Inauguration Day

Did you watch the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States? Were you riveted? Indifferent? Seething?

I watched from a local movie theatre, in amazement. The day was as big as the screen: Rick Warren invoking Jesus’ name in 4 languages. Aretha – and her hat – plaintively evoking God’s grace to be shed on the country. A quartet mirroring the virtuosity and diversity of the nation, playing the American original, “Simple Gifts.” (A poem read that I still don’t understand.) The swearing in of our nation’s first African-American president, on the capitol steps, amid chants of his name. Steps forged by the hands of slaves. His words:

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

An old preacher speaks, evoking the prophets Amos and Micah, as well as remixing old, bitter race colloquialisms.

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around — (laughter) — when yellow will be mellow — (laughter) — when the red man can get ahead, man — (laughter) — and when white will embrace what is right.

I bet Rev. Lowery never thought he would live to see the day when someone who shared his skin tone would be taking the oath of the presidency.

I never thought I’d see the day.

I know that many people, many of my evangelical brothers and sisters, are disappointed, disenchanted, and disturbed because Barack Obama is president. Some are so incensed that they choose to turn a blind eye to the significance of Inauguration Day; they don’t talk about it, they don’t acknowledge it, and they don’t give other people the right to marvel about the history that has been made.

You may be one of those people. If you are, this post is for you.

I understand why you feel the way you do; you hate liberalism, and rightfully advocate for the sanctity of life, in the midst of the genocide of the unborn. Your reasoning is righteous.

I also understand, and would like you to understand, that it’s okay that I’m marveling that a Black man is the president, and that it doesn’t mean that I am a baby-killer. President Obama – this phrase is unprecedented. I’ve never seen a Black First Lady, or presidential children who wear their hair like mine. You may not think about this because you’ve had the luxury of not having to.

To turn your back on the history of the moment is to benignly neglect many of your brothers and sisters and fellow citizens, whose ancestors survived the Peculiar Institution, who remember a time of segregation, who have endured and still endure institutional racism (and yes, it does still exist), who have struggled for acceptance and a place in your schools, country clubs, and especially your churches – you snub them (you snub me) when you ignore the significance of this Inauguration Day.

Hear me out.

During this campaign many Republican evangelicals, who are supposed to uphold the values of Christianity, at times used tactics based on fear, racism (my name is “Sharifa.” It’s Arabic. Am I a Muslim extremist? What’s the significance of saying “B Hussein O” in political forwards or Facebook statuses?), suspicion, and terror. Those tactics lost. Yup, there was media frenzy in favor of Obama. There was also a powerful, nation-wide, energetic, grass-roots campaign whose message of change and hope was such a refreshing sound to the American people that he won, despite all odds.

Hope and change are brands that are a vital part of the Christian faith, co-opted for a presidential campaign. The first grass-roots effort originated with Jesus and His disciples, spreading the Good News like flowing rivers in a parched and weary land. Hope was infused in the message, not the government. That message begat an unparalleled movement.

Our message and movement should be about hope, change, salvation, unity, working together, restoring, and peacemaking. Not disparaging forwards, hateful speech, and insensitivity. Why are we not cornering the market on these fruits of the Spirit?

Obama is no savior.
Jesus is. Yes He can.

The message of hope, change and salvation is on the lips of so many people across the globe. When you make the choice to ignore the significance of Inauguration Day, you lose a chance to dialogue with the world on fundamental topics of the faith.

I understand that you’re disappointed and dejected. But don’t miss out on having important exchanges with people who voted differently from you because you are commiserating with people who already believe as you do. Have one-on-one conversations; find out what motivated people to believe as they do. And find a way to tell them about the hope of the Savior.

Because even if you choose to turn your back, the rest of the world is looking at our nation’s historic moment, and marveling.

Sharifa Stevens is a Manhattan-born, Bronx-raised child of the King, born to Jamaican immigrants, and currently living in Dallas. Sharifa's been singing since she was born. Her passion is to serve God's kingdom by leading His people in worship through music, speaking and writing, and relationships with people. Her heart is also unity, inspired by John. Sharifa hates exercise but likes Chipotle, bagels with a schmeer and lox, salmon sushi, chicken tikka, curried goat (yeah, it's good) with rice and peas, and chocolate lava cakes. She's been happily married to Jonathan since 2006...and he buys her Chipotle.


  • Nikkol

    Sharifa, that was great! I agree. I was saddened that Christians would make me feel bad for feeling good about the day. God is so much bigger than the box we put Him in!

  • Jen Kliewer

    What keeps us together is more powerful than what divides us
    Sharifa, I do appreciate how you always write from your heart. I’ve known you for several years now and I respect you a lot. It’s so interesting how people who have a similar heart on so many things can be so different on such a major one. I don

    • Sharifa Stevens

      Jen, I just love you.

      Jen, I just love you. :o)

      Your last line is such a relief to me: "let’s keep talking about these important issues, and let’s keep doing
      it in love…and though we probably
      couldn’t be further apart here, I am thankful that what keeps us
      together is so much more powerful than what divides us."

      Jen, what I am frustrated about is not the disagreement – it’s the lack of acknowledgement or communication (something that’s never been an issue between us!).

      I think you make a good point about skin color (especially of a biracial man) not meaning as much as the content of one’s character, as it were.

      And yet…this time in history is still as significant as it is rare, because President Obama is the first person of color to be elected to the presidency in the nation’s history. That, and, color still matters, still separates, still causes gulfs in understanding for most in this country. It was not more than 40-odd years ago – when Barack Obama was born – that the "one-drop rule" still applied. One drop of Black blood designated you to be Black. This rule was made so that after enslaved Black women bore children of rape who were mixed, they, too, would be considered slaves, and counted as additional property.

      The color line is an American institution created and manipulated for profit and for oppression. It created a lingering culture of shame, shadism and inferiority in the Black community, and privilege and the luxury of ignorance in the White community. To see President Obama as a positive figure of color is, for so many people, a step in reclaiming our humanity and wholeness as a nation, and to rebuild a psyche that has been torn down. It puts the potency in the phrase "yes we can."

      But Jen, what I am not saying is to put skin color over issues of vital importance. That would be irresponsible. This country thrives on checks and balances, and if they don’t exist within government (as it seems now), they had better be tempered by the people. Keep championing for what’s right. Please! Obama is not my messiah, and neither is the Democratic (or Republican) party. The brilliance of our system of goverment is in the tension of opposing parties creating and upholding laws, together.

    • Sandra Glahn

      On Race

      I have made it a big part of my life work to champion the rights of the human embryo and fetus. I’ve served on boards, written books, given lectures, written checks and donated supplies. But I think where the Christian community has often missed the mark here is in failing to champion the sanctity of ALL life, and that extends beyond the unborn to active euthanasia, nuclear bombs, Darfur, eugenics, unlimited in vitro fertilization, the disposability of girls in China, Indian widows expected to kill themselves when their husbands die, etc. And our views of human dignity are grounded in God

  • Sharifa Stevens


    …this is a video by Nick Canon (singer, married to Mariah Carey). He DJed at the Inauguration Ball that was televised.

    I think this is an example of the tension: clearly he has a specific opinion of the abortion debate, and he also was present and active on Inauguration Day.

  • Jen Kliewer

    Glad we are having this tough conversation
    Hey Sharifa : ) I too love our dialogues so much. I certainly do hear what you are saying. Please, please don’t think I am not happy – thrilled – that this could happen in our country, in this day and age. I too care about issues of race and poverty so much. I live it here every day. And I have talked about this with people, lots. I don’t want to degrade anyone (much less, you, my friend) for acknowledging history, any more than I want to be degraded for not being happy while history was being made – for wishing that this historic moment could have been associated with someone who does not stand against the things of God, as I believe Barack Obama does on so many things.

    I was thrilled when Condoleeza Rice was appointed Secretary of State. I mentioned that to many of my African-American friends. They told me she’s “not really black”. Does it sound crazy? I know you wouldn’t say such a thing. But I heard it from so many people, and I never understood that. Today Michael Steele became the head of the RNC – I saw you posted that on your facebook. I celebrate that – but I don’t think many people will. I guess what I am saying is that “black” has, to many people within the African-American community, at least where I live, become associated with certain ideological positions. And I don’t think that these ideological positions are biblical. PLEASE DON’T GET ME WRONG HERE. I have not made this association personally – but unless one is a liberal democrat, they are not considered “really black” by many of my friends in the African American community.

    So – I absolutely do acknowledge the historicity of this day, and on that level am so happy. But my happiness is small compared to the sadness I feel for our country, for the Church, and for the unborn.

    Yes, even though it is not politically or even Christian-ly correct anymore, I still hold that we as Christians have as our first responsility to STOP THE STATE SANCTIONED SLAUGHTER OF OUR UNBORN in our nation – and now the unborn around the world, as the ban on our nation’s promoting and paying for this has just been reversed. To Sandy – thanks for your honest comments, I think they were a response to mine : ) I do think all the things you mentioned are important, but there is a difference between sanctioning, promoting and paying fo something that should be illegal (murder), and not doing enough to do things that we think should be done by the government. Living in one of the worst neighborhoods in one of the worst cities of America, I have seen how our government “helps” the poor. To put helping the poor one one hand (which is very arguably *not* helping the poor at all), and stopping the slaughter of the unborn on the other, and saying it is an equal choice – well, I think that is where the Church has gone astray in recent years. In a major way. And I am working with all my might to be that voice that says “this is wrong” and to keep Christians from being shamed into thinking they are “one-issue voters”.

    So Sharifa, I don’t know… I want to “get it” with regards to the racial aspect. I am trying *so hard*. I just can’t get to where you are. But I do want you to know that I think it is wonderful that our country would not fail to elect someone because of their skin color. I honestly do. And I hope that it continues to encourage people in ways that will help them to do even greater things, lead and empowered by our Lord.

    In any case, I want to let the Lord teach me to love more fully those whom I so passionately disagree with, especially in the Church. That is my prayer, to truly understand what it means to speak the truth, and what it means to do so in love – love that I really feel and show, not just talk about. Thanks again for the great dialogue, I always get so much out of it.

  • Gwynne Johnson

    If only…
    If only our national (actually all) politicians and national media could engage in dialog in this respectful and loving way, what a different world this would be! Thanks for the honesty, struggle and integrity of each post!