Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Obama to Dems: Get religion

Barack Obama--my senator and the only black member of the Senate--took aim at his fellow Dems yesterday on religion: "Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation. Context matters." He went on to defend "under God" in the pledge and prayer groups at public schools--after hours, of course.

Obama backed his comments up with an authentic-sounding testimony of his own (something John Kerry was never really able to come up with in 2004): "Kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to his will and dedicated myself to discovering his truth." Praise the Lord!

Classic evangelicalism, and it begs the question: Is Obama telling the Dems to get religion or get evangelical? Case in point: "Nothing is more transparent than inauthentic expressions of faith: the politician who shows up at a black church around election time and claps--off rhythm--to the gospel choir." Point taken, but let's not forget that clapping at church--much less Christianity--isn't everyone's expression of faith, and just because you can sway in the Spirit with the best doesn't mean your religion is any better or more authentic than anyone else's. I for one don't doubt John Kerry's faith, despite his whitebread inability to clap in rhythm.

But it's hard to argue the evangelicals in this country have the corner on "religion" nowadays, and anyone who wants their votes better learn their language. But I'm not buying until I hear pols like Obama tell me that their "submission" to Christ means real justice for the poor and disenfranchised, real concern for God's creation, real steps to bring about peace--though Barack may be the one who can convince me.

Until then, from right or left, stump-speech religion will continue to be what it has been at least since Reagan: A bunch of pious crap that covers a whole lot of sinning against the weakest among us. Let's face it, the religion of Reagan, Bushes I and II, and probably even Bill Clinton (though less so) has been the free market and "what's best for business."

What does the Letter of James say again? "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, brothers if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (2:14-17).


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