Obama, God, and Wrong Conversations

Why are we more concerned about this...

Obama failed to give thanks to God in his online Thanksgiving address.  He thanked God in his written address.  He thanked God last year.  He closes speeches, as every president ever has, with “May God bless the United States of America”.  None of this matters though to Fox News, who obsessed over his Bush like omission (Bush also failed to mention God in his final Thanksgiving address).  The failure was offensive enough that one paper wrote  his comments are “just what we would expect from a Marxist or other Socialist” while another wrote:  “Unreal that Obama doesn’t mention God in Thanksgiving message. Militant atheist. To whom does he think we are giving thanks?”

than this?

All this leaves me wondering why the decibel level is so high on this issue, while there was relative silence over the pepper spray shopping incident, and the other moments of madness that characterized the great war for good deals known as Black Friday.  We might be disgusted by these events, but nobody is writing about these events as signs of moral decay or faith erosion in our culture.  It appears to me that there are a big group of Christians out there who think the president giving a nod to God in a you tube speech is more important than our collective virtues of contentment and civility.

I’m about to head over the Europe for a week of teaching.  I’ll arrive in the town where I’m teaching late on Saturday evening, after the shops are closed, and when I wake on Sunday, I’ll not be able to run down to the grocery store for my favorite chocolates and a bag of oranges because the store will be closed – as it always is on Sundays – as it always has been throughout the industrialized era.  Though I’m generalizing, it’s true that my European friends shop less and save more.  They talk with friends more and watch TV less.  They shoot each other less and divorce each other less.  Poor secular Europe?  That’s one way of looking at it.

But listen to Jesus: “Every healthy tree bears good fruit – but the diseased tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:17), which seems to be a way of saying that if we’re the real thing, personally or nationally, it will show up more in what we do than what we say.  And yet, Obama, not our collective propensity towards greed, violence, or arrogance – is where some of the press points the finger.

We’re having the wrong conversations:

1. I’d rather have a conversation about how I can align my heart and life with the 2nd Adam, who is Christ, than a lengthy debate about how long it took to create the 1st Adam, or when and where he lived.

2. I’d rather have a conversation about how we can, as the people of God, nurture contentment and generosity, than a heated debate about whether more taxation or less will solve our fiscal crisis.

3. I’d rather have a conversation about how to nurture a deeper prayer life, so that Christ becomes, increasingly, an intimate friend with whom I speak regularly, than vilify a president (either this one or the former) for failing to mention him in a talk.

4. I’d rather have a conversation about how to develop habits for reading the Bible regularly, and developing other spiritual disciplines, than one about whether the word “inerrancy” is better than the word “authoritative” as a descriptor of the Bible.

5. I’d rather call people to the “simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” than draw implications regarding the quaility of their faith based on the political party with which they affiliate. After all, our kingdom is, supposedly, not of this world.

The burning question for the apostle Paul was this:  “How can Christ be more fully formed – in both me and others?”  Out of such formation a deep love for the poor will grow and find practical expression; so will a care for creation; so will a revulsion for violence, and a desire to protect life in the womb, and strengthen marriages, and pursue simplicity and contentment.

The noise of misguided conversations is deafening these days.  My prayer during advent is that in the midst of the noise, I’ll listen, actively, for the voice of Christ, and follow Him.



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  • Brother I agree with you that there are better conversations that could be happening. Perhaps the issue at hand is a perceived lack of spiritual leadership of our current president. For a guy who came from a very interesting church (Rev. Wright) and has still not found a local church to attend on a regular basis while in Washington, I think many people question his position on issues of faith. Now, when given the opportunity to invoke the name of the almighty on a day for which it is designed, he declined. People expect the police to use pepper spray, and people expect their president to thank God.

    have fun in Europe!

  • sp

    I agree with your 5 “I’d rather’s…” and your ending conclusion here, but regarding the first 3 paraphraphs:

    With respect: you’re saying a “more virtuous” conversation should rather be the pepper-spray incident surrounding the madness of “black Friday”, or the fact that the people you know in Europe shop less and save more? Yes, I know these were mere examples…but really, are these conversations much more fruitful than the Obama conversation?

    Not only do I question the benefit of these types of conversations, but they are (mostly) statistically insignificant…and if you want a broad view of what Black Friday really looked like, or what Euro-zone financial prudence looks like, there are other pictures that will tell a vastly different story. If you shopped on black Friday (I didn’t), I would doubt you witnessed a pepper spray incident yourself, nor have you met someone who actually witnessed this personally, and the Euro-zones financial woes speaks for itself. Daily.

    I too, get dismayed and discouraged by the seemingly myopic focus of the right-wing Christian-mofia folks who throw the likes of an Obama under the bus at any given moment. Even so, why is it virtuous to swing the pendulum to the other side of center, and consider that beneficial? (this is just regarding your opening couple paragraphs…not your ending conclusion, which I think was fairly centered)

    My 2c

  • Richard Dahlstrom

    to the contrary SP, the conversation, not about pepper spray anecdotes, but about the statistical distinctions between Europe and US is a very important conversation. Why does Europe have the lower divorce rate, lower bankruptcy rate, lower rates of homicide and gun violence, lower rates of imprisonment?

    or to put it another way… why does the nation with higher rates of church attendance also rank higher in all the above mentioned areas? This, not whether Obama or Bush mention God, is something worth talking about. Yet, going back all the way to the glory of days of Focus on Family, European culture has been declared by many evangelicals to be Pagan. Because these so called pagan nations are better at marriage, saving money, and not killing people, I’d prefer that we Christians look in the mirror and ask about our own health, rather look in the white house window and blame that guys youtube video for our angst. We declare Obama to be some sort of anti-Christ, implying that if we can just get a free market capitalist in office who mentions God more often, we’ll all thrive.

    Nope – the problem’s much deeper, so deep we dont’ want to talk about it. So we talk turkey instead.

  • Katie Clark

    Thank you for bringing this to the surface..

    I am deeply saddened that the church seems to be constantly focusing on the wrong conversations when it comes to making public statements.

    Why are we so concerned with our own agenda that we do not create time to listen to the real needs of the world? Why are we so resistant to stretching our minds, ears, and hearts to learn about the growing epidemic of suffering, loss, loneliness, illness, poverty, debt, economic inequity, greed, slavery.. realities that the people of the US are facing on a mass level every day?

    To be clear, the occupy movement is directly targeting economic inequity, corporate greed, and corrosive power. I do not ask that people in the church (including myself) take a direct, public stance on the movement, but WHY as a people of Jesus Christ are we not discussing the issues that ignited the movement? We seem to be so concerned with the inconvenience the occupy movement has caused to our normal routine than we are with the proven statics that we are in one of the worst recessions in the history of America?

    We are absolutely failing our children and youth if we continue to stand passive in such a destructive system, but more than that, I believe we are failing as a church on this day by not listening, loving, and serving those we are called to serve. The church has not shown up to support the people involved in Occupy Wall Street— at the very least, showing up once a month to provide blankets.

    True compassion is to enter into suffering with; I pray that as a church we seek wisdom from the most High, in humility, and recognize that it is not up to the President of the US to make a change, but it is up to us, the chosen people of God, to live a life of AWARENESS, Service, love, kindness, and compassion.

    If we are not living this, what are we doing?

    Good article on what Jesus might say about ows:


  • sp

    well…the way you state it there, I’ll say I completely agree with you, Richard! 🙂 I guess you were just using a couple anecdotal examples to bring us there. I’m with ‘ya now!

    …back to regular programming…

  • Megan

    Richard, I basically agree with you. And much about how the “so called pagan” Europeans(though all of them support churches with taxes!) have lower crime rates, divorce rates, etc. bears far more resemblance to the teachings of Jesus than does gun-toting, anti-immigrant, rugged-individualism (screw you if you’re poor its your own damn lazy, immoral fault) American Christianity that will get bent out of shape over a video where the president of the corporate union of states forgets to thank “god”. But I DO consider myself a Christian and I do not consider President Obama some sort of “anti-Christ” (in the 80’s I gave that title to Newt Gingrich but that’s another story).
    I do NOT believe that Jesus was a capitalist or a socialist. I do not believe God limits us to to paradigms that are incredibly narrow and destructive. As you have advocated before, in sermons (as I interpret them at least), we must climb out of the box and embrace our King.
    Now I will check on the 4 pans of vegetable lassagne I’m making for tomorrow’s homeless shelter dinner.
    To paraphrase, He will separate the goats from the sheep. And He will reward those who fed, clothed, and healed Him — through the “least among us”.

  • Megan

    Katie, I so agree with you. Over at Patheos, several pastors and church leaders have called for support of OWS.

    Personally, I’m not called to stand in the cold of OHIO to occupy anything. Yes, I write letters to politicians about my views and expectations from them. And yes, I give money to various causes, but helping to build the latest Habitat for Humanity home in my neighborhood (which is going to an mult-generational immigrant family that fled persecution) is a real OCCUPATION FOR CHRIST. Volunteering at the homeless shelter — bringing food and serving it as though the “clients” are GUESTS of mine, with true hospitality is an OCCUPATION FOR CHRIST. Those are things I’m called to. We all have callings. But the giant unifying calling is that we not “JUDGE” and that we “do unto others as we would like others to do unto us” (were we in the same situation). There is no room for selfishness or judgementalism or greed in the teachings of our Lord. Neither Capitalism nor socialism nor communism nor industrialism nor americanism is Christianity. And “there but for the GRACE of GOD go I”.

  • Megan

    “5. I’d rather call people to the “simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” than draw implications regarding the quaility of their faith based on the political party with which they affiliate. After all, our kingdom is, supposedly, not of this world.”
    Thank you, Richard.
    May God Bless you and continue to inspire you.

  • Deborah

    I agree with the spirit of your post, Richard. Really! And I think it’s a great idea to not shop all the time. Except that statistics are a tricky thing. If you look at the same website you used, under “divorces per 100 marriages,” the US isn’t even in the top 20.