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.