President Obama becomes a Morehouse Man

President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address to over 500 college graduates at Morehouse College on Sunday, May 19, 2013 (Photo credit: David Tulls, Newscom).

Last Sunday, President Barack Obama delivered the commencement address at Morehouse College. This marks the second time that Obama is delivering an address at an Historically Black College and University.

Obama spoke movingly about the power of setting examples – particularly in identifying and correcting the injustices within the world. He charged the graduating class to connect maximizing career opportunities while serving their respective communities: to practice law that defends the rich and powerful but also the powerless; to practice medicine and provide healing in well-served and underserved areas; and to run small business that create personal wealth while brings jobs to the economy and great products/services to the nation at large.

In speaking at the distinguished male-only college, the President situated himself within the legacy of luminaries: Ralph Abernathy, Ralph Bunche, Spike Lee, and Thurgood Marshall, and of course, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

With the facility of expression for which he is celebrated, President Obama used his life story – as well as the narratives of Drs. Benjamin E. Mays and Martin Luther King – to challenge the class of 2013 to exemplify excellence within their careers, communities, and families. If Morehouse Men could succeed during 1940’s and 1950’s, then so can you. If a skinny kid with a funny name can grow up to become President of the United States, then upward mobility is a dream within the reach of all black men. We’ve heard the refrains before, of course, but Obama delivered them with a noted vigor and vibrancy.

Still, President Obama delivered a rather safe speech – avoiding mention of what is often called the New Jim Crow; skipping over the massive loss of wealth among black families due to the Great Recession and mortgage crisis; and minimizing the role of structural discrimination within American labor markets by emphasizing the dog-eat-dog nature of a globalized labor market. A safe speech, but a strong one just the same. As the saying goes. You can tell a Morehouse Man – even an honorary one – but you can’t tell him much.

Psalm 72: An Inaugural Prayer for President Obama

Yesterday, President Barack Obama delivered his second inaugural address at the steps of the United States Capitol. The eighteen-minute speech outlined his public policy priorities, invoked the Declaration of Independence, and attempted to strike a balance between liberty and equality. A video of the President’s remarks is embedded below:

Today, the Washington National Cathedral hosted an inaugural prayer service to seek the blessing and guidance of God concerning the nation’s welfare. As Christians, we can turn to Psalm 72  for instruction on mixing faith and politics. This psalm is the quintessential prayer of Scripture for political authority. It affirms God’s sovereignty and asks that the King of Israel would rule with judgment, equity, and protection for the oppressed. The text is composed in the context of Ancient Near Eastern norms of monarchy; it explicitly mentions the King as the agent to implement divine imperatives of compassion and equity.

The psalm, however, contains enduring relevance for every system and style of government. Christians ultimately trust that God will deliver his creation from the pervasive and pernicious influence of sin. But our legitimate penultimate expectation – our hope in the time between the first and second coming of Christ – is that political leadership governs justly by defending the poor, rescuing the children of the needy, and protecting all who are oppressed. Thoughtful Christians will disagree on the best way for a democratic society to carry out this biblical triad of social responsibilities. What we should all affirm is that poverty, the well-being of children, and the needs of the oppressed should be at the center of our nation’s public affairs – in and out of electoral season. As we move into the second term of Obama’s administration, let’s focus on the political wisdom of Psalm 72 and prioritize prudential conversation about poverty, children, and empowering the oppressed over ad-hominem attacks and excessive partisanship.