Even while it's clear that Obama is leading in the polls, there's a certain element in the voting population who still believe that Obama is a dangerous, alien, terrorist-affiliate. These friends become strained and even hostile toward me when they see my t-shirts or buttons or Facebook status updates. With all the thousands of words Obama has written and spoken to the press, with his record public for all to see, with his hours of youtube clips available, with his detailed policy papers easily downloaded from his website, there are still voters who believe that he is going through all of this exhausting hassle (mostly without a hitch) to hide a nefarious agenda to take down the United States of America once in office. I find that charge (that he's the "beast in Revelation," that he's a secret Muslim, that he's tied to foreign terrorist organizations - or even domestic ones!) utterly outrageous.
Meanwhile, these same voters (often conservative Christians) believe that McCain represents safety (a safe bet) - a man who cheated on his hospitalized wife, married Cindy before divorcing his first wife, has a pro-choice record in the Senate until he switched to a conservative posture for this election, not much of a notable Christian testimony and selected arguably the least qualified vice-presidential candidate in American history. How is he the safe bet? How is Obama the risk?
I thought it might help to read a bit by Obama himself and what he says about his Christian faith. I'm going to post quotes from his own book over the next week or so so you can read what he writes himself (instead of all those crazy email forwards filled with deliberate misquotes and lies).
"...I was drawn to the power of the African American religious tradition to spur social change. Out of necessity, the black church had to minister to the whole person. Out of necessity, the black church rarely had the luxury of separating individual salvation from collective salvation. It had to serve as the center of the community's political, economic and social as well as spiritual life; it understood in an intimate way the biblical call to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and challenge powers and principalities. In the history of these struggles, I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death; rather it was an active, palpable agent in the world. In the day-to-day work of the men and women I met in church each day, in their ability to "make a way out of no way" and maintain hope and dignity in the direst of circumstances, I could see the Word made manifest. (Audacity of Hope 207)I attend an inner city black church here in Cincinnati. One of the startling features of weekly attendance is to listen to the pastor mention the church members who need prayer at the end of each service. My very first week, we were asked to thank God that one of the women members was yet with us, as she had been car jacked at gunpoint (placed against her temple) the night before and yet survived (never mind that she lost her car). Since that first, shocking week, I've heard of teenage boys who've been gunned down, neighborhood shootings, and other tragic deaths. I've also listened to sermons devoted to urging the congregation to get "legal insurance" to protect themselves against the likely need for fair representation against our city's police, unfair job firings and the notorious "driving while black" syndrome.
In the midst of economic challenges, this church continues to take love offerings any time a minister visits from out of town, they sing joyfully and pray enthusiastically. Sometimes just the mention of economic hardship during prayers leads the women holding my hands to a flood of tears, yet they come back every week, ready to praise God again. The black church has been a gift to me. It is the first time I've experienced the merging of both community identity and individual faith.
One of the reasons I find Obama's candidacy not only timely, but truly revolutionary (on par with the work done by MLK Jr.) is that Obama is able to be a president to all of us in a way that perhaps no president before him has ever been. He brings with him an intimacy with ideas, attitudes, and both white and black cultures that will shape and inform how he governs. His sensitivity to the diversity in himself has led him to be sensitive to the diversity of opinion in America. I strongly recommend reading his chapter on Faith in The Audacity of Hope next time you get coffee at Barnes and Noble. Find out what he says for himself. Don't take someone else's word. We've never had a president able to relate to so many in history. That doesn't mean we haven't had good presidents. We just haven't had one with this unique set of experiences that will help Obama to be a bridge of understanding between a stunning variety of backgrounds, socio-economic conditions, international relations and racial experiences.
Today a college friend sent me a message on FB gently chiding me for my Obama enthusiasm. He told me he has a bumper sticker that suggests who to vote for: "Coldest State, Hottest Governor." Really? Is it possible to be so flip this year, with the economic crisis, the war in Iraq still raging, with a fraudulent executive team leaving the country in shambles and a tattered Constitution?
If you are feeling nervous about Obama, take the next few weeks to read his own writings. Get to know him. Don't just watch the sleazy attack ads or trust some forwarded email. Read Obama's own words. Think about what he says he plans to do for America, what his vision is. Then make your decision.
Edited to add: Susan asked in the comments for verification of the McCain affair/divorce and I wanted to include this article from July from the LATimes: McCain's Broken Marriage Fractured Other Ties as Well.