My local newspaper headlined the Thursday edition, with the same headline that appeared in Rome's daily newspaper: "The World Changes." I believe that it does, in one very symbolic powerful way. But as with every such powerful change there is a corresponding way in which everything remains much the same. Or maybe we should say it changes in positive ways for now and in ways that are yet to be seen in time. Time and history will be the real judge. I welcome the initial changes. Here are a few of the notable comments made by world leaders since Tuesday:
"Your extraordinary journey to the White House will inspire people not only in your country but also around the world." (Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister, India)
"We all want to be Americans this morning. This is a giant step for humanity. Obstacles are falling, not only in the United States but here in France." (Rama Yade, French Foreign Minister)
"This is a moment that will live in history as long as history books are written. Barack Obama ran an inspirational campaign, energizing politics with his impressive values and his vision for the future." (Gordon Brown, Prime Minister, Great Britain)
"He values highly the resolution of all conflicts through dialogue. He has expressed publicly that he is willing to meet anybody in any country. We can look forward to an era of renewed partnership and renewed multilateralism." (Ban Ki-moon, General Secretary of the United Nations)
"Israel expects the close strategic cooperation with the new administration, president and Congress will continue along with the strengthening of the special and unshakable relationship between the two countries." (Tzipi Livini, Israeli Foreign Minister)
"In choosing you, the American people have chosen the path of change, openness and optimism. Your election raises immense hope in France, Europe and beyond; the hope of an open America." (Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France)
"Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place. We wish you strength and fortitude in the challenging days and years that lie ahead." (Nelson Mandela, former South African President)
"(I hope Obama) will speed up efforts to achieve peace, particularly since a resolution of the Palestinian problem and the Israel-Arab conflict is the key to world peace." (Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian leader)
"In a new historical era, I look forward to taking our bilateral relationship of constructive cooperation to a new level." (Hu Jintao, Chinese president).
"Forty-five years ago Martin Luther King had a dream of an America where men and women would be judged not on the color of their skin but on the content of their character. Today what America has done is turn that dream into a reality." (Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister, Australia)
"I hope we will work as partners to help achieve peace in the Middle East, through a negotiated settlement on the basis of the two-state solution that guarantees security for Israelis and independence for Palestinians." (King Abdullah II, Jordan)
"An enormous change has taken place. It's unbelievable. It's good for the world because right now you needed that change to take place so that you can have something to latch on to, some new hope. Overall we will see a new momentum and that is what is important now." (Nivard Cabraal, Sri Lanka's central bank governor)
What does all this mean for us as Christians?
1. We must realize that we live in a global context more than ever. How the world sees America does really matter. People on the far right had begun to act as if they didn't care a fig about world opinion. I think it is unwise to govern America based solely on world opinion but we should care about world opinion nonetheless. We must not pursue a kind of modern imperialism that treats the rest of the world as unimportant. Christians, of all people, should desire this since it directly impacts the work we do in missions and kingdom ministry all over the world.
2. We should join in the "hope" that change can bring about good so long as the change is measured, reasonable and fruitful. I expect some of the change a President Obama will bring will be measured and reasonable, especially in terms of the response of the government of the United States to the rest of the world. We had the world's support when we entered Afghanistan but we did not when we entered Iraq. We are not the world's police force and we must remind ourselves of this regularly. Nations that are super-powers run the huge risk of abusing that power. At the same time the Russians appear ready to flex new muscle and to challenge us. We need to be careful and wise lest we move toward a 1960s type crisis again. One Cuban missile crisis was enough in my lifetime. Realism requires us to watch the Russian bear with a cautious and serious eye.
3. The two-state solution in Israel is not new. President Bush and President Clinton both promoted this for the last sixteen years. We must not forget that is was Yasser Arafat who killed it, not the U.S. or Israel. A dose of recent history is needed here for sure.
4. While we can and should celebrate the election of an African-American to the presidency we must not fall into the trap of thinking our racial divisions are now over. (Check out most churches and you will see what I mean.) It is true that no black child can ever say again, "I can aspire to anything I want except to being the president!" I am profoundly thankful that this is true. But when a Republican African-American runs for Lieutenant Governor of Maryland (Michael Steel) and people hurl oreo cookies at him in derision we still have a major problem that will not be solved by an Obama presidency. I still wonder what would have happened if Colin Powell had run for the presidency as a Republican back some years ago when he could have run and very likely would have won. Would extremely liberal Americans have rejoiced at such a first? Based on their response to him as President Bush's secretary of state I think we know the answer to that one. What if he now ends up in President Obama's cabinet? I frankly hope he does but what happened to the "sold-out" Powell of the past? Does his endorsement of Obama now make him OK? All of this underscores the partisan nature of all this rhetoric, rhetoric which I hope and pray will be dialed down on both ends of the spectrum. I have my serious doubts. The talkers are already attacking Obama and the election was only five days ago. And they are also attacking Sarah Palin with some of the same invective that has been common since September.
5. Christians should support hope in every way possible. But we must always walk a narrow line between hope and over confidence in our favorite political leaders. Our hope should be in the living and true God, who alone gives us real hope. We are to be the bearers of hope to the world, not our presidents or government. We must not sell or spread fear. We are salt and light. The Christian Right has sold a lot of fear in this election season but the Christian Left has done this for eight years, despising and hating President Bush.
6. We should pray for our president, be he (or someday she) a Republican or a Democrat. We should honor him and respect him while we still exercise the right to question and debate. We need, as Peggy Noonan, aptly calls it, "Political Grace." Let no speech come from us that is hateful, spiteful, mean spirited or peevish. We are to speak as those who live in the light.
7. The hope we have should promote the realization that God was in control on November 4. He puts up one leader and takes down another. The Lord has a purpose in what he does whether we know it or not. (Often, we do not see this purpose until history allows some reflection.) This means there is no place for either despair or false celebration of the kind that replaces the churches need to stay centered on her Lord Jesus Christ above all else.
8. The great need in America is not a new president, it is a new heart. We are a shallow and self-centered people who are spoiled by consumptive habits and filled with greed. Our churches are morally compromised and most Christians are asleep spiritually in contrast to the church in places like China, Korea and parts of Africa. We need unity in the church even more than unity in the nation. Our unity as believers exceeds all other priorities right now. Partisans on the left and right, and in between, seemed to have forgotten this in 2008. Four more years will not change this unless we see the gracious renewing mercy of God wake us up.