Health-care reform is here, but the debate rages on. What does the passing of the bill really mean for America? Nine top Christian scholars and activists weigh in on the good, the bad, and the future.
Health-care reform is here, but the debate rages on. What does the passing of the bill really mean for America? Nine top Christian scholars and activists weigh in on the good, the bad, and the future.
Two reflections on our first African American president’s first twelve months. Featuring remarks from Glenn C. Loury and R. Drew Smith.
A HEALTH-CARE FORUM: 16 Christian leaders talk faith, policy, justice, and reform. Featuring Harry R. Jackson Jr., Jim Wallis, Alveda King, Brian McLaren, Barbara Williams-Skinner, Noel Castellanos, Chandra White-Cummings, Lisa Sharon Harper, and more.
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.“
Martin Luther King Jr. wrote those words in the conclusion to his final book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? It was 1967, and he was writing in reference to the epic battle for social justice that raged throughout the ’60s. It was a battle between integrationist and separatist, rich and poor, conservative and progressive, Black Power and nonviolent resistance. Most significantly, it was a battle between American and American.
Today in the U.S., we find ourselves at another defining crossroads. The health-care debate is tearing at our nation’s soul, exposing and widening our cultural divisions. Issues — both real and perceived — such as class, race, euthanasia, sanctity of life, immigration law, size of government, and fiscal responsibility have been infused into our conversations and arguments, making a rational and bipartisan resolution seem increasingly unlikely. But whatever the political outcome, a choice remains for us as a nation — and as followers of Jesus. Which will we choose: chaos or community?
In this special forum, UrbanFaith joins forces with Sojourners to present a collection of diverse perspectives on health-care reform. In the days following President Barack Obama’s , we asked a cross section of Christian leaders for their opinions about the health-care controversy. Below are their statements of support, opposition, and philosophical reflection. Some are brief, others more expansive. But in each, we hope you’ll find a fresh idea, challenge, or encouragement that helps advance your view of this complex topic.
Reform Is a Moral Issue by Jim Wallis
In his speech before Congress, President Barack Obama made the commitments that a broad coalition in the faith community had asked for — reform as a moral issue, affordable coverage for all, and no federal funding of abortion. Now it is the job of the faith community and every concerned American to make sure the final bill reflects all these moral principles. We will now be calling on our members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, many of them members of our congregations, to support these moral commitments and to make sure, as they “iron out the details,” that each one is firmly upheld.
Rev. Jim Wallis is president and CEO of Sojourners and the author of The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith and Politics in a Post-Religious Right America. For his full statement, .
Whose Morality? by Harry R. Jackson Jr.
Church leaders have been asked by the president to call universal health care a “moral imperative.” Projecting universal health care as the “only” moral imperative is as sensible as calling a person born in the U.S. a native Australian because he visited Sydney once. It is certain that every judicious person in the nation wants medical care for the least, the last, and the left out — the goal is admirable, yet sometimes evil is done by those with good motives who lack long-term vision.
The crux of the health-care question is not whether we want to help everyone; the question is how do we deliver the help. Personally, I do not want a socialistic system fraught with inefficiencies. Others are wary of crippling a system that is currently saving millions of lives every day. This argument is not theoretical — delay or denial of essential services will spell death for thousands. Aren’t the lives of every American important? “First do no Harm!” are the familiar words to the Hippocratic Oath.
Where does that leave us? Unfortunately, the plan as it is being fashioned is patently evil. It has several major blemishes. These blemishes are threefold — the moral impact of denied service, funding of abortion, and making employers (including churches) pay for a system that administrates death.
Despite the president’s declarations, his henchmen have refused to add amendments to the bill that would specifically rule out state paid abortion. The Capps amendment, which passed the House Energy and Commerce committee, clearly states that abortion can be “covered” under the public option and must be covered under at least one private plan in each region that is in the Exchange. While it’s a precise point, the other side keeps pointing to the Capps amendment and saying, “Look, it says no ‘funds’ can go for abortions”…. but it violates the Hyde Amendment by providing government subsidies for health plans that “cover abortion” whether the tax dollars actually pay for it or the private premiums pay for the abortion.
Experts tell me that the Capps Amendment has an accounting gimmick that makes it look like only private funds would pay for the abortion, but it clearly says that the government public plan and private plans may, and some must, “cover abortion.”
Most people believe that health-care reform is an important moral issue. However, big government alone cannot reform health care. In fact, it is not the proper mechanism for such a reform.
The community, including the church, has to play a role in health-care reform. Historically, churches and other faith-based charitable organizations have taken an active role in the development of hospitals and organizations that supply care for the sick.
In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina dramatically altered the lives of many people, and blacks in particular, it was the church and other non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross, the Southern Baptist Convention, Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army, and Catholic Charities, to name a few, who were very instrumental in the efforts to respond to this emergency.
Health-care reform is an emergency, no question; however, government intervention alone cannot adequately address it. The American community — and the faith community, in particular — must play an active role in the reform efforts.
Reclaiming Civility by Kathy Khang
I’ve grown weary of the health-care debate, because there’s less and less actual debating going on. There’s a lot of noise — loud voices coming from people accusing one another of fear-mongering, politicizing, hypocrisy, racism, and ignorance. I must admit that some of the ranting is actually kind of funny, if I don’t take myself or anyone else too seriously.
But in the past couple weeks I’ve had to stop reading, listening, and watching. The news is too disheartening.
I think we’re losing our way to reforming anything because some of us are too busy drawing lines in the sand. (And not the kind Jesus was drawing.) I know I’m lost.
What difference does it all make if, in the name of reform, neighbors can’t be neighbors?
Well, it matters to me because on most days I want to live out what I say I believe. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to love my neighbor when I think they are stupid and wrong. Justice and reform will have to start with my heart, before I open my mouth to help shift the noise back to reasonable and civil debate. Anyone want to join me?
Kathy Khang is a mother of three and wife of one who’s trying to love and follow Jesus. She also serves with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as a multiethnic ministry director. She is a coauthor of More Than Serving Tea: Asian American Women on Expectations, Relationships, Leadership and Faith, and she blogs at MoreThanServingTea.wordpress.com.
Affirming That America Cares by Barbara Williams-Skinner
As chairman of the board of the Christian Community Development Association and a member of the National African American Clergy Network, I wholeheartedly welcome President Barack Obama’s clear and bold pronouncement of the moral foundation for comprehensive and affordable health care for all Americans. His affirmation that America must become a nation that cares about the health and wellbeing of all of her citizens is encouraging.
In his speech to Congress, beyond the issue of universal, affordable coverage and health care as a basic moral issue, was another critical issue. As a pro-life Democrat, I was especially gratified to hear President Obama state unequivocally that abortions would not be included as part of health-care reform legislation.
I pray that congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle would come together behind the President’s vision for comprehensive health-care reform legislation that is worthy of our great nation.
Rev. Dr. Barabara Williams-Skinner is a member of the National African American Clergy Network and president, Skinner Leadership Institute.
Not a Political Contest by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson
Our health-care crisis is, above all, a moral failure. Reform should be neither a partisan cause nor a political contest, but a necessity of service to the common good of our society. I trust that our politicians now can act as the leaders they were elected to be.
Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson is the General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America.
Remember It’s HealthCare by Arnold M. Culbreath
Everyone in the U.S. should have, and deserves to have, health-care coverage. I think we all agree that our current health care needs an overhaul. However, to have a proposed health bill that either directly or indirectly mandates a universal tax funding for all abortions for any reason is not health care — especially when abortion remains the leading cause of death in the Black community, higher than AIDS/HIV, accidents, heart disease, cancer, and violent crimes combined.
Neighborliness and Generosity by Diana Butler Bass
President Obama has made the moral case for health-care reform by appealing to the best aspects of American character, reminding us of our history, and by making people accountable for their actions. He has called us to neighborliness and generosity. He has drawn a life-affirming picture of a caring community, asking everyone to do his or her part, outlining the responsibilities of deep democracy. And if that’s not progress — and progressive — I don’t know what is.
In Good Faith by Galen Carey
The National Association of Evangelicals welcomes President Obama’s renewed call for bipartisan cooperation on health-care reform. We support the goals of extending coverage, controlling costs, and preventing federal funding of abortion. As the debate moves forward we call on all members of Congress to negotiate in good faith and with the civility, humility, and respect which this important issue demands.
Dr. Galen Carey is director of Government Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals.
Pray and Act Accordingly by Alveda C. King
The church can turn the tide in the current political debates. God is neither Democrat nor Republican; God is sovereign. The first and final acts of people of faith should be to pray and act accordingly. As to the current health-care debate, we must encourage the President and leaders of our nation to remember the dignity of all Americans.
In a recent open letter to President Obama, I joined several African American leaders to declare:
“Mr. President, in the Beloved Community envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., equal justice means that young people in the womb are not terminated and the elderly in ill health are not denied care because of their age.
We are concerned that your current healthcare plan will not serve the needs of those who are most at risk….
If healthcare reform passes, we have no doubt the number of African American women having abortions will sky rocket. The healthcare bill text needs to clearly exclude abortion from any taxpayer-subsidized or government-mandated benefits. Abortion is not healthcare.
People with disabilities, terminal illnesses, and the elderly, all who need special and expensive care, are also at risk of losing accessibly to doctors and having care denied or delayed…. We are concerned that patient care would be made based primarily on cost and that people with disabilities or special health needs will be put on waiting lists, or worse yet, denied potentially life-saving procedures outright….
We, the undersigned, urge you and your colleagues to seriously consider the concerns we have outlined above. Now is the time for Democrats and Republicans to come together to stand for compassionate care for all Americans, joining the chorus of “Free At Last” as proclaimed in Dr. King’s ” I Have A Dream” speech.” [Read the complete letter here.]
Considering these words, I invite people of prayer to hold steadfast to the dream as we pray that God will heal our land.
A Matter of Character by Brian McLaren
Three things struck me about President Obama’s speech to Congress on health-care reform. First, I was struck by his emphasis on morality. Caring for our poor neighbors — and even more so when they are sick — is indeed a moral concern.
Second, I was impressed by the way the speech addressed economic concerns. Like a lot of people, I’m concerned about costs and deficits — and I thought the President wisely pointed out that the rising costs of doing nothing are unacceptably high. The fact that we pay significantly more for health care than other wealthy nations — and are not more healthy, but less — tells me we have a lot to learn from other countries, both in treating disease efficiently and in pre-empting it with healthier living.
Finally, I was impressed by the mature and responsible character reflected in both the speech’s content and delivery. Even when he was called a liar by a member of Congress from whom we would expect more adult, civil, and professional behavior, the President modeled the grace and restraint that signal maturity of character. And similarly, the speech rightly emphasized that health care is a matter of national character. It takes maturity to integrate diverse concerns that are both long-term and short-term, personal and corporate, economic and moral. It takes maturity to integrate our traditional values of individual self-reliance and of commitment to our neighbors.
Our nation hasn’t displayed a lot of that maturity of character in my lifetime, and now, both in what we do and how we do it, is our opportunity to learn and grow.
Looking Beyond Our Own Interests by Noel Castellanos
President Obama’s appeal to Congress and to the American people to stay the course and reform our current health-care system is a clear call for us to look beyond our own personal interests and to assure that 50 million of our brothers and sisters in this country without basic health coverage receive this basic human right in the richest nation in the world.
Rev. Noel Castellanos is CEO of the Christian Community Development Association, a network of over 500 non-profits ranging from grassroots, community based groups to large relief and development organizations serving under-resourced communities.
Contend for the Faith by Chandra White-Cummings
Health care, as is the case with most policy issues, is complex and does not readily lend itself to sound-bite solutions or cue-card commentary. Making headway will require serious and rigorous thinking, an expanded collective capacity to think beyond the confines of one’s own borders of concern, innovative perspectives, and finally, decisive action. A scenario that can greatly benefit from the involvement of dedicated, biblically-literate Christians who are prepared to bring the gospel to bear in this arena.
In the health-care arena, our primary responsibility is the same as in other spheres of life — to make disciples of Jesus Christ by teaching obedience to what He has commanded. How can this apply to health-care reform efforts?
First, we should teach people the importance of prayer. We are instructed through Paul’s first letter to Timothy to pray and intercede for “kings and all who are in authority” by asking God to help them; and to give thanks for them. Society desperately needs to learn dependence on a source outside itself for answers to life’s perplexities and issues. Questions about who should be responsible for providing health care to the poor, what is the scope of government’s responsibilities to its citizens, and how should systemic inequities that plague our health-care system be remedied cannot be answered by mere human wisdom. We need God’s help.
If Christians of all political persuasions, parties, and positions would conspicuously pray for God to help the President exercise prudence and execute justice in a way that will allow all of us to “live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity,” we can show the power of true unity to accomplish workable and practical solutions.
Second, we should teach the importance of a comprehensive standard of justice by standing for truth without compromise. One of the most hotly contested portions of the President’s proposed health-care reform involves allowing government funding of abortions. In numerous places in the Bible, we are told that it is wrong to murder, and also we are warned of the wrath of God against those who shed innocent blood. We are also reminded that God Himself creates human beings with identity and purpose, and that we are responsible to Him for how we use our bodies. Christians should, according to Jude 3, contend for the faith that God has entrusted to us. So we should oppose any provisions that could violate God’s principles of justice.
We can help people understand the unbreakable bond between justice and righteousness, and that if our President would act justly toward his constituents, he must also conform to God’s standards of righteousness. Caring for the poor is but one consideration for truly equitable and just health-care reform.
Third, Christians can contribute to the health-care debate by teaching the necessity of examining and addressing root causes of deeply entrenched problems. One of the hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry was His insistence on compelling people to deal with heart issues and not just outward behavior. In health-care, racism and discrimination, institutional corruption, and abandonment of personal responsibility have all greatly contributed to the mess we find ourselves in. For example, a May 2008 study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology estimates that the annual cost of human papillomavirus (HPV)-related conditions in this country is $2.25 billion to $4.6 billion. This economic toll on an already overburdened health-care system represents but one result of our refusal to submit our sexuality to the principles of God’s law.
Whereas many are still trying to keep a wall erected between private behavior and public intervention, Christians should be dispelling that myth and injecting notions of collective accountability and consequence into conversations about how to bring down the cost of health care.
The Bible clearly teaches Christians that we have a life-preserving, purifying, and illuminating role in society. Christian lives, lived boldly and faithful to biblical principles, can turn around even this seemingly impassable health-care dialogue.
Chandra White-Cummings is a columnist for UrbanFaith and director of the Black Life Issues & Action Network, in Dayton, Ohio, a non-profit program that works to educate, empower, and engage the African American community concerning issues that impact Black women, children, and families. She blogs at Life As We Know It.
Beyond Vilifying and Demonizing by Eugene Cho
In the health-care debate, I think it’s time we move beyond vilifying and demonizing one another as people who either monopolize compassion or completely lack it. No one wants anyone to die or to go broke. But we have a system that can be improved, right?
My perspective is simple, even though I acknowledge the situation is complex and the solutions even more so. As a country and government, I don’t believe we have to provide universal health care. While I personally acknowledge it is a moral issue from my worldview, I have to understand that people have fundamentally different views about the role and purposes of government.
So, while we don’t have to, it is amazing to consider that as a country and as the people of this country …
We can do this.
We don’t have to but we get to. Doesn’t this contribute to our collective idea of liberties and the pursuit of happiness?
Rev. Eugene Cho, a second-generation Korean-American, is the founder and lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle and the executive director of Q Cafe, an innovative nonprofit neighborhood café and music venue. He and his wife are also the co-founders of One Day’s Wages — a movement to fight extreme global poverty. You can stalk him at his blog or follow him on Twitter.
Rights and Wrongs by Lisa Sharon Harper
“Healthcare reform is @ the right to life,” read my Twitter tweet. “Interesting … Many who claim to be ‘pro-life’ trumpeted choice over the past month.”
The tweet posted to my Facebook page and touched off the longest string of commentary I’ve ever had! One response from an old friend was particularly interesting. She identified herself as “a conservative” and “born again” and said health care should be kept separate from the “right to life.”
Health care is a basic human right, according to Article 25.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for it is directly connected with a human’s right to live (Article 3, UDHR). But let’s not get all technical.
Let’s get biblical.
In the Matthew 25 story of the sheep and the goats, Jesus Himself says an equitable health-care system is a mandate for those who call themselves Jesus followers.
Jesus refers to the righteous whom the Father has invited into the kingdom in verse 37. The word righteous is actually translated the just or equitable in character and action. The word equitable is about fairness and intrinsically refers to systemic justice. In other words, the ones who seek to create fair systems, the ones who level playing fields, will be the ones standing on the right with the sheep.
Now, which playing fields is Jesus most concerned about? In the same passage, He actually lays out a public policy agenda.
• The word hungry (v. 35) means famished in the Greek. It should lead us to consider “How just is our food system?”
• Thirsty means just that — thirsty. It should lead us to consider our water system: “How clean and safe is the water provided for the ones on the other side of the tracks in our towns, our cities, our world?”
• Naked actually means stripped in the Greek. It should lead us to consider “How do our systems affect those who have experienced the greatest injustices, those on the bottom, those who live with the greatest weight of our systems on their shoulders?”
• Sick means diseased. It should lead us to consider the justice of our health-care system. Does our health-care system offer an equitable distribution of health and life to rich and poor?
• Stranger means immigrant. It should lead us to consider the justice of our immigration system.
• Prison means prison. It should lead us to consider the justice of our prison system.
So, as Jesus followers we must seek to level the playing fields that govern public life. How can we, then, in good conscience, separate in our minds and our hearts the health of the living from the health of the unborn? We cannot.
Rather, we must consider our times. We must consider our history in the public square — I refer here to our leadership in the segregationist movement and the anti-women’s rights movements of the mid-20th century. In those days, evangelicals were ruled by fear of change. We were ruled by fear of the future. We were guided by the instinct to preserve the self. As a result, our mantra became: “Damn the one who would threaten my way of life!”
Today, we stand at another crossroads. God has given us another chance to stand on the right side of history. The evangelicals of the 19th century had their “come to Jesus” moment over slavery. They chose well. The evangelicals of the 20th century had their “come to Jesus” moment over Jim Crow and segregation. Many of them walked away from Jesus. This is our moment.
We must examine the proposals being put forth by Congress and examine the words of Jesus.
We must ask the questions: Is it just and equitable to make sure that every citizen of our nation has access to health-care that can save their lives? Is it unjust to deny access to health-care to those who cannot afford it? Would Jesus condone unjust health-care policies that have the ability to affect the lives of millions of people made in the image of God?
Then we must choose our side in the annals of history.
I choose health-care reform, and I am for the public option. Why? Because I am for a consistent ethic of life.
Lisa Sharon Harper is co-founder of New York Faith & Justice, a city-wide movement of churches, organizations, and individuals committed to following Christ, uniting the church, and ending poverty in New York. She also is the author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican … or Democrat.
Justice, Integrity, and Respect by Samuel Rodriguez
Our nation needs health-care reform that reconciles affordability and accessibility with the protection of life, conscience, personal and religious liberties. We encourage all members of Congress to debate with integrity, humility, and respect. Health-care reform is a matter of social justice driven by a moral imperative that is undeniable.
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
Learning to Listen to Each Other by Gina R. Dalfonzo
One of the questions asked in reference to this forum was “What can be done to heal the ‘often bitter divisions’ that the health-care debate has exposed in America?” This was the question that really got me thinking. As Christians, we’re supposed to set an example of treating each other with love and respect even when we disagree. As Paul tells us, we are to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).
And yet, all too often, we fail to do this. I’ve seen Christians on both sides become mired in conspiracy theories and outright deceptions, leading to groundless accusations, hurt feelings, and anger. Of all people, we should realize the need both to seek truth and to treat each other with courtesy and respect.
Part of that effort involves clearing up misconceptions. Since UrbanFaith and Sojourners have graciously given me the opportunity to share my viewpoint here among my progressive Christian brothers and sisters, let me try to clear up a couple right now.
First of all, believe it or not, we conservative Christians actually do understand your concerns about the poor and uninsured. (I would hardly be working for Prison Fellowship Ministries if I only cared about the wealthy and powerful.) What we need you to understand is that we’re afraid that expanding government control of health care will only worsen the situation. Anyone who doubts the possibility of rationing or other abuses need only look at the government-run health-care system in Great Britain, where infants, the elderly, and everyone in between are having their health care withdrawn, not expanded.
The fact is that governments simply cannot afford to assume the bulk of the staggering costs of health care. And the more control that government has over our health care, the less control we individuals have over some of our most important and personal decisions. And yet many of us who are trying to point these things out get called whiny, racist, or worse.
For the record — though it shouldn’t even need to be said — it’s no fairer to lump everyone who voted against Barack Obama into one big group of racists than it would be to lump everyone who voted against Sarah Palin into one big group of sexists. Of course there are subsets of racists and sexists in these respective camps, and goodness knows they can be unpleasantly vocal. But to ascribe the basest possible motives to an opponent just because one disagrees with his or her ideas is the last thing a Christian should be doing. And this goes for both sides. We must learn to listen respectfully to what others are really saying, not to what our preconceptions tell us they must be saying and thinking.
More than anything, the topic of health care should remind us of the dignity and worth of each individual, and the significance of his or her opinions, needs, and values, in the eyes of our Creator. Without that shared belief to guide us, we will never get anywhere.
Gina R. Dalfonzo is editor of The Point and a writer for BreakPoint Radio, both ministries of Prison Fellowship. She’s also the editor of Dickensblog, “a blog for all things Dickens.”
Let’s Continue the Conversation
So what do you think? Did you see your perspective represented here? Do you agree or disagree with our panelists? Did we miss a crucial point of the debate? Let us hear your feedback now. Leave your comments below to continue the conversation.
A professor, a policeman, and the President offered all of us an opportunity to reconsider issues of race, class, and justice in America. But are we able to grasp the deeper lessons? Seven leaders reflect on the real message of the Henry Louis Gates controversy.
A special forum featuring William Pannell, Cheryl Sanders, Glenn Loury, Curtiss DeYoung, Art Lucero, Vashti Murphy McKenzie, and Tali Hairston.
People wanted to make the Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrest and subsequent brouhaha a parable about a lot of things — the prevalence of racial profiling, Ivy League elitism, disrespect for law enforcement, racism, classism, black rage, white privilege. The episode may have had shades of all those things. But the truth is always more complicated and multilayered than the pre-wrapped boxes in which we’re inclined to deposit racial events. And in the end, nobody’s mind really seemed to change about any of the issues at stake. Even Gates and Sergeant Crowley, the arresting officer, said they would simply “agree to disagree” after their much-heralded reunion at President Obama’s so-called “Beer Summit.”
Now, a few weeks removed from the drama of the moment, and with the advantage of hindsight and cooler emotions, perhaps there’s a better chance of drawing some meaningful lessons from what has been glibly labeled by the media as “.” We asked seven Christian scholars, pastors, and urban leaders to give us their perspectives on the real message of the Gates-Crowley-Obama “teachable moment.”
WILLIAM PANNELL: I was listening to President Obama’s press conference, and when I heard the answer he gave about Gates and the cop, I knew he had made a serious mistake. I said out loud, “Oh, no. Don’t do that.” He was out of line not knowing all the facts, and he responded out of his experience of being black in a nation run by white cops. His answer was understandable, given this history. And this history is still very much alive all across this nation. But he is the President of this country; of all people in this country, including those who have never been in the back of a bus. No president should rush to judgment and speak off the cuff as he did. I don’t know what he said to Crowley during their meeting in Washington, but I think he owes him an apology.
The other mistake he made was to be much too laudatory of Professor Gates. Gates is a hot-dog professor at Harvard who loves the spotlight and enjoys a reputation of being superior in human relations. At Harvard he is virtually untouchable, in part because he is black. He is a fine scholar of course, but this isn’t about scholarship. Further complicating this event is the fact that Mr. Obama is an honored graduate of Harvard. Too much baggage for a president to carry on this one.
What have we learned? Not much, probably, for those whose experience on either side of this issue precludes the possibility of seeing both sides of this event. Black people are still being mistreated by white cops — black ones, too, for that matter. A cop is a cop; they represent the army of occupation in all our cities. Civilians beware!
On the other hand, policing is much more complicated an enterprise today than in the more recent past. And most departments have made strong efforts at preparing their officers to respect civilians of all colors in the line of their duties. But it is still true that racism is alive and well in this country. If I were I still a father of teenage boys, I would warn them about any encounter with police. I did this when my boys were in their teens, and I’d still do it today.
The way forward in this arena of mistrust requires that we open discussions between “civilians” and the “army.” When such conversations do occur, they are most often heated because they have been triggered by some encounter between the police and a civilian. Riots have been set off this way. Ask Rodney King.
What we need is a series of regular backyard conversations between police and neighborhoods in an attempt to develop “communities of discourse,” climates where trust can be developed. The most promising centers for such discourse could be local congregations, but better in someone’s backyard. The barbecue tastes better there.
Then this: One of these days the executives of major news outlets need to get converted from their corporate greed and realize that free speech is really not free. It carries with it serious responsibilities for the general welfare of a people. Spreading hate on CNN, Fox, or any other outlet ill serves the nation. We are very badly divided in this country. Under intense pressures owing to the economic crisis, nerves become frayed and the natives get restless. If we cannot talk about our differences, we are in serious trouble. And our differences are anchored in fear. So let’s talk about what makes us afraid.
Dr. William E. Pannell is Special Assistant to the President and Senior Professor of Preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary. In the past he has served as a professor of evangelism and as director of the African American Studies Program. A gifted preacher and professor of homiletics, Pannell has nurtured several generations of Fuller students from the classroom to the pulpit. He currently serves on the board of Taylor University in Indiana and is the author of numerous articles and books, including The Coming Race Wars? A Cry for Reconciliation (1993), Evangelism from the Bottom Up (1992), and My Friend, the Enemy (1968).
CHERYL SANDERS: I think the real message of the Gates affair is that white privilege does not readily convey to affluent and influential people of color. As a next step, beyond meeting over beers, perhaps President Obama should consider convening town meetings around the nation to discuss these issues, if he can garner the political courage and moral authority to do so.
At Third Street Church of God, we have incorporated the ministry of reconciliation into our mission statement and ministry priorities. One reason why race relations remains problematic in the United States is the failure of Christians to acknowledge that all persons are made in the image of God and that God is no respecter of persons. Therefore we have deluded ourselves into thinking that the racism, sexism, and elitism practiced in many of our churches reflect the will and Word of God.
The special role churches could play to bring healing to our racial rifts would require recollection, repentance, restitution, and reconciliation, in that order. Reconciliation requires more than beer-bottle diplomacy — there must be transparency and truth-telling with the intention of actually changing the way we relate to each other.
Dr. Cheryl J. Sanders has been senior pastor of the Third Street Church of God in Washington, D.C., since 1997, and is Professor of Christian Ethics at the Howard University School of Divinity where she has taught since 1984. She has authored several books, including Ministry at the Margins: The Prophetic Mission of Women, Youth & the Poor (1997) and Saints in Exile: The Holiness-Pentecostal Experience in African American Religion and Culture (1996).
GLENN LOURY: The real message? I think it’s that the president must do a better job managing the “race” issue. I recognize that this issue is pretty far down the list of things he has to worry about, and rightly so. But, as the principal public official now in the position of framing the national discourse on race-related matters, he has an awesome responsibility to get it right. And, he’s been revealed by his handling of this incident to be not nearly as sure-footed as conventional wisdom would have it. This is likely to cost him politically over the long run, which cannot be good for African Americans or progressives in this country.
We have to find a way to talk honestly about our problems, which lie at the intersection of race and class. It’s not blackness in general, or in the abstract, that is the issue. The racial profiling of successful black Americans is not the deep problem here. (I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, or that it’s not a problem. I’m saying if that were all that was going on, it wouldn’t be a fundamental blemish on our democracy. What is a fundamental stain on our democracy, and what gives rise to a great hypocrisy in the way our country presents itself to the rest of the world, is the virtual police state that is being run in our midst, with its great weight falling on the backs of the black and brown, urban, low-income, poorly educated, socially marginal populations who have fallen between the cracks. This incident, and the way in which it has been handled, including by the President of the United States, reveals just how far we are from being able to confront our true racial demons.
What role should the church play? No more or less than in any other central area of American life (the environment; economic justice; war and peace, etc.). I don’t believe that this is a “why can’t we all get along?” kind of spiritual battle. It is a political and economic battle, which of course has a spiritual and moral dimension. But, it is not a question of personal morality (how should black and white individuals deal with encounters like the one in Cambridge last month?). Rather, it is a question of public morality — that is, how should we as a nation deal with those who are being left behind?
Glenn C. Loury is the Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences and Professor of Economics at Brown University. He taught previously at Boston University, Harvard, and Northwestern. In addition to his scholarly work, Loury is a prominent social critic and public intellectual, a frequent commentator on national radio and television, and an advisor on social issues to business and political leaders throughout the country. His books include One by One, From the Inside Out: Essays and Reviews on Race and Responsibility in America (winner of the American Book Award and the Christianity Today Book Award) and The Anatomy of Racial Equality.
CURTISS PAUL DEYOUNG: The confusing details surrounding the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. by the Cambridge, Massachusetts, police department demonstrate once again the challenge of healing the open wound of racism in the United States. The incident reveals the often unseen depth of generational scars and raw fears experienced by persons of color, even those who sit in elite positions in the country. It also shows how those serving within institutions in our country fail, despite their best efforts, to recognize these effects and order their behaviors accordingly.
Until our best minds and most committed healers focus on the deeper levels of bigotry and systemic injustice, and implement a process for transformation, we will continue to experience the symptoms of this entrenched reality.
Curtiss Paul DeYoung is Professor of Reconciliation Studies at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota. He has experience in urban multicultural ministry in the United States and South Africa, and his research interests include multicultural interpretations of the Bible and interfaith dialogue. DeYoung is the author of several books, including Living Faith: How Faith Inspires Social Justice.
ARTURO LUCERO: I think one of the main lessons from the Gates incident is that frustrating circumstances can be a seedbed for misunderstandings and unfortunate consequences. Proverbs says, “He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.” And it later says, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.”
The Civil Rights Act protects all Americans from discrimination. But it does not change the heart of man. The only real answer to matters of race and class is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Government legislation may impact our actions, but the Word of God transforms our lives. It teaches us to love one another as Christ loved us (John 13:34-35), to put the interests of others above our own (Phil. 2:3-4), and to forgive (Eph. 4:32b). Although the Word of God is clear in its teachings on this matter, some preachers of the Word are not.
The role of the church is to bring people to maturity in Christ (Eph. 4:12-13). Paul goes on to describe how we are to reflect that maturity, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
As long as people of all ethnicities perpetuate the injustices of the past and their grievances toward other ethnicities, the wound will never heal. The only biblical solution is for pastors to teach their flocks to forgive those who hurt us (Eph. 4:32b), love our enemies, and to pray and do good to those who hate us (Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27).
Arturo Lucero is the president and founder of Sunrise Church in Rialto, California, a multiethnic congregation of 4,000. As the former director of Bible Church Mission, a church planting agency, he developed a strategy for ministering to the growing Hispanic community through an established non-Hispanic church. As a conference speaker and consultant to churches, his focus is on equipping churches for reaching the immigrant community. He has contributed chapters to the books Reuniting the Family of God, edited by A. Charles Ware and Eugene Seals, and Just Don’t Marry One: Interracial Dating, Marriage, and Parenting, edited by George and Sherelyn Yancey.and also serves as an adult ministry pastor at
VASHTI MURPHY MCKENZIE: I think a big lesson from the Gates incident is that stereotypes persist in our world. Stereoptypical attitudes will meet you in the boardroom, classroom, locker room, on the street, or even at your front door.
Stereotypical attitudes, unfortunately, are a part of our everyday lives. We’d like to think they’re dead and gone, but often they just depart for a season. We stereotype each other all the time. Just when you think it’s safe, it will happen to you or to someone you know. And whenever it happens, it hurts.
When I read the news account that Professor Gates was arrested in his own home, it suddenly didn’t seem like 2009. Instead, it felt more like 1959. Racial profiling was alleged, but law enforcement officials also felt unfairly judged for trying to carry out their jobs. Stereotypes can affect all sides of a conflict.
A stereotype paints men and women a color that they have not earned and do not deserve. There are stereotypes in every person’s closet, and they come out at the most inconvenient times. Stereotypes are a group fixed notions about a person or group of persons or the conceptioins that surround a position or occupation. There are stereotypes about certain ethnic, cultural, or religious groups. There are stereotypes surrounding Christians and Jews, Muslims and Buddhists. There are stereotypes surrounding men and women. There are stereotypes surrounding people of African, Irish, Polish, or Hispanic descent. One person may be viewed as confident, while another doing the same thing is considered arrogant. One person’s action is called “survival,” while another doing the same thing is “looting.” One person running down the street may be considered jogging, but another person doing the same thing must be running away from something because they must have done something.
Even Jesus experienced stereotyping. In the Gospel of John, chapter one, Philip found Nathanael and told him that they’d found the One that Moses had written about in the Law and about whom the prophets also wrote — “Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” What was Nathaniel’s response? “Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael hadn’t even met Jesus, hadn’t shaken his hand, didn’t Googled him, hadn’t read his résumé. He just figured that he wasn’t any good because he came from Nazareth. We all dream of a better world where character is elevated over color and class. But if you want a better world, you have to work for it. It won’t come by wishing.
John wrote about a beloved community; Martin Luther King Jr. preached about it; Donny Hathaway sang about it, “Someday we’ll all be free.” But it won’t come by wishing; it will only come by seeking God and working for a change. We need to work on getting rid of these stereotypes today.
Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie is a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church — the first female bishop in its history — and serves in the 13th Episcopal District, which includes Tennessee and Kentucky. She is a member of the President’s Advisory Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Her latest book is Swapping Housewives: Rachel & Jacob & Leah. Her teaching, inspirational meditations, and commentaries are available as a podcast at ThisIsYourWakeupCallOnline.com.
TALI HAIRSTON: The conclusions drawn from racial incidence in America come quickly and often with undeniable passion. The rarer moments within racial matters is when someone creates a moment of pause that alters the mental landscape of how many imagined or consider race.
President Obama recently created such a pause when he sought to reframe the Dr. Gates and Officer Crowley situation as a “teachable moment.” This triggered a litany of reflections on one of America’s oldest closet skeletons. What is inferred by the President is that his election did not signal an end to all things racial. Rather, America is at best more racially conscious and less resistant to new paradigms related to race.
What we clearly lack is strategic engagement and the intentional effort needed to truly address race in America. This leaves us with two basic options which were regularly demonstrated in this situation. We either choose to ignore the issue of race, believing that if we do so racism will fix itself. Or, we wait until the next race-based conflict and react vociferously with insight and passion, hoping to change someone’s mind or at best give them a piece of ours.
For the Christian community, I argue both these reactions are not in line with Christian mission and witness. From the perspective of an African American male with an Irish family name; living in an Asian community; working alongside Protestant, Catholic, Jew, and Gentile for reconciliation and community development; the issue of race has grown more complex by our lack of missional intentionality. We engage race like a couple in a struggling marriage. Problems are only addressed while emotions and sensitivities are running high. But when the current issue de-escalates, we go back to our churches, neighborhoods, TV shows, and hobbies. This assures we will not be equipped as a nation or as Christians to properly engage “the other” when it most matters.
How much money has been invested in turning the racial tide? What institutions produce marketplace materials that counteract the million-dollar radio and TV personalities that so easily fan the flames of racial ignorance? Christian mission and witness has always demanded intentionality, resources, planning, time, leadership, collaboration, prayer, and hope. If the church could be a witness at this level, maybe change wouldn’t feel so much like a pipe dream.
Tali Hairston is Special Assistant to the President at Seattle Pacific University and director of the John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training, and Community Development. At the helm of the Perkins Center, he is leading Seattle Pacific in a comprehensive initiative born out of a dream and a partnership between SPU President Philip Eaton and the legendary reconciliation advocate Dr. John Perkins. Hairston is passionate about seeing SPU contribute to the reconciliation movement in Seattle and the nation.
Today marks President Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office. Over the past few months, we’ve witnessed bailouts, stimulus bills, budget battles, Korean rockets, gangbanging pirates, Michelle’s arms, a dog named Bo, and most recently an international outbreak of swine flu. Given the magnitude of issues facing our nation right now, 100 days seems hardly enough time to measure a presidency.
Still, right or wrong, we view those initial 100 days as the first significant benchmark of a U.S. president’s effectiveness. And there clearly are important things that we can glean about the man from watching his progress out of the gate. That’s why we asked a variety of urban pastors and ministry leaders to share their impressions of our new president on the occasion of his 100th day. Read their critiques, and then let us know what you think.
ERIC REDMOND: At 100 days into office, a significant decision of the President has been to attempt to make life as normal as possible for Malia, Sasha, and Mrs. Obama. Scenes of the Obamas walking Bo on the White House grounds are visible indicators of his endeavor to fulfill this goal. Hopefully President Obama will continue, as often as possible, to enjoy dinner and conversation with his family, play with his girls, and hold nightly his First Lady. This will strengthen the country beyond 100 months from now, when he is no longer President, but still a husband and a father.
Rev. Eric C. Redmond is senior pastor of Reformation Alive Baptist Church and Assistant Professor of Bible and Theology at Washington Bible College, both in Maryland. He is the author of Where Are All The Brothers? Straight Answers to Men’s Questions About the Church and blogs at A Man from Issachar.
CHRISTOPHER BULLOCK: President Obama has proven to be a visionary leader with an ambitious policy agenda. One of his greatest challenges is the Middle East. The stakes are high and complex. Issues of war and rumors of nuclear war and achieving a two-state solution are preeminent. The Holy Land is the cradle of Judaism, Christianity and Islam; yet it is consumed with so much unholy activity. In Obama’s pursuit of sustainable peace in the Middle East, he must toil relentlessly against racism, poverty, and militarism in the name of justice …with the prophetic hope of studying war no more.
Dr. Christopher Alan Bullock is pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in New Castle, Delaware. He founded the Delaware Coalition for Prison Reform and Justice, which brought national attention to inadequate healthcare in Delaware prisons. He previously served as senior pastor of two historic churches, Eighth Street Baptist Church of Wilmington, Delaware (1990-98), and Progressive Baptist Church of Chicago (1998-2004).
ARLOA SUTTER: As I watched the election returns on Nov. 4, 2008, my Westside Chicago neighborhood was unusually silent. The moment the announcement was made that Barack Obama had won, the neighborhood erupted in glee. People ran into the streets and danced. It was a time of great joy. We saw an immediate transformation in the kids in our afterschool program. They now hold their heads high and speak of their dreams. They identify with Sasha and Malia. Someone who understands them is in the White House. The change in their hearts and aspirations is beyond policies and legislation. They have hope. That said, I hope President Obama changes his mind on reducing tax incentives for charitable donations. We need both private and public funds to tackle the challenges we face in impoverished communities.
Dr. Arloa Sutter is the executive director of Breakthrough Urban Ministries in Chicago. Breakthrough supports men and women who struggle with homelessness by offering food, clothing, and shelter along with many holistic services. Breakthrough also operates a thriving program for youth and their families in East Garfield Park, one of Chicago’s most impoverished communities, providing sports and arts programs, academic assistance, and Bible studies. She blogs at arloasutter.blogspot.com.
HAROLD DEAN TRULEAR: The first 100 days of the administration of President Barack Obama further expanded our sense of him as a man of vision and reason. He projects the type of diplomatic outreach necessary for the United States to be a “chief among equals” in world leadership, and he possesses a compassion for “the least of these” that frames his reform agenda for healthcare, education and the economy. But vision alone cannot serve as the total package for any president. President Obama’s greatest challenges will be to move from vision to statecraft, the actual art of governing in a democracy of checks and balances.
While the Senate moves toward a 60-40 Democrat majority, there will still be areas where the President will have to negotiate with the legislature around issues such as how to fund healthcare reform, appropriate resources for access to higher education, and manage the many moving parts of the recovery act. Political scientist Robert Smith argued persuasively in his book We Have No Leaders that African Americans must not be satisfied with symbolic politics — they cannot view office holding in and of itself as victory. Rather, the highest dignity is afforded Black politicians when we hold them to standards of effective statecraft, what Smith calls “political deliverables” that reflect decisions made and executed for the good of the nation, and especially its most vulnerable.
President Obama has the vision, without which a people perish. History will tell if the Red Sea will part at the lifting of his staff.
DAVID ANDERSON: It was a dark night on the open sea when the bullets ripped across the air with precision, killing three Somali pirates who held hostage an American captain. Barack Obama was indeed tested in his first six months, just like Joe Biden predicted. The retort during the campaign was whether Obama had the judgment to handle conflicts internationally. Within four days, victory for the president’s first use of military force answered the question about his judgment in his first 100 days.
In addition to judgment, the sheer volume of work has been enormous as the Obama administration accomplished more work on Day One than any president in recent history. Obama continued to state during his campaign that a president must be able to do more than one thing at a time. Has he ever. From international travel, rebuilding damaged bridges with countries that had come to see us as arrogant bullies, to a badly broken economic system, Obama has been up for the task.
No one could ever accuse the new president of being a lazy man. So far his work ethic has been strong, his wife has been graceful, and his candor with the American people has been ongoing. The president is communicating almost daily through news conferences, public appeal, and the Internet, making the American people feel informed and connected to his administration.
While some hope he fails, there are many more who are hoping — and praying — that he and our country succeeds.
CHERYL SANDERS: President Obama’s greatest success during his first 100 days has been to demonstrate his personal and political prowess as a world leader. He has taken full responsibility for addressing the challenges of a failed U.S. economy and two morally questionable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So far he has proposed bold policies to remedy these and other pressing matters without denying the complex realities involved. My prayer is that he will have the vision, the focus, and the stamina necessary to guide our nation in the crafting and implementation of credible solutions to our current problems at home and abroad.
Dr. Cheryl J. Sanders has been senior pastor of the Third Street Church of God in Washington, D.C., since 1997, and is Professor of Christian Ethics at the Howard University School of Divinity where she has taught since 1984. She has authored several books, including Ministry at the Margins: The Prophetic Mission of Women, Youth & the Poor (1997) and Saints in Exile: The Holiness-Pentecostal Experience in African American Religion and Culture (1996).
RANDY WOODLEY: “It was the worst of times.” I had great hopes for the American spirit when President Obama was elected. That election night I told my 10-year-old son, “You can be anything you want now.” In spite of Obama’s conciliatory demeanor, the worst of conservative partisanship has surfaced to disrupt America’s move forward. This powerful rip across the pages of the American Myth of Homogeneity has exposed a concert of attacks on every move forward. America’s best hope has unwittingly unleashed unholy hosts (Limbaugh, Hannity, Boehner, Cheney, and others) who launched a great spoiler campaign. Pray for America.
Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley is a Keetoowah Cherokee Indian lecturer, poet, activist, pastor, historian and Professor at George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Newberg, Oregon. He is the author of Living in Color: Embracing God’s Passion for Ethnic Diversity.
THABITI ANYABWILE: The most important thing President Barack Obama has done in his first 100 days is continue to love his wife and children. I’m among the many who find wonderfully refreshing encouragement and joy in watching the first family. The most important thing he hopefully will continue to do in his presidency is love his wife and provide his girls attentive love and a godly example of manhood. The incomprehensible irony, of course, is that his greatest policy failure is the creation of an atmosphere and agenda that prevents so many families, daughters, and sons from ever entering the world. One prays for life-affirming consistency.
Thabiti M. Anyabwile is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands. He was previously an assistant pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He blogs at Pure Church and is the author of The Decline of African American Theology.
RODOLPHO CARRASCO: He’s growing on me. I didn’t vote for him. I don’t agree with many of his policies and prescriptions, whether domestic or foreign. I think he’s trying to re-engineer American society all at once, and it’s not going to turn out as he and his allies hope. But I think he’s taking his job seriously. I think he wants to do a good job and serve many people. I pray he will listen to things which, at present, he openly opposes. I pray for him and his precious family regularly.
Rodolpho Carrasco is the executive director of Harambee Christian Family Center in Pasadena, California. Harambee provides afterschool programs and a private, Christian school that emphasize personal responsibility and indigenous leadership development. He blogs at UrbanOnramps.com.
LEROY ARMSTRONG: Leadership is solution oriented. I highly commend President Obama for courageously confronting the manifold problems facing our nation with salient solutions. I also commend him for seeking to make our government more transparent to the American people, so that we can get a better picture of what really is happening in Washington. With his affection for President Lincoln, I pray President Obama will, in similar fashion as in 1863 during a time of national crisis, call our nation to prayer and fasting, and to quote Lincoln, “… humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”
Rev. Leroy R. Armstrong Jr. is senior pastor of The House of Hope Church in the Dallas suburb of Cedar Hill, Texas. He is also president of . He previously served as pastor of Greater Good Hope Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and St. John Missionary Baptist Church of Dallas. Early in his ministry, he also served as Executive Pastor of Christian Education at Concord Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas, under the late Dr. E. K. Bailey.
NICHOLAS ROWE: President Obama’s election, received warmly and seen as iconic, was a significant event here in South Africa given this country’s past. However, the glow wore off quickly amid the fears of the global economy (and the American role in it). Americans are regarded warmly, but their government and its designs on the continent still raise suspicion. The president will get a hearing (especially given the deep unpopularity of the last administration), but South Africans are waiting to see how Obama will do on two fronts: how his leadership will affect global economic issues, and how he will deal with other suitors for African attention, especially China and India.
Dr. Nicholas Rowe is Head of Humanities and Education at St. Augustine College of South Africa. He is also involved in peace-building and reconciliation efforts in Africa as director of Reconciliation Projects for . Previously a professor of history at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Massachusetts, he now lives in Johannesburg with his wife, Sheila Wise Rowe, and two children.
SHERON PATTERSON: President Obama’s first 100 days gave America and the world the opportunity to see freshness, innovation, and confidence at work in one person. He shows us that walking in your anointing looks like. Whether he is tackling the budget, torture in Guantanamo, embryonic stem-cell research, or the struggle in Afghanistan, our president does not allow himself to be rattled or shaken by the haters.
I do have one request of our leader, however. I understand that he has assembled a group of clergy that he prays with and seeks counsel from, yet none of these clergy are women. If this is true, I say, “Please, Mr. President, don’t forget the clergy sisters; we know how to pray too!”
Dr. Sheron C. Patterson is the senior pastor of Put on Your Crown: The Black Woman’s Guide to Living Single. Visit her at .in Dallas. An author, columnist, and health and wellness expert, her books include
KEN FONG: One hundred days ago, Barack Obama stepped into the Oval Office facing unprecedented crises. An economy in free-fall. A severely compromised justice system. Two impossible-to-win wars. A bloated healthcare system that leaves millions of Americans without basic coverage. An environment teetering on the brink. And as our nation’s first African American president, Obama took up these challenges under intense scrutiny, as the press and people wondered if he truly has what it takes to sit capably in one of the world’s hottest of seats.
As he demonstrated on the campaign trail, President Obama has continued to come across as cool under fire, thoughtful about complex issues, unafraid to search for the best minds and the best advice. I have been taken aback by how starved I was for a president who was clearly erudite, even-keeled, and not just articulate but inspirational as he has shown himself to be. History must wait awhile before it can legitimately issue him a report card — one hundred days is far too short a period to determine whether his solutions to our nation’s problems were the right ones. However, one of the things I believe he has clearly done well already is to begin restoring the good name of America in the rest of the world. Who knew that simple gestures like a warm handshake, a genuine smile, or refraining from speaking in disrespectful and dismissive ways could so quickly thaw our nation’s relationships with other countries, especially those that have been declared our “enemies”? At a time in our history where both problems and solutions clearly require global cooperation, it is reassuring to have a person in the Oval Office who obviously grasps this.
Rev. Dr. Ken Fong has been the senior pastor of Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles since 1996. He has been a trustee for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Westmont College, and currently serves as the vice-chair of the Asian American Drug Abuse Program. He has taught at Fuller Seminary, Haggard School of Theology, and is an adjunct at Bakke Graduate University. He has authored two books, including Secure in God’s Embrace: Living As the Father’s Adopted Child.
NORMAN PEART: It’s clear from his first 100 days that President Obama is committed to change. Some change I’ve applauded — like aggressively continuing to address the financial downturn in America, correcting gender-based pay discrepancies, shifting military focus to Afghanistan, and bolstering health coverage to children. But some change concerns me, such as expanding embryonic stem cell research, supporting domestic and overseas abortion rights, and expanding government while increasing the national debt.
Yet I continue to pray that this determined president will allow the Lord to direct his steps. There are three clear evidences that will reveal this guidance. First, President Obama will change his status from that of absentee to regular attendee in a Bible-teaching church. As the kings of Israel were instructed to lead with God’s Law always before them in order to gain a higher wisdom, so he will need the same divine counsel.
Second, he will reject the typical protocol for those in power — this protocol was evidenced in the Obamas’ glamour makeover resulting in the media’s hype of “a return to Camelot” — and encourage change by modeling humility and restraint in a time of economic uncertainty.
Third, he will draw from his unique insights as a minority to change the top-down agenda of most world leaders’ gatherings to include the needs of the devalued of the world — whether sexually exploited young women in America’s inner-cities or orphaned children in Darfur, Africa. My prayer is that he, like the prophet Habakkuk, will echo concern for the lowly masses of the nations who are treated as insignificant pawns by the powerful.
The change that has begun will continue, but may we remember our role and responsibility in guiding its course. Let us pray for the change we need.
Dr. Norman Peart is the senior pastor of Grace Bible Fellowship in Cary, North Carolina, and the author of Separate No More: Understanding and Developing Racial Reconciliation in Your Church.
MARK DE YMAZ: As last year’s historic race for the presidency now overwhelmingly confirms, demographic shifts have brought change to America. And whether for or against his policies, one must agree that Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office represent the reality of a new era in which diverse people must learn to walk and to work together as one.
Likewise, Christ-centered leaders can no longer afford to overlook the implications for themselves personally, or for the diverse people they must lead in the future. Failure to recognize the changing landscape or to adapt in accordance with Scripture may soon render their work or, worse yet, their message irrelevant.
Dr. Mark DeYmaz is lead pastor of Mosaic Church, a multiethnic and economically diverse congregation in Little Rock, Arkansas. He blogs at www.markdeymaz.com and is the author of Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church.
Now, let us know what you think of President Obama’s first 100 days and these commentaries from our 15 leaders.