Writing the next chapter

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.

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  • Jerry

    However, I think we have yet to uncover the significance of churches and faith in Obama’s victory.

    That point reminded me that when Obama is sworn in as President, it will be approximately 200 years after Abraham Lincoln’s birth and 80 years after Dr. Martin Luther King’s birth. America is changing so rapidly compared with societies in the past that it’s dizzying. I think that the borderline between journalism and history is getting blurred because of this rate of change. I find myself wanting historical analysis as part of my daily news.

    So I’m hopeful that we’ll see at least some good writing about the significance of faith including historical context in this past election.

  • Russ Pulliam

    Nice point about the history behind this one, the religious angle, the tie-in with the civil rights movement.

  • David Becker

    I was wondering, who was the man who led a prayer to the gathering at Grant Park (broadcast on C-SPAN) prior to Senator Obama’s address? I don’t recall that he was identified – do you know who he was and do you have a transcript of the prayer?

  • http://vagantepriest.blogspot.com/ FrGregACCA

    One thing that is interesting to me that I don’t expect would like to see the MSM to delve into is the role that Hispanic and African-American Obama voters in California played in passing Proposition 8.

  • CultureWatcher

    Interesting post and blog. Relevantly, as many influential experts have pointed out, Obama is part of Generation Jones–born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and Xers.

    On this page there are excerpts from publications like Newsweek and the New York Times, and videos with over 25 top pundits, all talking about Obama’s identity as a GenJoneser:

  • Jerry

    One thing that is interesting to me that I don’t expect would like to see the MSM to delve into is the role that Hispanic and African-American Obama voters in California played in passing Proposition 8.

    I’ll supply the salt for you to eat those words. Google turns up a number of references many of them pointing to this story:

    Exit poll data showed seven in 10 black voters and more than half of Latino voters backed the ballot initiative, while whites and Asians were split.

    Minority voters key to Prop. 8
    By Marcus Wohlsen, The Associated Press

  • http://vagantepriest.blogspot.com/ FrGregACCA


    I obviously was aware of that; hence, my comment, in which the operative phrase was “delve into”. Remember 2004, in which a similar measure on the Ohio ballot was said to have helped George W. Bush win that state, and hence, the election? Didn’t happen in California quite that way this time, and the MSM should look further into why.

  • Jerry

    FrGregACCA, that was my point. I think that story I linked to did just that at least anecdotally:

    Denise Fernandez, a 57-year-old African-American from Sacramento, said she voted for Obama but felt especially compelled to cast a ballot this year to support Proposition 8.

    “I came out because of my religious beliefs. I believe a Christian is held accountable, and we have to make a difference,” Fernandez said.

    I suspect that anecdote is archtypical but maybe we just had a different take on what delve into means? :-)

  • Brian L

    I also noticed all the tv cameras in black churches. All campaign long, I’ve wondered why political conservatives who are Christians are suspicious theocracy builders, but political speeches and rallies in socially liberal churches were wise outreach to people of faith.

    I think the answer is found in the voice overs when those church celebration scenes were playing – all the focus was on race. The media narrative is that blacks are blacks no matter where they are, not really “religious” because church is just “part of their culture.” But those white conservative Christians don’t have a culture – they are religious no matter where they are or how they are framing their argument – they must be forcing their religious beliefs on others by mixing it with politics and the state. I find both sides of this narrative an insulting failure to understand religious people.

    I look forward to the GetReligion coverage of the many stories detailing Obama’s efforts to do the “something” his religion tells him to do – stories ignoring every aspect of how that religion is actually affecting his policy decisions. You guys have tremendous job-security (blog-security?) for the next four years…