Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A Christian If Necessary?

In the US election campaign, we are finally seeing Sen. Barack Obama become pro-active about his faith. For much of the past year, a lot has been made of the fact that he has Muslim connections through his family (including the fact that his middle name is "Hussein"), and the Religious Right has been making hay out of suggesting he's Not Really Christian.

Krissah Williams' blog in the Washington Post shows the issue has finally come to a head, with Dr James Dobson of Focus On The Family taking Obama to task for his attitude towards faith and politics.

Simply put (and Williams' blog contains links to both statements in question), the argument goes like this: Obama is a Christian, but does not believe that should factor into decisions he takes and legislations he supports in public office because that would be "imposing his religion on others"; Dobson says that means Obama would abandon his principles for the sake of not offending other people's rights to freedom of worship, and calls that a "fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution". Obama points out that Godly faith is a powerful instrument of change and that the Bible has been the guiding principle for great Americans over the centuries, but that he realized (at the time the speech was made in 2006) that he was elected to be the Senator from Illinois, and not the Minister from Illinois.

While that's a rousing bit of rhetoric, it's really claptrap (claptrap: n. a statement or action on stage having little substance, but with the effect of bringing applause from the audience). The great Americans Obama refers to -- like Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln -- were leaders who did not compromise their beliefs for the sake of consensus or popularity. More importantly, they were leaders. That's the essential difference between a president and a senator: a senator is expected to represent the people; a president is expected to take the reins and drive the wagon. Like it or not, that's what leadership is about. For all the portrayal of President Bush as a buffoon, his contention that history will vindicate his decisions says that, for better or for worse, he's willing to live with having to be a leader.

(It's worth remembering that, as World War 2 was brewing in Europe, the British people didn't have the stomach for war: neither did the American people at the time of Pearl Harbor; Churchill and Roosevelt -- their leaders -- had to take that tough decision, which has since been vindicated by history.)

To Obama's credit, he says "we don't read our Bibles enough". I agree totally. If more people read their Bibles, we wouldn't have cults, Jonestown Massacres or polygamist communes hunkered down behind razor wire. He also does not say, "Christians should read their Bibles, Muslims should read their Qu'rans, Mormons should read their Book of Mormon, Buddhists should rub the Buddha's tummy more often and atheists should read the funny papers". He specifically and solely mentions Bibles.

So while only God is the judge of whether Barack Obama -- or anyone else, for that matter -- is a Christian, the question arises: is Obama a Christian if necessary, but not necessarily a Christian?

While I can live with Obama's view of the Bible as being an instrument of positive change in society, the idea that one has to check one's faith at the door when reporting for work as an elected leader is, if not "fruitcake", definitely a sign of someone who may not be ready to lead. Because at the end of the day, the president is the one who gets elected, not the committees, consultation panels and top advisors, so it's the president who ultimately has to wear the decision: and he'd better be ready to show the moral basis on which he makes his decisions.

The fact remains that, as the country song goes, "you've got to stand for something, or you'll fall for anything."

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