazement that only a few decades removed from segregated housing and restaurants, a black man will be president.
The significance of religion in the civil rights movement cannot be understated. After Obama’s victory was announced last night, CNN cut at least a couple of times to images of celebrations in churches. Just as churches, pastors and faith were key components in the civil rights movement, they also served a role in Obama’s victory. However, I think we have yet to uncover the significance of churches and faith in Obama’s victory.