In the last part of my opening statement, in Part 6 yesterday, I said that Barack Obama was a Christian. I realize that this statement is controversial with many. (I’ve already noted that 17% of Americans think he is a Muslim and I have to guess that a lot of these people are conservative Christians.) I have had so many conservatives tell me that there is simply “no way that Barack Obama could be a real Christian.” I understand why these Christians say this but it reveals a lot more about their misunderstanding of following Christ, and believing the good news, than about Barack Obama’s faith and practice. Stories of Obama’s personal faith abound and significant numbers of evangelical pastors have spent private time with him and testify to his vibrant, deep faith. As for his social views they are shaped far more by the famous theologian Reinhold Niebuhr than by totally secular sources. But what is most intriguing to me, in the Maraniss account, is the role that Pastor Alvin Love had in his life when Obama was a single man in his mid-20s living in Chicago. Love was a young pastor who was not yet embraced by the clergy of the city and gave a lot of time to young Barack to talk and listen. His role was much more supportive and essential to his rise, and to his early spiritual hunger and personal journey, than that of the more famous Jeremiah Wright.
No life story could be more the product of human randomness than that of Barack Obama. He has said of himself, in an Oval Office interview, “The only way I could have a sturdy sense of identity regarding who I am depended on digging beneath the surface differences of people. The only way my life makes sense is if regardless of culture, race, religion, and tribe, there is this commonality, these essential human truths and hopes and moral principles that are universal” (Quoted by Maraniss under a photo that appears before page 329, Barack Obama: The Story).
At the outset I said that Barack Obama is a postmodern, globalist, Christian. Let me now define these terms more specifically and conclude with a reason for why I use them to describe President Obama.
First, postmodern. Postmodernism is a general and wide-ranging term that has been, rightly and wrongly, applied to many disciplines such as art, literature, etc. It is commonly agreed that postmodernism is a reaction to the assumed certainty of modernism, a philosophical foundation which asserted that truth could be discovered and explained by scientific or objective efforts. The problem with the word postmodern is that it can be a wax nose since there is no general consensus among scholars regarding the precise definition. I believe that it is best to understand postmodernism as an argument, or way of thinking, that believes reality is not mirrored fully in the human understanding of it. Simply put, you cannot reduce truth to your own grasp of it regardless of how certain you are that you have it; some of it or all of it. We perceive truth as a construct that comes about as our mind tries to understand its own personal reality. This is why postmodernism is skeptical of explanations which claim to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races, and instead focuses on the way each person understands the truth. This is also why many forms of postmodernism (though not all) lead to relativism. When this happens in ethics, morals or Christian theology, it creates a new divide in the church. (Many conservative Christians see the word postmodern in entirely negative ways because of this association.) In postmodern understanding, interpretation is everything.
The last thing I would say about the term postmodernism that might help you understand why I believe Barack Obama is our first postmodern president is that he commonly relies on concrete experiences rather than abstract principles. He sometimes seems like a traditional New Deal Democrat. In one profound sense he is that, by his own admission. But he is not exactly that in the normal sense of the term. It seems to me that he regularly makes arguments based upon human experience. This is why the Maraniss biography is so truly helpful. It allows the reader to see how Obama’s life story was shaped and why he often responds to issues and people the way he does. With this approach the president recognizes that his experience is necessarily fallible and relative, rather than certain and universal. He appeals to common human experiences rather than to the core values of a particular party or platform. I suggest, because of this, he is neither a resolute socialist nor a free-market capitalist. If anything he is a capitalist of a new kind–a postmodern one. I find this both intriguing and frustrating. What I find most frustrating is his failure to stand up and lead, not his way of processing what he sees and understands about the world. He seems indecisive when he faces great opportunities to be bold and big.
The second descriptor that I used to describe President Obama is globalist. This word should not be confused with the word globalism. Globalist can have at least two meanings and these two are almost the exact opposite of each other. One way of using the word has in view the attitude or policy of placing the interests of the entire world above those of individual nations. Another is viewing the entire world as a proper sphere for one nation to project political influence upon all nations. Barack Obama has been accused, by his numerous enemies, of being an anti-American. Even as he ran in the 2008 election he portrayed this globalist view his speeches in Europe and Africa where he was lauded by multitudes before he ever faced an American election. He wanted the American people to see him as THE global citizen, or so it seemed. He was accused of not believing in America. I do not see him this way. I think he believes in America but only in a way that factors the interests of America into his global concerns. He certainly doesn’t view the entire world as the place for America to project its political influence, as his non-traditional foreign policy demonstrates. Like him or not he thinks globally about other nations, and about our role as the major super-power in the modern world, like no previous president. It could well be that he is wrong. My guess is that many believe he is wrong yet recent polls say this is the one area where Americans most trust him. But one thing is clear to me–his background and development shaped him to become a multi-cultural person with a very different view of America’s present and future role in the world. This does not make him an anti-American at all but it does make him a globalist. He is not a president who thinks America should seek to definitively shape the world into its own image of democracy and economics.
The Canadian philosopher John Ralston Saul argued in a 2005 book that, far from being an inevitable force, globalization is breaking up into contradictory pieces and that citizens are reasserting their national interests in both positive and destructive ways. If this is true, and I think that it seems to be the case, then Obama’s globalist thinking will need to continue to connect with his postmodern perspective if he is to be an effective leader.
Finally, I said that Barack Obama is a Christian. I will not spend a great deal of further time arguing this point. Some readers will not believe this claim no matter what I, or anyone else, writes about this man. Yet I know several Christians who have been particularly close to Barack Obama who have assured me that he is a Christian. My most conservative friends are flabbergasted by this claim. Why? No one who is politically pro-gay marriage and pro-choice could be a real Christian. End of all discussion.
I just had a phone conversation with a Christian leader who told me of several highly regarded evangelical leaders who are still saying that Obama is a Muslim even though the evidence points totally against this claim. I believe this is either: (1) honest ignorance or, (2) willful slander. I hope it is the former, not the latter.
I ask one simple question? What must a person do to be a follower of Jesus Christ? The biblical answer is clear. Confess your sins and trust that Christ died and rose for your salvation. Confess, “Jesus is Lord.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” I could go on but my point is clear. Barack Obama confessed his sins, believed on Christ publicly and was baptized in the triune name. While you may not like his former pastor, or the church he joined, you do not decide who is, and who is not, a real Christian.
This underscores my greatest concern about the deep hatred that so many Christians have toward President Obama. When they insist that he could not be a Christian they are judging him, and his faith, in a way that is condemned by the very Scripture that they profess to follow. Disagree with his political views out of conviction. Vote against him if you want a different person in the White House. This is well and good. But please do not slander him as your brother in Christ. Oppose him on the basis of what you believe is best for the country. That is well and good in a democracy like our own. But shredding his character by calling him an anti-Christian, and by still insisting that he is a Muslim, is dangerous to the life and mission of the church of Jesus Christ in this land. It is poisonous to our collective well-being and ruinous with our reputation with outsiders. In fact, it is dangerous to your personal spiritual health since it leads you down a road that makes you into a false accuser and an unwise judge. Beware of allowing political opinion to color everything you say and do in public or private. When all is said and done the election this November will not usher in the kingdom of God or settle all of our major concerns at this time in history.